Behind Closed Doors

I only managed about seventeen hundred words on the WIP last night. (Hangs head in shame.) But in fairness to me, it’s a difficult transitional chapter which sets up some important stuff in the final five chapters, so I am trying to get it just right–which is, by its very nature, the definition of insanity, as I am obviously going to have to revise the fuck out of it eventually.

Heavy sigh.

And so it goes.

Yesterday, despite sleeping relatively well the previous night, was relatively unpleasant.  I had a toothache–which has sort of subsided this morning, but we’ll see as the day progresses–and there’s nothing worse than tooth pain. I’ve been putting off seeing the dentist for quite some time now; I suppose I need to go ahead and make a plan for getting in to see my dentist and then start figuring out how to pay for all the work I need to have done in my mouth. It was so  bad yesterday chewing was difficult–it’s a molar–but this morning it feels, while still not terrific, much better than it did yesterday. I suppose we’ll see when it’s time to chew something, I suppose. But ugh, mouth pain is the worst.

I suppose I could also blame the tooth for how difficult it was to pull those words out of my brain last night and get them down on the page, but that seems kind of cheating. I also did something Saturday–I’m not sure what–but my back has been sore and making me uncomfortable since Sunday morning when I got up. I generally attribute these aches and pains that come out of nowhere with just getting older, but sometimes I get paranoid and worry that it might be something important I’m ignoring and blowing off. I’ve never been much of a hypochondriac–I generally dismiss things and hope they’ll go away so I don’t have to do anything about them–but sometimes it gets too bad and I don’t have a choice (remembering the day of the three abscessed teeth) but this toothache seems to be just that–a toothache–and will probably go away. My gums aren’t swollen, neither is my cheek, and that makes me tend to think that an abscess isn’t going to be the problem this time around.

Fascinating, right?

We continue to watch The Boys on Prime, and it’s getting darker with each episode. Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman sort of touched on this notion that super-powered beings cannot really be trusted, and the comic book ideal of “great power means great responsibility” is just precisely that: an ideal. Even the super-villains of the comics, their antagonists, are rarely more powerful than the heroes (Magneto in X-Men being one of the primary exceptions to this rule), because obviously the heroes always have to win out in the end (one of the reasons I always loved Detective Comics was because Batman usually had to use his brain to outwit the criminals; obviously, one of the reasons I was always a Batman fan was because he was, before The Dark Knight Returns, known as The World’s Greatest Detective…I really was destined to become a mystery writer), otherwise why else would people read comic books about super-heroes? Sure, they suffer and go through angst as part of their character-building arcs, but the point of being a hero is to surmount challenges and difficulties.

And actually, my tooth is much better today, so there will be no blaming of the tooth for not being productive today. I am still trying to get a handle on this enormous, time-sensitive project I’ve been handed; I got some work on it done yesterday, but after awhile–particularly when I’m in tooth pain–I can only deal with Excel spreadsheets for so long, you know?

But I am feeling so much better today–even my back isn’t achy, more just reminding me periodically that I did something it isn’t happy about–that I feel certain I can continue marking things off my to-do list without a problem.

Go, Gregalicious, go!

I also hope to read some more of Steph Cha’s terrific Your House Will Pay. I certainly had to put it down at a place where I really didn’t want to put it down, so there’s that.

I also think today needs to have an appreciation moment.

So, today I am appreciating Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. When I was a kid, I became a huge fan of Ellery Queen from watching the television program, with Jim Hutton. I also remember being disappointed that the character in the books–Ellery Queen novels in the third person point of view by Ellery Queen–wasn’t as much like the sort of absent-minded incredibly intelligent goofball from the show. Anyway, I remember reading my first issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine when I was a teenager, and have read it, off and on, ever since. It was always on my bucket list to have a story published in their pages, and that finally happened in 2006, when they  did a Katrina-anniversary New Orleans focused issue, and it included my story “Acts of Contrition.” That was a really proud moment for me, as was my second appearance some five or so years later with “The Email Always Pings Twice.” I love being able to say I’ve had two stories published there, and hope to someday say three rather than two. Every experience I’ve had with EQMM and its staff has been absolutely lovely.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Suddenly

Yesterday I finished revisions on four stories, took a deep breath, and submitted them. Now, we wait. I’m not entirely certain the stories were right for the markets I sent them to, but you know what? Letting them just sit in my computer wasn’t getting them out there. Better to try and fail than not to ever try at all.

