Yesterday Once More

I’ve always believed that it is smarter to set goals every year rather than resolutions; resolutions have almost become kind of a joke in that no one ever really keeps them past the first few weeks of the new year. Years ago, I decided to change that up and set goals to achieve rather than resolutions to change behavior, and that has worked out much better for me. Sure, there have been some of the same goals set every year that have never been achieved (I’m looking at you, find an agent) but I find that it all seems to work out in the end, and the goals I never achieve and carry over just maybe need some more of my energy and focus applied to them

Before, however, I get into the goals for one Gregalicious in 2022, I’d like to go over some of the things that stood out for me in 2021, both good and bad.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2021: I was able to visit New York in November and then head up to Boston by train for Crime Bake, and it was a marvelous experience; I learned a lot more family history; made the list of
“other distinguished work” in Best Mystery and Suspense; finished writing and published Bury Me in Shadows at long last; finished the Kansas book finally; I read some great books and watched some great movies and television shows; signing a book contract with Crooked Lane; sold some short stories (“The Snow Globe”, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” and “Night Follows Night”, among possible others I cannot recall at the moment); a visit to the Gardner Museum whilst in Boston; I bought a new computer with which I am still rather pleased; and I did some more deep diving into New Orleans history, which has been incredibly fun.

LOW LIGHTS: Hurricane Ida and the ensuing horrific power loss at precisely the worst time of the year to be without climate control in New Orleans (will never ride out another storm of that size again, ever); the on-going pandemic canceling the Edgars and conferences and limiting/prohibiting travel; no Williams Fest/S&S again; the horrible polar vortex that brought record low temperatures to New Orleans during Carnival and we had no heat, so I spent Fat Tuesday freezing under many layers of clothes, layers of blankets, and with a space heater on and still was shivering and cold and miserable; my inability to finish writing the first draft of Chlorine; and of course, not finishing any of the novellas I really wanted to get finished this past year–and any number of short stories as well.

I think the biggest goal I want to set for 2022 has to do with Chlorine. I want to get a viable first draft finished as soon as I can, because the second part of the goal with Chlorine is to finally get representation, or at least try again. I think once I get this current manuscript finished and some of the stories and novellas I have in progress out of the way, I can focus on getting Chlorine finished and out on spec. My goal is to make that my March project, giving me January and February to finish all the other stuff and get it out of the way.

My second goal, also to do with writing, is to get the next short story collection pulled together as well as the novella collections. I think I have enough completed work to get the story collection turned in this year–some of the stories I have in mind for it are still in progress, of course, and of course I have three completed drafts of novellas that need to be redone, revised, and two others that need to be written (or do I? I am now remembering that there’s a third that needs a revision but has a completed draft, so that’s four–and now that I think about it more deeply there are three in some sort of progress that I should be able to get finished in the new year). There’s also the essay collection, which is going to take some serious focus and concentration to pull together. I also want to write a Scotty book this year…which is a LOT to have on one’s plate in one year. (This could, of course, all change should Crooked Lane want a follow-up to the book I am currently writing; this is the sort of thing that makes someone like me–a planner–crazy because I cannot control what requests are going to be made for work from me.)

Next goal is, naturally, work out related. I need to make it to the gym three times per week, going forward into this new year. My fitness regimen has been all over the place since the pandemic started, but it’s been a lot more consistent since the pandemic started than it was in the (many) years prior when I just stopped going entirely and allowed my body to not only go to seed but to start breaking down. I feel better when I lift weights and stretch, and I should also add a cardio day to my workout schedule. I want my goal weight to remain 200–I’m not sure what I weigh now, frankly, but I know it’s not 225, which was where I’d allowed myself to get–and I’d like to get into 32 waist pants (comfortably) again in the new year. (I can get into 32’s in stretchy jeans, but 33’s in regular jeans, while I can fit into them, aren’t as comfortable as I would like them to be, and right now comfort above all else.) I don’t think I’ll ever get my Gumby-like flexibility back again, but the stretching does feel incredibly good when I do it (I also want to add stretching daily to the regimen; I can stretch at home just as easily as I can at the gym) so it needs to become more of a routine thing for me.

My next goal is to break my lifelong habit of falling into procrastination at every opportunity. While I will be the first to admit that it’s best to listen to your brain and your body and to not try to push them into things when they are exhausted or tired or fried, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it’s just laziness, and I own that completely: oh, there’s plenty of time to do this or oh I will just get this done tomorrow is too easy a habit to fall into; even as I write this I am thinking Oh I can go to the store tomorrow and I can also write tomorrow and there’s no need for me to do any of this today despite the fact I feel rested and relaxed and creative. So I am going to finish this and then I am going to get cleaned up and get back to my writing (the groceries, on the other hand, can 100% wait until tomorrow).

Another goal is to keep on top of the housework and the filing–and by that, I am also including the storage attic and the storage facility. I want to get the attic cleared out, and I want to clear out the storage as well so i can stop spending that money every month. This isn’t as easy as one might expect, but I figure if I can get rid of a box in the attic every week–again, not as easy as one might think–I should be able to get a handle on this all by the middle of the year. One box a week doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? And yet…

All right, on that note I need to get back to the writing. I think I can push through quite a bit today, even if I don’t want to–which I don’t–but I also have no choice. The book is due exactly two weeks from today, and I don’t want to turn in something as sloppy as what I have on my hands right now.

Have a wonderful New Year, Constant Reader!

Pretty Baby

Tuesday morning and the year continues to wind down in the inimitable way that every year does, with a whimper rather than a bang, like the last of the helium escaping from the leaky balloon.

