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!

Who Do You Think You Are

Wednesday and hump day; it’s the Wednesday between bi-weekly Pay the Bills Days and all the bills are paid and thus all is right in a Gregalicious world. Huzzah? HUZZAH!

I didn’t want to get up this morning–definitely didn’t want to get out of bed–which is a lovely contrast to a few weeks ago when I was getting up earlier than usual because I couldn’t sleep. The caffeine experiment also seems to continue to work–I wasn’t tired from less caffeine yesterday, didn’t crash from caffeine drop in the middle of the afternoon, and felt fine when I got home from work (other than exhaustion from being out in a heat advisory, which convinced me to skip the gym last night and try again tonight). I worked on Chlorine a little before being sucked into the Olympic vortex last night, but tonight I am going to try to get more work on Chlorine done and maybe do some editing etc. rather than staring at the television for most of the evening. I am really enjoying working on Chlorine–it hit me yesterday that I am having a lot of fun with the character voice, and another key to his character, who he is, came to me last night–more than anything, he’s a survivor, a queer man in a horribly homophobic society doing what he has to do in order to survive and work and keep going without being destroyed in the process–and as such, he has to make some moral compromises…but he truly sees those compromises as endemic to Hollywood and the system; everyone has to make compromises in Hollywood.

I am really, really liking the character, and really really liking writing it. I mean, yesterday I got to write the line “I’ve never cared much about dames.” That inordinately pleased me to no end, and is emblematic of the voice and the tone I am striving for in this book. And I’m actually believing this will be a really good one–which is a feeling I rarely get when I am in the midst of writing something, if ever.

So, I am just kind of basking in the glow of writing something I am enjoying and am proud of at the same time, since it’s such a unique experience for me.

I’m also speaking to my editor tomorrow about #shedeservedit, which she apparently thinks, in her own words, is “amazing”, which nevertheless means I’ll be taking a break from other writing relatively soon in order to do the revisions and edits on it for its January release. At long last, “the Kansas book” will be out there for people to read. I’ve kind of worked on this book, in one form or another, since 1977, really; it’s been a long time a-bornin’, as they used to say in the olden days in the rural midwest. There are some other Kansas book ideas in my head, but unless something really jumps out and grabs me by the throat, this may very well be my last Kansas book. Alabama, on the other hand…one of the things I need to do (which I forgot to add to the to-do list I created yesterday) is go through the Alabama stuff I’ve already written and clear up discrepancies and so forth, as well as make a list of who’s who in the county and the county’s history and so forth. I will be revisiting Corinth County again–for some reason, I’m thinking that one of the supporting characters from Bury Me in Shadows (namely, Beau Hackworth) may even get his own book at some point, and there are numerous other Corinth County stories I want to tell. I may even do some more California books, for that matter…and there’s definitely a book with a Houston tie-in I want to write eventually.

I guess we’ll see how it all turns out.

But I am pretty jazzed I’ve somehow made it to Wednesday relatively unscathed.

This bodes well for the future, methinks. And in a few more weeks I get a four day weekend; they are closing the agency on the 13th and the 16th as a thank you to the staff for working through the pandemic (which isn’t over yet, but I appreciate the long weekend) and we also all got a raise for the year, which was also rather nice. Bouchercon in New Orleans is also happening in a few weeks–at least, so far it is still happening–and while it’s going to involve social distancing and masking, I am still looking forward to seeing my friends whom I’ve not seen in years now. Years.

But if Louisiana’s numbers keep worsening…sigh.

And on that note, I am going to get my day started. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Gorgeous

So, as Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been working, off and on, since 2015 on something that I referred to for years as “the Kansas book”, whose actual title is #shedeservedit.

It will be released on 1/11/22 officially; if you pre-order it from the Bold Strokes website, it will ship actually on January 1 (well, probably the 2nd since the 1st is a holiday).

Here’s the cover copy:

Liberty Center High School’s football team has a long history of success, and the dying small town has nothing else to cling to. But when Lance, the star quarterback, is found dead, Alex Wheeler becomes the prime suspect in his best friend’s murder. Alex thought he knew Lance’s secrets–but Lance was keeping his sexuality private and someone else found out. How well did Alex really know Lance, and what else did he keep hidden? 

To prove his innocence and figure out what really happened to Lance that last night, Alex starts connecting the dots and finds that everything leads back to the recent suicide of a cheerleader who may have been sexually assaulted at a team party. Did online bullying and photos of her from the party drive her to suicide? Or was she murdered? Alex and his girlfriend India soon find their own lives are in danger as they get closer and closer to the horrifying truth about how far Liberty Center will go to protect their own.