As I said yesterday, my confidence in my writing, which, despite all appearances to the contrary has never been strong, was dramatically shaken in the last year; I am only now starting to come out of it, and I am coming back out of it by working. I’ve written well over a hundred thousand words thus far in 2018; most of it short stories, some of it work on a new Scotty novel, still other the manuscript I intend to try to lure the ever elusive agent into my web with; and since sitting down and actually taking stock, I am realizing what I’ve accomplished, and am very proud of myself. The stories I worked on again this week, revising and editing and reading aloud, were quite strong; the two I am struggling with perhaps not as strong–although I do like their titles. Forcing myself to continue working on them is futile at this moment; much as I am loath to put them to the side, I am going to; there is nothing more self-defeating and depressing than trying to force yourself to write something that just isn’t coming. The stories are there, of course; I just haven’t yet worked out how to get them down onto paper yet. I think very often we, as writers, get so bogged down in our stubborn determination to finish something we are working on that we just keep fighting, pounding our head determinedly against an immovable wall–when the smart thing is to take a break from it and work on something else; then come back to the wall with fresh eyes and a rested forehead.

A vanity project that I have always had in the back of my mind was to put together a short story collection of my crime stories. I first had the idea several years ago, but didn’t have enough stories and was going to combine my horror and crime together: the folder and table of contents I created at the time was for Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. I’ve never forgotten this vanity project; and even now, when I should be preparing the manuscripts of Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz for their long overdue ebook editions, I go back to the vanity project again and again: well, I’ve published THESE stories since then, maybe I can just go ahead and remove these others that don’t fit as well–take these horror stories out, since my horror is clearly not as strong as my crime fiction. I made another table of contents, just the other day; only now I am calling it Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Whenever I’ve been stuck this past week or so, for want of anything else to do, I’ve started pulling the stories together into a single document to get a word count. The realization the other day of how many stories I’ve done so far this year already, and adding them casually to the table of contents–today it hit me: the manuscript is already publishable length, is over eighty thousand words, without an introduction  and without all of the stories I’ve done so far. I removed all the horror–goodbye, “Crazy in the Night” and “Rougarou” and “The Snow Queen” and “The Troll in the Basement”–and added some more of the newer material. It was astonishing to realize how much there actually was; that I cannot add much more because there simply isn’t room, and that I might have enough for a second volume in a couple of years.

Mind-blowing, really.

Short story collections don’t sell as well as novels, of course; short stories are the bastard stepchildren of publishing, and crime stories even more shunned at the family holiday dinner table. I don’t know if my publisher will want this collection, and I may end up having to self-publish it. Whereas I would have shrank in horror from that possibility a few years ago, it doesn’t matter as much to me now as it did then to have a traditional publisher pull the book together; although I would like another pair of eyes on it, some copy editing, a cover design and packaging done for me. But I am very proud of all of these stories; each one of them means something to me in some way. And if my fears about crime stories with gay characters in them not being acceptable to mainstream short story publications, well, I can always get them seen this way. And I am proud of the new crime stories I’ve written with gay characters in them.