My new book will be out in sixteen days; slightly more than two weeks. Those who preordered from my publisher (as well as those who requested ARC’s–advance review copies)will be getting them within a few days, actually, which is panic-inducing as well as more than a little bit terrifying. I am not so certain that I am more nervous about the release of this book than I have been around the release of any others in my past, or if this is the same nervous condition I always experience when a book is about to be released with my name (or whatever name I chose to use at the time I signed the contract) on the spine. I don’t remember; I am not certain if that is symptomatic of me aging or if it’s some kind of protective thing the brain does to spare my psyche; much as how one forgets how painful a teeth cleaning or a blood draw is between the last time it was done and the next time such things are scheduled; if we don’t forget how awful or painful or uncomfortable those experiences actually are, we would most likely never schedule another. (It is most fortunate that it will be years before I need another colonoscopy; that is an experience I would prefer to never live through another time, quite frankly.)

But I am nervous about the book. This one, as I have mentioned tirelessly (tiresomely?) takes on a societal and cultural problem for which I have no solution–well, that’s not entirely true, I always have a solution, but it’s never one people are willing to actually adopt–but it’s also kind of shameful that it has actually taken me so long to address this actual social problem; it’s also kind of shameful for me to admit that it took me so long to realize it was actually a problem. I mean, I knew intellectually it was, but I never realized how extant and/or extreme the problem actually was until the last decade or so. Now I am hyper-aware of sexual assault and it’s plainer, but just as ugly sibling, sexual harassment.

When I became aware that I was different from other boys–from other males–I also became aware of strange disparities that caused some cognitive dissonance in my young, unformed mind; why is sexual expertise, and experience, for men something to be lauded and applauded while the same thing is a source of shame for women?

This never made sense to me; how could men get experience and expertise without women? Why was one thing something to be admired in one gender but must be shamed in the other? In order for men to get the “conquests” and “experience” they needed to be admired and respected (the word that so often pops up in older books is “cocksman,” a word I loathed when I first read it and still do to this day), there had to be women to accommodate those needs and desires…which, I guess, was my first introduction to the “madonna/whore” concept. Societal expectations on women were, frankly, ridiculous; they were supposed to be pure and chaste while at the same time doing nothing to inspire passion or desire in a man; to not attract his attention this way; in other words, if a man became overcome with desire to the point that he stopped listening to a woman telling him to stop…it was her fault, not his; men were clearly slaves to their own passions, while women needed to always keep theirs in check, or else.

Boys, after all, will be boys.

I knew the word rape before I actually knew what it meant–from reading history; barbarian hordes and invading armies inevitably “raped and pillaged.” There was the very famous story, part of the founding myth of Rome involving the “rape of the Sabine women”; I think that was around the time where I began thinking rape meant abduction. The 1970’s, and the burgeoning women’s movement, brought with it a discussion of rape into the public sphere; how it actually affected women and how the judicial system essentially punished women for daring to accuse a man of forcing himself on her; this was the horror known as stranger rape, which belied the sad truth that most sexual assaults inevitably are ones where the assailant and the victim knew each other: aka date rape.

Usually, when the subject was brought up on a daytime soap, it was a date rape situation; star-crossed lovers being kept apart for one reason or another until the man at some point becomes carried away and forces himself on his “true love” against her wishes. This played out on Days of Our Lives–later, and more notoriously, on General Hospital and as late as the 1990’s on One Life to Live (ironically, the story as depicted on One Life to Live was brutal and honest and horrible; the storyline went off the rails later as the lead rapist became redeemed and an anti-hero star of the show).

Rape was often used as a plot device in romance novels (horrifying, isn’t it?); who can ever forget the night Rhett get drunk and in his jealous rage rapes Scarlett in Gone with the Wind–which is also the first time in her life she actually enjoys sexual relations with a man? What precisely is the message being sent here to the readers?

One of the things that struck me the most about the Marysville and Steubenville cases–besides the horrific similarities–was the reaction of the girls in the towns about what happened. Rather than feeling solidarity with the victims–and realizing there but for the grace of God go I–the general reaction was the opposite: the victims deserved what happened to them. There are few crimes where the automatic default is to blame the victim–in fact, outside of sexual assault/harassment I can’t think of any–and the level of blaming and shaming in both of these cases was appalling. Steubenville, the more famous of the two cases, resulted in convictions (and notoriously several reporters editorializing the “waste” of the lives of the convicted rapists; my sympathy is with the victims, frankly); no charges were ever filed in the Marysville case, and the victim, Daisy Coleman, eventually committed suicide (that was still years in the future when I first started writing my book).

I couldn’t get past it. I tried to think about it in terms of my own sister: what if this had happened to MY sister? My niece? My mom?

And the hashtag from Marysville haunted my mind: #shedeservedit.

I knew the hashtag was going to be my title, and that I was going to change the Kansas book one last time; my quarterback was still going to disappear at the beginning, but the story wasn’t going to solely be about that. My fictional town already had a decades-long successful high school football program and was already dying economically; with a growing addiction epidemic and declining population as employment possibilities also dried up. And with all that success, with the town’s identity entirely subsumed by its high school football team (ironically, the Trojans), it stood to reason that the town would rally behind its team and the players–and woe be to anyone who stood against any of the team’s abuses.

But…the question remained: could a man–even a gay one, or especially a gay one–write such a book? Was it my place to do so? Was writing this book an attempt to atone for not being aware of the problem for so fucking long? Could I approach it with the proper amount of sensitivity?

I guess there’s nothing left for me to do than wait and see, I suppose. I have my author copies, ARC’s are going out, and soon those who want to read it will be reading it.

And on that cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy Tuesday, Constant Reader.

Away in a Manger

And it’s Wednesday, my last day in the office before Christmas holidays. We have the next two days off for the holiday, so we all have a lovely four day weekend. Huzzah? At least I don’t have to make condom packs, which will be kind of nice, but I do have things to do. The book is proceeding apace, if a trifle slowly, but I am happy with the work I am doing on it but the question is, as always, will I get it done in time? Heavy heaving sigh. It is definitely going to be a lot of work to get done in a very short period of time, but it will get done eventually. I will most likely take Christmas day itself off from doing anything; a recharging day, if you will, but that and New Year’s Day should be enough of a recharge to keep me going. I’ve been sleeping much better lately–the cold snap (such as it is) has been an enormous help in that regard–and so am feeling more rested than I have in quite some time. I am also trying really hard to not let my stress levels go up; stress, not fear, is the mindkiller, thank you very much, Frank Herbert.