I’ve been writing what I had taken to calling “the Kansas book” since I was in high school, really. While I was in high school I wrote several stories about a group of kids at a fictional high school, completely based on my own, and while it was certainly melodrama…we also didn’t have shows for teens like Beverly Hills 90210 and movies for teens like Sixteen Candles, Fast Times at Ridgement High, or Risky Business yet; all “teen fare” at the time was mostly from Disney, G-rated, and farcical; likewise, television programs targeted toward younger viewers were mostly for really young kids or what we now call “tweens.” And while I had crushes on both Kurt Russell and Jan-Michael Vincent (who didn’t?), those Disney films were little better than The Brady Bunch. I think it was in 1980 when I decided to take those stories and extrapolate them into a longer story, thinking it would be my first novel–and it expanded from the kids to include their older siblings and parents and teachers as well. I moved the story from the rural county to the county seat, and over the course of three years I painstakingly wrote about three thousand notebook pages. It was a sloppy mess, to be honest; I was thinking in terms of writing something along the lines of Peyton Place–the story of a town over the course of five years–but as I wrote I dropped characters and storylines; changed character names when a better name occurred to me; as I said, it was a total mess…and when I completed it, in the days before computers, I realized that I needed to type the entire thing up, and alas, I didn’t know how to touch type and whenever I typed anything I consistently made errors. So, I simply set it aside and went back to writing short stories before starting, in 1991, to try my hand at novels again.

In the years since, I cheerfully pulled elements from that ancient manuscript out to use for other books and other stories–there was a murder mystery at the heart of the book, and I actually used that as the basis for the plot of Murder in the Garden District; apparently I have always had crime in mind when it came to my writing–and I also pulled character names and other stories from it to use elsewhere. I reverted back to the rural county aspect of the original short stories to write Sara; one of the things I had to do recently was go through Sara and anything else I’ve written and published already having to do with Kansas to record the character names to make sure I wasn’t using them again in this book. I also originally began the basics of this book sometime before Katrina–the star quarterback’s dead body being found on the fifty yard line of the football field, and originally the primary POV character was the only detective on the small town’s police force. What I wrote was really good–I believe I got up to about five chapters–and it was also a flashback story with parallel time-lines; one in 1977, when the quarterback was murdered, and the present day, with someone who was in high school at the time becoming convinced that the person convicted of the crime was actually innocent and railroaded as a cover-up. I could never get the whole plot worked out, and it went through several changes and stages as I worked on it, still being called “the Kansas book.”

Two real life crimes–the rapes in Steubenville, Ohio and the other in Marysville, Missouri, in which girls were either drugged or pressured into over drinking and then when too wasted to even speak were sexually assaulted by athletes–inspired me to drag the framework of this story out and use it to tell a similar style story. I was, like anyone with a conscience or a soul, horrified by these rapes, and even more horrified by the aftermath; the way the girls were humiliated and shamed publicly and on social media, and I couldn’t get a hashtag that the kids in one of the towns used while shaming the victim: #shedeservedit.

That, I felt, was my title, and I could build the story from there. I could still have the dead quarterback; I could still have the town reeling from the one-two punch of the rape and the murder, only now I could layer in the victim-blaming and shaming. (I will never forget female newscasters talking about how sad it was that the boys convicted for the Steubenville case’s lives were ruined; I saved my sympathy for the poor girl they victimized; how on earth would she get past this?) I wrote the entire first draft in one month in the summer of 2015, and have tinkered with it, off and on, ever since. It was early last year, I think, pre-pandemic, when. I finally decided that two books I’d been working on between others over the last few years needed to be done and out of my hair; and the best way to force myself to finish them both once and for all was to offer them to my publisher. I did that, was given deadlines, and now, as I am finishing the final version of #shedeservedit, I also have a release date (1/11/22) and a cover to share with you all, so here it is (obviously, see above).

Writing this has been a journey, as writing any book can be; the Imposter Syndrome reared its ugly head numerous times during the writing of this book–should a man be writing a book about this subject? Is telling such a story from the point of view of a young man, friend to both the rape victim and the rapists, the right way to tell it? Am I centering a young man in a story about sexual assault and the toxic rape culture that has grown up around a small town’s athletic success?

I guess time will tell.

Kiss of Death

Wednesday, also pay the bills day. Heavy heaving sigh. I always despair when this time of the month rolls around; while it is always lovely to get paid again, almost everything is also due in the first half of the month, so watching my balance dwindle is never really much fun, to be perfectly honest. Oh, well, and so it goes, you know what I mean? Perhaps some extra cash will drop out of the sky or something, who knows what? Stranger things have happened, after all, and it isn’t every month that pay day falls so unfortunately the way this one has, alas.

Yesterday was kind of cool, as the first-ever openly gay person was confirmed by the Senate to sit in the President’s cabinet. The usual right-wing trash opposed his candidacy, of course–the Homophobic Confederate Caucus (HCC for short), as I prefer to call them–and voted against his confirmation; womp fucking womp, traitors.