I didn’t write crime stories for the longest time because of that fear; the fear that no matter how high the quality of the story, gay characters would make them unpublishable. The two stories I published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Acts of Contrition” and “The Email Always Pings Twice,” were mainstream–not a gay character in either story. I did publish two stories in Novelists Inc. anthologies with gay characters, “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian.” My stories in New Orleans Noir and Sunshine Noir (“Annunciation Shotgun” and “Housecleaning”, respectively) were about gay characters. My story in Blood on the Bayou, nominated for the Macavity Award last year, “Survivor’s Guilt,” wasn’t gay in any way, nor was my story “Keeper of the Flame,” published in Mystery Week. Some of the new stories are gay, some are not. Two that went out today were about gay characters, two of them were not. I was originally not intending to write any crime stories with gay characters this year; it just sort of happened. I think the Chanse story I’ve written–which needs a new title–is pretty decent; but am I limiting my chances of getting the stories into print by writing about gay characters? It’s already a difficult haul finding markets that still take short stories, and the competition is obviously fierce.

And again, as I said yesterday, you never can be certain your story was rejected because you wrote honestly about gay characters. It’s all part and parcel of the insanity of being a gay writer, or a writer who is gay, or whatever the hell label fits on my sash as I walk across the stage at the beauty pageant of publishing.

But I’ve got more than enough stories for a collection now, and I am going to keep playing with the manuscript; what is the proper mix of previously published stories versus new material? Should it all be new material, or should it all be previously published material?

Decisions, decisions.

Therein, indeed, lies the path to madness.

I also read some short stories. First was “Still Life with Teapots and Students”, by Shirley Jackson, from the  Let Me Tell You collection.

Come off it, kids, come off it, Louise Harlowe told herself just under her breath. SHe smiled graciously at her husband, Lionel’s, two best students, noticing with an edge of viciousness that they both held their teacups exactly right, and said lightly, “You’re going to have a pleasant summer, then?”

Joan shrugged perfectly, and Debbi smiled back, as graciously as Louise had smiled, but with more conviction. “It will be about the same as the others, I guess, ” Debbi said. “Sort of dull.”

They’re both too well bred to tell me what they’ll be doing, Louise thought, and asked deliberately, “You’ll be together, of course?”

Jackson is one of my favorites, and while she is mostly known for “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House and macabre, Gothic work, she wrote a lot more than people think and not everything she wrote was macabre. This nasty little tale, in which a professor’s wife has two of his students over for tea–during the course of which she lets the rich little bitches she knows about their affair with her husband, and what’s more, doesn’t care because they are nothing more than something of the moment, is quite rich and layered and textured. From a modern day perspective the wonder is why she doesn’t leave him, as it becomes clear this happens regularly; they politely discuss another faculty wife who wasn’t quite as calm in confronting the student her husband was messing around with, and it’s all very polite and reserved…yet, in this modern era of #metoo and power differentials, the agency both Jackson and the wife in the story give the students–and the contempt and hatred for them the wife feels, but never reveals–makes me wonder. I’m still unpacking this story, several days after reading it; which is how amazing it–and Jackson–are.

And then it was time for “The Doll” by Daphne du Maurier, The Doll: The Lost Short Stories.

I want to know if men realize when they are insane. Sometimes I think my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror–too great a despair. And there is no one; I  have never been so unutterably alone. Why should it help me to write this?…Vomit forth the poison in my brain.

For I am poisoned, I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face..

If only it had been a dream, something to laugh over, a festered imagination

It’s easy enough to laugh, who wouldn’t crack their sides and split their tongues with laughing. Let’s laugh till the blood runs from our eyes–there’s fun, if you like. No, it’s the emptiness that hurts, the breaking up of everything inside me.

DuMaurier’s story often have a polite, observational distance and formality to them; much like her novels, even in the first person. This story, of obsession and lust and desire, all of which are thwarted, is not only reminiscent of My Cousin Rachel, but also, as I was reading, made me wonder. We never learn the name of the first person narrator, but the object of his obsession is a woman named Rebecca–you see where my mind was going with that, don’t you? And in some ways, it works as an almost prequel for the novel; the deep obsession and need; the mysterious woman who plays out her cards slowly. What of course doesn’t fit is the doll itself; the woman owns a male doll she has a strange attachment to, a doll our narrator despises, hates, is jealous of; it’s a terrific story of darkness and deep passion and obsession and perhaps, madness….a great example of why I love du Maurier so much.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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