It’s also Pay-the-Bills Day; huzzah? At least I don’t have to worry about being able to pay the bills, which lessens the sting somewhat. It doesn’t make paying them any more enjoyable, mind you; it just makes it hurt a little less.

I don’t think I will ever stop resenting paying the bills–but you can certainly see that the heat has broken; the power bill this month is less than half of the last one.

Silver linings, you know.

The manuscript is coming along nicely, sort of; I write about 2500-3000 really shitty words per day (a chapter a day, really) and keep going, and then I spend a day trying to clean up the mess I’ve created. It’s working so far, and at the pace I am going I should pass the midway point this weekend–if I stay focused–and might actually get it all finished by the deadline. Huzzah, indeed!

It’s cold again in New Orleans today–well, cold for New Orleans; as always, I assume everyone north of I-10 will snicker behind their hands as they do whenever I complain about it being cold here–but I am actually going to wear a sweatshirt beneath my Crescent Care T-shirt today, and the floor here in the Lost Apartment absolutely felt cold to my stockinged feet this morning so I had to put on my slippers–but I would like to remind everyone it’s not a dry cold down here but rather a damp one. Cold and damp is miserable.

It’s going to be lovely having four days off, which should–laziness, cold, and procrastination aside–enable me to get a lot of work done, as well as organizing and cleaning of the Lost Apartment. I am going to have to start taking boxes out of the attic and determining what is to be done with them; most likely I will be donating a lot of books to the library sale in the future, and I figure if I target one box per weekend minimum it won’t take more than a few months to clean out a lot of what is up there and make room for other things I need to put up there. I really do need to stop buying books for a while; the apartment is quickly becoming overtaken with them yet again, and the TBR stack was already well out of control. Tonight I am going to spend some more time with Vivien Chien’s Death by Dumpling–I want to finish it so I can read Donna Andrews’ The Twelve Jays of Christmas on Christmas itself (after getting my writing done for the day–yes, I am not going to be able to take any holidays off until the book is completed, and all the other things I am writing are done.

Progress. I must always make progress.

And I really need to make that to-do list, which means I need to see what I’ve agreed to write and when it is actually due. I know I have some tighter deadlines than perhaps I would prefer; but that’s the writer’s life and it certainly always has been mine; months with nothing really due for a really long time, then a flurry of requests and deadlines all within a ridiculously short period of time.

And I had wanted to start talking about #shedeservedit every day on here, but I am not sure I have anything to say about it today? Really, it could and should probably wait until the lead-up to the actual release date (1/12/22) but preorders are shipped early–as early as 1/1/22, in fact–and I’ve even gotten my author copies already. So, is it too early to start talking more about this book? My experiences in Kansas? Will people be heartily sick of me talking about it before the book is even released?

Tis a fine line one must walk when doing blatant self-promotion. Although my stand methodology of blog posts is no one else reads this besides you so write about what you want to write about.

It has always, after all, served me well.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines and hope to not freeze to death. 😉 Have a lovely Christmas Eve Eve Eve, everyone!

Silver Bells

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style….in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas….

“Silver Bells” is, hands down, one of my favorite Christmas songs.

I’ve always wanted to write a story built around the song; maybe that’s something I can do for next year–but then again, who knows what will happen between now and then as far as my writing and deadlines are concerned? Heavy heaving sigh.

The other night, when I did my ZOOM thing for the release of #shedeservedit, afterwards I had a horrible rush of doubt and fear about the book itself. Who am I, after all, to write about rape culture and sexual assaults and so forth? Was writing the book an attempt to assuage my own guilt for my own complicity in the systemic toxic masculinity of our society, culture and civilization?

Some of the above? None of the above? All of the above?

I started writing the fiction collectively known and referred to as “the Kansas book” when I was actually in high school in Kansas. I created a fictional version of my high school and the county, including the county seat; it went through many iterations and renamings over the years as I worked on aspects of this enormous book, with interconnected characters and stories and so forth. Some of it was pulled out of this enormous “Bible” (for wont of a better word) to become my novel Sara about ten years or so ago; bits and pieces of it have now been pulled out to use for #shedeservedit, which will be out in January and has been what I have mostly referred to as “the Kansas book” for the last six or so years. The first draft of this iteration was written over a month, in July of 2015; I wrote three thousand words per day (or tried to; I did take some time off here and there) and by the end of the month I had nineteen chapters of about five thousand words in total of what needed to be a total of twenty chapters; I’d done ninety-six thousand words in a month but still didn’t know how to end the book (this is always a problem for me, by the way; and I am always afraid I don’t stick the landing). Over the next four or five years, I revised and rewrote the book, trying to see if I could figure out how to stick the landing as well as figure out what the dismount should be. I knew how I wanted to end it, but wasn’t sure if it would work…but also never wrote it, thinking the endless revisions and rewrites and changes might point the way to the proper dismount.

But this version, that begins with the star quarterback going missing after a game one night, might use the characters I dreamed up in the late 1970’s and have adapted and changed and grown over the years, but the plot-line that runs through this book wasn’t born until about 2004, when I decided to take all the things I’d been loosely working on over the decades since high school and pull it all together into a crime novel: the final and complete edition of the Kansas book. And it has gone through many iterations before I started that massive attempt to write an entire first draft of the new story in one month; back in 2004 I saw it as a book that flashed back between the present and 1977, when the quarterback was to have gone missing. I eventually abandoned that attempt–though I have reserved the right to do another such book, flashing back and forth in time, set in this universe somehow; I’ll figure that out later–and moved on to this final version of the missing quarterback theme/story.

Ironically, even from its earliest iteration, the underlying story here was about privilege; the privilege that comes with being a football player in a small city (am never sure where the cut off between town and city is precisely; I know when I lived in Kansas Emporia was considered a large town–population 27k or so–while the town we lived in was considered small–population 952; and Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City were considered cities) with a highly successful high school football team. With athletic success comes privilege; that was even true back in the 1970’s, and was even more true when it came to college teams. Originally, the quarterback’s body was found, naked, on the fifty yard line with evidence he’d had rectal sex the morning after Homecoming. That changed–the location of the body at any rate–and I also realized the Homecoming murder was also a cliché, so I had to move it up further in the season–which also made more sense with the timing of the event that may have possibly triggered the murder in the first place…this was a huge issue with the original draft I wrote in a month; why would it have taken so long for the murder to happen if the potentially triggering event was in the summer?

These are the trials and tribulations that an author must face when writing a crime novel.

Sometimes fate intervenes, as well. When I was writing Sleeping Angel all those years ago, I kept thinking something was missing from the manuscript; there was a hole where I should have been making a point and wasn’t. I was writing this book around the time when there were a rash of queer kids committing suicide in the news–basically being bullied to death–and this was around the same time that Dan Savage started the “it gets better” campaign. Ah, I thought, there’s what’s missing from the story.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know how it felt to be bullied, after all.

I decided to pull the Kansas book back out, and write that first draft, in the wake of two news stories that happened around the same time: Steubenville, Ohio and Marysville, Missouri. As I watched those cases unfold, I knew that was the answer to the Kansas book; my ‘small city with a great football program’ (and whose name went through many changes over the years–Kahola to Greenfield to Carterville to its final name, Liberty Center) obviously had to have a rape culture problem, derived from the culture of toxic masculinity that was created in order to have a successful football program. This decision was reiterated when I read Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer–which I bought and started reading one day when I was trapped in the Newark airport by a flight cancellation for like eight hours or so. (Also: shout out to friend Gwen Florio, a reporter for the Missoula paper whose coverage of the stories there featured heavily in the book)

So, when I sat down to write that draft in a month (oh to have that kind of focus again), that was in the forefront of my mind: the triggering event that may have potentially have led to the murder was the sexual assault of a cheerleader at a party before school started.

So, yes, I have written a crime novel set in a small town with a rape culture problem. Am I the best person to write such a book? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s why I am so nervous–how are people going to react to this story? From me?

And then I think, oh, it’s not like anyone pays any attention to you or your career anyway.

And now back to the spice mines.

Freedom

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

Happily, I made it through my first Monday back at work. Usually, I tend to take the day after I travel off from work–so if I fly home on Sunday I don’t work on Monday, so I can get acclimated and readjusted to being home–laundry, make groceries, get the mail, etc.–and usually I am exhausted from traveling so I need to sleep in a bit as well. But…yesterday somehow I managed to get up with the alarm, make some coffee, and got my shit together and wasn’t even the least bit grumpy about it. I was a bit tired–the legs especially; I walked a shit ton last week–but I made it through the day without incident and managed to run some errands on the way home. I had considered making a trip to the gym last night but decided it made more sense to go after work tonight–I know, I know, excuses to fail instead of reasons to succeed, but hey, I took a four hour flight yesterday, had to navigate two airports and so forth, not to mention the horrors of I-10 East through the burbs and into the city–no small feat. But I also started feeling low energy around three yesterday afternoon (nothing new; that’s when it usually hits me right between the eyes with a 2 x 4) so it wasn’t travel related at all, but was enough to make me rethink my gym strategy.

Ironically, once I get readjusted to my schedule, I’m off to Kentucky for Thanksgiving.

Which is not an excuse to not go to the gym this week.

The realization that Murder the Indigenous People Day looms on the horizon is also forcing me to rethink my grocery shopping necessities; I really don’t need to be buying anything perishable, and I need to make sure Paul is all stocked up with things he can easily prepare for himself (although he’ll inevitably simply end up eating out the entire time); but I have this weekend to worry about all of that and get it handled. I made significant progress yesterday on getting caught up on everything–still horribly behind on everything, of course–but at least I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and I don’t feel as terribly stressed out about being so far behind, which is also progress of a sort. I do want to get back to reading Barbara Ross’ delightful Shucked Away, which I started reading on the plane home Sunday, and I think next up will be another Leslie Budewitz; I loved the first in her wonderful Spice Shop series, but haven’t managed to get back to it yet, and of course, after Thanksgiving is the best time to read the next up in Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series, Owl Be Home for Christmas–it would actually be kind of great to have an entire season of Christmas books to read, wouldn’t it, and Andrews does one every year, which is also kind of marvelous as well, but I don’t want to read the books out of order.

I also began piecing together and outlining an article I am writing for Crime Reads to help promote the Kansas book when it’s released–I got the hook finally over the weekend at Crime Bake, for which I will always be grateful to that conference, and the New England chapters of MWA and Sisters in Crime–and that definitely counts as writing (I never count the blog as writing, despite the fact that every entry is more than five hundred words and sometimes even longer), so I am getting back into that saddle, which feels really great. I also managed to finish the laundry last night, emptied a load from the dishwasher so I could reload it, and got some filing and organizing done around the Lost Apartment so my desk area isn’t quite as disheveled and scattered as it was when I got home Sunday night. I still have to finish my blog posts on Invisible City by Julia Dahl and Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (if you haven’t read them, Constant Reader, you really need to get on with it! Don’t wait as long as I did, which was a huge mistake), and I also want to get some boxes prepared to clear out some more books for the library sale. I think Saturday I am going to drag a box down from the attic to dispose of as well; might as well get that project started–because the attic is definitely not ever going to clean itself out at any point in time.

We watched the recent episode of Dopesick last night, and the acting is truly superb; the entire show has been extremely well done and well-written; everyone in the cast should be tapped for an Emmy nomination; the young woman who plays Bets, the lesbian mine worker who gets hooked after a back injury is particularly fantastic, as is Mare Winningham and Michael Keaton. Rosario Dawson is no slouch, either, and if there was ever an oilier, slimier villain–the actor playing Richard Sackler is Bond-villain worthy. We’ll probably get caught up on our other shows the rest of this week–The Sinner, The Morning Show–and there’s some other shows I want to watch as well; I really do need to start making a list. I also want to get back to Chapelwaite, which I don’t think Paul was enjoying as much as I did; we’ll have to have a chat about that tonight when we both get home from the gym.

Yes, I am planning on going to the gym tonight. We’ll see how that turns out, won’t we?

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader. I know I intend to.

Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me

Ah, Kansas.

Moving between your sophomore and junior years in high school isn’t easy on any teenager. I wasn’t quite as nervous about this move as I had been when we moved from Chicago out to the suburbs–which was a major shift in everything I was used to, moved me away from friends I’d been going to school with since first grade, and made me that thing no one wants to be: the new kid–primarily because I’d already experienced being the new kid once already, and had never really gotten over it. Suburban life wasn’t good for me, really–I got picked on and bullied alot, called gay slurs pretty regularly, kids didn’t want to be my friend because they’d open themselves up to the same bullying I was experiencing. So, while I was going to miss the people I did consider to be my friends–which was yet another eye-opening experience in and of itself, but more on that later–but I wasn’t going to miss the bullying, the being targeted, the snickers after I walked past people in the halls, and worrying about having a place to sit in the cafeteria every day (my sophomore year I joined Choir to get out of the lunch break–we were always dismissed fifteen minutes early so we could eat, so I would grab something quickly and eat it as fast as I could; I still eat fast to this day).

I even thought it could be a fresh start for me, and all of that could stay in the past.

While I sometimes will joke about how glad I was to get out of Kansas five years later, I appreciated my time there. My high school was actually–given its size–a much better school than the enormous one I attended in the suburbs; I actually learned there and participated in class. I was, of course, horribly lonely; it’s never been easy for me to talk to people I don’t know (painful shyness, to the point of anxiety), and as always, when nervous and uncomfortable I resort to humor and jokes and being a clown. I never felt like I fit in there, but it was so much better than my old school experience–and the slurs didn’t start there until the second semester of my senior year. That was fine; I just had to make it through a few more weeks by then and at that point I was ready to get out of there and move on with my life.

Kansas wasn’t a particularly welcoming place for a gay teenager in the mid-1970’s, but then most places weren’t at the time. I remember thinking I was the only gay kid in Kansas, the only one at either school I attended, and there was absolutely no one I could trust to talk to about it. I missed having real friends, ones like I read about in books or saw in movies and television shows; it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized I never had real friends because I never trusted anyone enough to actually be honest with them, tell them the truth about me–and the real basis of friendship is mutual trust. I obviously have always had serious trust issues–the whole no one can find out hell of my first few decades of life–but I never felt close to people because I didn’t trust them enough to not turn on me, walk out of my life, and/or mock me if I told them the truth.

So, for a long time I rather held it against Kansas and the area where we lived for not being more open and welcoming, and it was unfair. Would rural Alabama have been better? New Orleans? Nebraska or Texas or California? Even in the cities with a big queer population at the time–New York, Chicago, San Francisco–I wouldn’t say the life of queer kids going through the hell of being closeted in public school was better there. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t; I don’t know. But when you live in Kansas and are a queer kid in the 1970’s…I felt like I was marooned on a distant planet.

Oddly enough, the little book store in the county seat, the News Depot–they had a massive newspaper/magazine section, and also carried comic books; it was there I started reading them again–that I found the books that were my foundational queer reading: Gordon Merrick’s The Quirk, Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Catch Trap (and yes, I am aware of the allegations against her as well as her husband–and his, I believe, actual crimes; but I cannot deny the book was foundational reading for me, either). The clerk didn’t even give me a second glance whenever I bought one of these books; I also had to bury them in my room in stacks of other books so my mom wouldn’t find them (my biggest fear was always one day my mom would get bored, wander into my room to find something to read, and wonder, ‘The Quirk? What’s that about?”). There were sex scenes in them, too–sex scenes I read over and over again, memorizing the page numbers so I wouldn’t have to use a bookmark or turn down a page, which was far too risky. I already had a vague idea of what gay sex was like, gathered from insults and comments in other books; but these were pretty graphic and left no doubt in my mind whatsoever about what was involved.

And boy, I wanted to find out how it actually felt.

(I never actually found a gay bookstore until I moved to Tampa in 1990. But I would spend hours in bookstores in the years prior looking for anything that might even be remotely gay or gay-friendly; and occasionally I would find something like Dancer from the Dance or The Swimming-Pool Library but what I really wanted was something fun to read with positive gay characters. characters who weren’t stereotypes or to be pitied or felt sorry for; gays who lived their lives openly and proudly, and maybe solved crimes, fell in and out of love, experienced life that wasn’t all solemn and dreary and sad. Don’t get me wrong–I am not dogging either of those books; they are wonderful novels and beautifully written, but…I am a genre guy, not a litfic guy, and I wanted to read some gay crime or horror or romance or something entertaining. Once I discovered the wealth of books and authors that actually existed in the genres? There was no turning back.)

I had always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere–my earliest childhood memories are of me being aware I wasn’t like the other kids, in many ways, and how odd and different I felt. That feeling never changed growing up–hell, there are still times when I feel like I am from another planet–and the moving around didn’t help, either…I do remember thinking, every time I moved to a new city and state as an adult, ah, here we go again–no friends, no life, and no idea how to find anyone who is like me–if there are any people like me.

It was often discouraging. I felt like I was going to always be alone.

By the time I was twenty it was time to go, to leave Kansas and never go back. I felt so stunted, and so unhappy, like my potential hadn’t been tapped and never would if I remained there. I knew if I stayed in Kansas I would wind up probably very unhappily married, with kids and a whole life I didn’t want, had never wanted, but was expected of me. I knew I would never be happy there, completely happy–and so when the chance presented itself to move to California (California! You can imagine how exciting that sounded to me), I took it and never looked back.

With the passing of time and more perspective, a lot of the bitterness I used to feel about my experience there has changed. I don’t know that the experience there now would be any different than it was in the 1970’s, but I suspect that even had we stayed in the suburbs of Chicago those last few years of high school and first years of college would have been equally scarring and stifling; that’s pretty much how it was for queer kids everywhere back then. Some of the kids I was friends with, or knew, from my old high school in Kansas have friended me on Facebook, and me being a big ole queer must not bother them too much; it’s not like I hide it anymore (those days are forever gone) and they don’t unfriend or block me (although my feed could be hidden from their walls; I’ve certainly done that). I’ve revisited Kansas some in my work already–some short stories, a novel here and there–but this latest visit there in the world I created for #shedeservedit might be a bit unfair; but in a town where toxic masculinity has been allowed to run unchecked, I can’t imagine it would be a comfortable place for a gay teen.

And that’s enough for today. Hope you have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Always

Wednesday, and somehow Pay the Bills Day kind of snuck up on me unawares. That’s probably not a bad thing; it certainly means I am not living paycheck-to-paycheck (at least for the moment), which means a lot less stress (there are few things more stressful than money problems) for the time being.

And yes, I am thoroughly enjoying being free of that stress for the time being. I am sure at some point it will return with a vengeance, hence my embrace of the current status.

I’ve recently been immersed in #shedeservedit this past week or so; the final round of edits came in from my editor, and no sooner had I gone over them, rereading the entire thing yet again, then the page proofs dropped into my inbox. I actually have more time than usual to get these done–which is quite lovely and marvelous–and this of course is only checking for typos and mistakes and missing words, etc. But it’s been weird spending so much time in Kansas again in my head lately.

Immersing myself into that world has also been an interesting experience; particularly when you take into consideration how much different the story is now than where it was at when I first wrote it. It was, sadly, inspired by the viral rape cases in Steubenville, Ohio and Marysville, Missouri; much as I hate to admit this, the sexual assault of teenaged girls by their classmates etc. wasn’t really on my radar until those stories went viral–and of course, the Stanford swimmer rapist. All three cases horrified me to the very core of my being; and given that the only recourse I had to effect change was to write about it, I decided to start writing what I obliquely referred to as “the Kansas book” for a very long time (despite the fact that I had always titled it #shedeservedit).

Ah, Kansas.

We moved to Kansas when I was fourteen (I turned fifteen later that summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school). To say it was a bit of a culture shock is putting it mildly. The entire state of Kansas is less populous than Chicago, and the biggest town (small city) in the county was smaller than the suburb where we had lived. I don’t know how many students my suburban high school had, but the building itself was enormous and we basically had a campus; the town library was on the property and we had a field house by the football field, with locker rooms for the home and away teams. My high school in Kansas had 180 students, and my class, the largest in school history, had 48 kids. The school was simply a lobby, a single hallway for the classrooms, and a gym, which had a stage for plays at one end of the basketball court. Our hall lockers didn’t even have locks–which was unimaginable at my former school. We actually lived in a very small town (population 942) about eight miles north of the county seat; that town was the second largest one in the county. My high school was consolidated; five small towns and all the farms in the community sent their kids there–it was sixteen miles from where we lived.

Kansas, and my high school there, had a profound influence on me in many ways. I had taken a creative writing class at my former school–got an A, and some praise from the teacher, but nothing overwhelming–but it was in Kansas where I really started writing. My English class required us to write papers my junior year; my teacher very generously allowed me to write fiction, and so I did. Everyone in my class loved the stories I wrote, and my teacher, the hallowed Mrs. Anderson, encouraged me to pursue writing as a vocation–which was the first time I ever had any kind of encouragement of any kind from anyone other than my grandmother to do so–and that was when I actually began to believe it was something that could happen for me; that I had the ability to tell stories and write and even possibly, at some point, get paid to do so and maybe even make a living doing it. (It only took more than twenty years after graduation, but I did eventually start getting paid to write; it was even my primary source of income for a very long time.)

The town in the book–Liberty Center (a nod to Philip Roth’s When She Was Good)–is obviously based very slightly on the county seat; mostly the geography more than anything else, as well as it also has a small college, a park on the way out of town just before a waterfall; and another park on the other side of town rumored to be a gay cruising spot. I’ve written about this town, and this county, a lot over the years, but the name of that town has changed numerous times–everything from Greenfield to Kahola to Carterville and finally, Liberty Center. (Sara, the first young adult novel I wrote chronologically, is also set in that same area; however the county seat in that book had a different name; Kahola, I think) I’ve not set foot in Kansas since we left for California in February 1981; so this is all from my memory, with an occasional glance at Google Earth or Google Maps. Obviously, everything there has changed dramatically in the forty years (!) since we got on Amtrak and headed west at two in the morning; I tended to stick to my actual memories than the reality of what has changed.

So, when these notorious sexual assault cases involving kids (sorry, I still, and will always, think of college students as kids too, YMMV) became so viral and so ever-present everywhere, I knew I finally had the story for the book I wanted to write in this fictional town–I’d made any number of false starts over the years; some of which may eventually became the seeds for other books–but I have always, always, wanted to write a book set there, and writing a toxic masculinity/rape culture book set there just seemed like the right way to go. I had everything in place that I wanted or needed to write the book; the only thing I didn’t know how to do was end it. So, as I mentioned the other day, I finished the last book I had under contract sometime in the spring of 2015, and took the month of July to write this first draft–96,000 words, nineteen chapters, and missing the concluding one. I didn’t get the story right in the first draft, but set it aside to do other things for awhile before coming back to it. I worked on it around other projects over the years since, and finally, last year, finally recognized the truth I’d been avoiding–it will never be finished unless you sign a contract for it with a deadline. And so I did, and now it will be released in January of this year.

And yes, the deadline was precisely the panicking terrified motivation I needed to make the changes to the story that made it gel and possible for me to write an ending.

And of course, as always, I have been plagued with doubts every step of the way while writing this: am I the right person to write this book? Is a white male the right person to do a book built around toxic masculinity and rape culture? Am I taking a spot in publishing away from someone who might be better qualified and better experienced to write such a novel?

But writing is about taking risks, and trying to push yourself. One of the reasons I started doing the stand-alone books all those years ago was because I worried about getting stale and bored writing my two series; originally, switching back and forth between them helped keep them fresh and new to me…but around 2009 I was starting to feel like those books were becoming repetitive (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?) and stale; that I didn’t have anything new or interesting to say about them. (I kind of am feeling that way with Scotty right now–Chanse has ended, although I may do some novellas with him; but am hopeful once I get everything done that I am working on currently that I can sit down and gather my thoughts on the next Scotty book into something interesting and cohesive and frankly, worthy of the character) I use the stand-alone books to push myself further as a writer, into exploring other things and voices and tenses, which I hope makes the series books better.

I guess we’ll have to see how that goes, won’t we?

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone, and will check in with you again tomorrow.

Baby I’m Burnin’

Monday and a lovely vacation day, which meant not getting up at six and dragging for the earlier portion of my day. Instead, I stayed in bed until nine again–a streak that’s been going for several days now–and I suspect tomorrow morning’s alarm is going to be an incredibly rude return to reality. But I only have to get up early two days this week, and I only have one work-at-home day on Thursday because I decided to take the splurge and take my birthday off as well. Next week I only have to work two days before the Bouchercon vacation week kicks in, and then I don’t have to return to work until the following Tuesday.

I am rather glad I decided to keep that vacation week, in all honesty.

I am doing an event this evening on Zoom for the Anne Arundel County library; it’s a Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter panel on writing diversity, or diversity in your writing, or something like that. It seems like it will be a great and interesting time–I’ve been wrong before, but I have no worries on that score here–and if you have any interest in watching/listening, you can register here. They are obviously cutting off registration at the starting time of 7pm EDT. Join us! It’s an interesting group: Cathy Wiley, Sherry Harris, Cheryl Head, Paula Mays and Kristopher Zgorski–me, too, of course. I am looking forward to it.

I finished watching Loki last night, which was great fun–cannot wait for the second season–although I do wish they’d allow Tom Hiddleston to let him use his real hair and get rid of the wig. That long dark wig detracts from how pretty he is–at least in my opinion–and he has such gorgeous eyes. But I am digressing, and I do think it was a great fun show–very clever and interesting–with a great season-ending cliffhanger it will be interesting to see them write their way out of, in all honesty; I always am interested in major cliffhangers from a writer’s point of view; I always like to see how they write their way out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into. We then watched the most recent Titans episode, and then binged our way through the latest Harlan Coben Netflix show, Gone for Good, which was chock full of twists and turns and surprises–and the main story, as is often the case with Harlan’s work, isn’t what it appears to be in the very beginning, or even through the first episode or two. It was. French production, which meant listening in French and reading the English subtitles; it’s hard for me to imagine that there was a time when I wouldn’t watch shows because they were in foreign languages and subtitled. Ah well, we do continue to learn as we get older.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; I did finish a revision of “The Sound of Snow Falling,” but not much beyond that–other than some note-taking in my journal, as well as going through the last four or five of them and marking the pages containing notes on the Kansas book AND Chlorine; today I have errands to run, and I do have to go to the gym at some point, but I plan on getting the kitchen finished (ZOOM tonight, after all) and those notes on the Kansas Book typed up; the final revision of that book has to get started this week so I can buckle down next week whilst on vacation and get it completely redone the way it needs to be redone, so its readable. I am looking forward to this challenge, if not the actual work that has to be done.

So, was this long weekend a waste for me? Old Gregalicious would certainly think so; Chapter Four of Chlorine remains unwritten; just as the notes for the revision of #shedeservedit remain scribbles on several sheets of notebook paper and three boxes still repose under my desk. I haven’t gone anywhere near the attic to try to prune down the boxes up there; and I have yet to clean out the vacuum cleaner and run it over the floors of the downstairs. But I feel rested, relaxed, and remarkably stress-free; perhaps the bromide be kinder to yourself is actually working its magic on my psyche and my soul and my fevered brain.

Or I’ve simply gotten too old to care about that stuff anymore. It could be either, really.

My errands should be relatively simple and easy to get through (the post office, the bank, groceries, gas for the car) and then of course I need to walk to the gym in the middle of the heat-soaked humidity-laden afternoon. And of course then it’s time to get some stuff done around the house and maybe do some writing and reading before getting ready for tonight’s event. I am over half-way finished with The Other Black Girl, and it’s pretty amazing, really–more on it, of course, when I am ready to discuss the book on its completion. I think the next book I’m going to read is either Yes Daddy or A Beautiful Crime; it’s fun to be reading gay books again, and maybe I should stop shying away from them. I really don’t care anymore if people think I’m jealous of other people’s careers–I’m not, and I can’t control what other people think of me even if I was, and I’ve long since stopped caring what other people think of me at any rate; just as they can’t control what I think about anything or anyone.

So, I probably should get a-move on for this morning. I generally run errands around noon; which gives me about an hour of email answering and cleaning up to do around here before i leave the house. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

Young Hearts Run Free

And here we are on a lovely and quiet and calm Sunday morning; in which I don’t even have to go outside unless I actually want to–and the odds are against that, believe you me.

Well, not entirely true, as nothing is; I’ll have to take out the trash and the recycling at some point, and of course, if I use the grill for burgers today (a Sunday summer tradition; in the fall I switch to Saturdays for LSU games) but other than that, I am staying inside the cool of the Lost Apartment today. Tomorrow I’ll go to the gym (I went yesterday rather than Friday), go to the bank, get the mail and do other errands–it’s lovely having that option with the extra vacation day we received this week–and of course, I am taking Friday off for my birthday. I wasn’t planning on doing so, but then I figured why the hell not? You only turn sixty once.

I told you I decided to lean into the sixty thing. Only four more days of my fifties left!

Yesterday was nice, really. I read for a while yesterday morning (I am loving The Other Black Girl so much), and ran my errands; it was ninety-five degrees but during the day the humidity was low (at least while I was out in it) so it wasn’t as terribly unpleasant as it could easily have been; and then when I got home I walked to the gym. The gym is in the process of a $250,000 renovation–delayed thanks to COVID-19–so working out was interesting; I had to find things as everything was moved around for the arrival of new machines and the putting in of a new floor in the weight room, but over all it was fine; it will be problematic probably on Wednesday night during peak times, so I may change up my work out days this week. But it felt good–as it always should–and afterwards I walked home (it was definitely humid then) and came back to the house and started working around here–cleaning and so forth. I reread some of the Secret Project and spotted the places I am going to need to get fixed up and prepared and so forth; I also worked on “The Sound of Snow Falling” a bit. Was it as highly a productive day as I would like? No, probably not, but I also kept remembering I have nothing to do today other than read, write, clean and organized, so today will be the load-bearing day of the weekend, methinks. I am going to have some breakfast and some more coffee; then I am going to type up the editorial notes I have for the next book, read for a bit, and then I am going to probably write Chapter Four of Chlorine and work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I may even take some time to start writing emails I won’t send until tomorrow morning–remember, I have a very strict policy on not sending emails on the weekend.

But the nights of good sleep are plentiful, and I feel rested every day when I get up (today I was a lag-a-bed until nine! Just like the last two days! Madness!) and I feel more like myself than I have in a very long time–like there’s been a cloud in my brain that has finally lifted; I know that’s not very clear but that’s the best metaphor I can come up with one cup of coffee so sue me–and while I may not be writing as much as I was, say, last month…I am making definite progress on things and feel very much centered. I do wish I was writing more–but today should get me back into the swing of writing again, and I am very excited to be writing on my new computer–which also accesses files on my laptop, which is amazing (and the obverse is also true). I’m probably going to do some more cleaning and organizing this morning; I really need to get these boxes out from under my desk–I can undoubtedly cram some more things into the filing cabinet, which I will most likely get handled this morning–and I do want to prune the books a bit more, or at least get them better organized. (I’m afraid I’ve been acquiring again, alas.)

I also stopped working yesterday around five expecting Paul to be home soon (not until after eight thirty) and while I waited for him, I decided to give Loki another whirl after the disappointing, almost tedious first episode–and was very glad I did. I got very caught up in the story–which was incredibly smart and clever, with some great surprises and twists. Next thing I knew, I had blown through four or five episodes before Paul got home–which enabled us to watch Ted Lasso (me for the second time) before watching last week’s disturbing episode of American Horror Stories–which is so much better than American Horror Story it’s not even funny. I may have to finish Loki this morning while Paul sleeps, now that I think about it. I can go through my journals and mark the pages with notes for both Chlorine and the other secret project, as well as for the Kansas book.

My, what a busy boy one Gregalicious is these days! But that’s also fine; I don’t really feel any paralysis of oh my god how will I get all this done so why even try; rather, I am making lists and crossing things off, which was how I used to always deal with feeling overwhelmed; accept it, write down everything, and start getting them done. So yes, I think, after I post this i am going to go ahead and make that to-do list, and start getting things done.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. You have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

It’s My House

Tuesday, Tuesday. Ruby Tuesday?

I slept better last night than Sunday night; being tired was definitely a big help in that regard. It rained a lot yesterday, which is always Kryptonite when I’m tired; rain just makes me want to get under a blanket and go to sleep (there’s nothing better than sleeping while it’s raining, is there?), which also always makes me a bit on the loopy side for the time it’s raining. Being tired I didn’t get as much done when I got home as I had wanted (quelle surprise)but I did get most of the dishes cleaned up and loaded into the dishwasher, and I did get the mail and make groceries on the way home from the office, so that should count for something, right? I also tried to read when I got home, but my mind was too tired to focus, so yes–it was back to Youtube and history videos for me until Paul got home from the gym and I was able to put on Outer Banks, which is not disappointing at all in its second season. I’m a little bit Olympics-ed out; the shitty coverage and commentators from NBC aren’t exactly lighting up the screen with their amazing work, frankly.

I do rather miss the days when ABC Sports actually operated as a news reporting team; actually doing in-depth coverage as opposed to the “entertainment news” style coverage NBC has given us this Olympiad. I’ve never been pleased with Olympic coverage ever since it left ABC, frankly–and even ABC Sports isn’t what it once was when I was a kid watching–which probably all is tied together in the weird shift from actual journalism to journalism as entertainment.

But at least I am feeling pretty good this morning, which hopefully will mean a more productive–and useful feeling–day than yesterday was.

I really need to get back to work on my own stuff. Chapter Four of Chlorine is calling, of course–and I need to do some revisions of short stories, and I also need to get those notes for the Kansas book typed up so I can start working on those for next weekend. I also have to do some writing for my friends’ website, which should have been done over this past weekend, but it was also a low-energy weekend for me and therefore one that I rode out rather than trying to force anything, other than the completion of Chapter Three. I did finish reading Razorblade Tears, which was great, and started The Other Black Girl, also terrific, so the reading life is coming along. The new Stephen King and Megan Abbott novels should also be in my hot little hands today or tomorrow as well, which is absolutely lovely to contemplate (although I am so far behind on my Stephen King reading I despair of ever getting caught up; perhaps I should spend October catching up on King? There’s a thought, isn’t there?).

God, there’s so many good books I need to read! GAH! (And this is why I end up hoarding books, you see.)

I’ve also noted that I am starting to hoard food again–this is always a problem for me; it comes from years of being poor; whenever I have a surplus of cash (as I do currently) I tend to buy more food than we need, or could eat, which comes from the mentality that oh this stuff will keep and if I can’t ever afford food again we’ll be able to eat this along with oh I want to try this recipe but I don’t have this ingredient in the cupboards okay I will go ahead and buy it even if I only use it once and then it sits in the cabinet connecting dust….and then I will forget I have it and wind up buying another one when I need it again (hello, three bottles of red wine vinegar in my cupboard!), which is yet another sign of my lack of organization and my inability to prep before shopping (in other words, check what I have on hand before adding things to the grocery lists).

I really do need to get better organized so I can maximize my use of time.

And speaking of which, I should probably get ready for my day at the office. Have a great Tuesday, Constant Reader!