It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day today; the sun is rising in the distance over the West Bank in a riot of colors that are quite spectacular to see, and it looks as though the sky is relatively clear. It’s cold and I have the space heater going, but that’s pretty much par for the course in early February….what’s disheartening is that this would ordinarily be the first weekend of our parades…and while I am glad I don’t have to plan my work schedule around the parade schedule this year–one less stressor, thank you, baby Jesus–it’s very weird and strange to not be having parades this year. Last year’s Carnival wasn’t a good one–when floats kill people, it’s not a good Carnival season–and it kind of sucks that is the most recent one in memory; but at the same time, because of the pandemic and the passage of time being so fucked with, it also seems like last year’s parade season was a million years ago.

I did make it to the gym last night, which felt terrific–it had been a week, and I am very happy my arm is no longer sore from the vaccination. I was, naturally, exhausted when I got home, but managed to get some work done on the book. As I get further into this revision, I am also realizing that the chapters I kept revising whenever I would go back to work on this were the first ones…so Chapter Five, which I worked on last night, was the first that hasn’t been completely revised in several drafts. While this made it a bit trickier to revise–it also was somewhat easier? I still think transitions within the chapter aren’t as smooth now as they need to be, but my plan is to get a chapter per day (minimum) done between now and the weekend; and then spending the weekend working ahead on print copies as well as going back and copy-editing what I have done–which should be the first ten chapters or so by the weekend. I also slept very well last night–wearing one’s self out at the gym is always an excellent way to ensure that you get good sleep, and of course, tomorrow and Friday are my work-at-home days….so I get to sleep a little more than I do on Monday thru Wednesday. I am getting used to this, though–I find myself having no trouble going to bed at ten (if not earlier) on these nights, and the extra hour or so on my work-at-home days is also rather marvelous. Paul was late getting home last night, so after I finished working on the book I went into a wormhole on Youtube and the Internet, looking up same-sex relationships in Greek mythology, and being bemused by how I learned none of this studying Greek mythology when I was a kid. I do enjoy Greek mythology–and I definitely enjoy modern novels based on and/or in Greek mythology–Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and Circe come to mind; there’s another one I’ve come across about the Trojan War I am interested in as well. I’ve also always wanted to write a book about Troy–it’s been languishing in my files for years now, about a gay prince of Troy during the War and called The Trojan Boy; I have this image of an opening scene in which my gay prince (not a son of Queen Hecuba, but rather a concubine from the harem) is standing on the walls of Troy and watching the fires of the Greek camp as the sun sets, thinking about how he has so few memories of the time before the Greeks came; all he knows is the war and the endless longing for it to be over.

But, then the Imposter Syndrome comes in and says things like yes, but Madeline Miller has a PhD in classic mythology and you couldn’t possibly know enough to write such a thing and so forth; I can always count on my Imposter Syndrome to curb whatever writing ambitions I may have, or aspire to. There are some historical thrillers I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time, too–and then comes the inevitable yeah, who do you think you are with your limited knowledge and laziness to do the proper research in order to write about another time correctly? I have written precisely two stories set in the past–one set during the gay government purges of the 1950’s (which is yet another reason Pete Buttigieg’s appointment to the cabinet is so important and historic) and of course, my Sherlock story in the 1910’s. But an entire book? I don’t know, I just don’t know…I wish I had more confidence and belief in myself and my abilities. But I am desperately hoping that Chlorine will give me the confidence to write other stories and books set in the past…

Ah, for the self-assurance of a mediocre straight white man!

I feel pretty good this morning; well-rested and all that, and of course my cappuccinos this morning taste fantastic. I am looking forward to getting home tonight and getting back into the writing of the book–so important–and figuring it all out. Rewriting and revising and editing can be a drag–it’s always disheartening to read something you’ve written only to see, in horror, how bad it actually is, and that you have to figure out a way to fix it; much as I had to fix Chapter Five last evening…and yet it is SO satisfying to figure it out, make it work, and sit back, warmed by the glow of succeeding, that I have once again put to rest that horrible fear that always lurks in my subconscious that someday the time will come when I not only no longer can think of anything to write but won’t be able to fix the things that I already have.

And on that note, tis time to head into the office for yet another day of STI testing. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader!

Primitive Notion

Another good night’s sleep, only to wake up to a frigid forty degree morning here in the Lost Apartment. I have my cappuccino prepared, the space heater is blowing warm air in my general direction, and the ceiling fans are most definitely turned off. The kitchen is clean this morning, which is lovely–there’s a load of dishes in the dishwasher needing to be put away, but that can wait till after work–but it was marvelous to come down to a cleaned up and organized kitchen this morning.

Paul was working last evening, so I did the same. I got another two chapters of the book polished and revised; and hopefully will keep that momentum going this evening. I also started reading Jess Lourey’s Edgar finalist Unspeakable Things, and that voice! It’s quite good thus far, and I am really looking forward to getting further into it this evening after going to the gym. Yes, I have to go workout this evening; my shoulder is finally no longer sore from last week’s inoculation (hallelujah) and it has been nearly a week since I last went to the gym. My muscles and joints will no doubt protest and creak a bit as I put them through their rusty paces this evening, but I really have to get back into the swing of the regular workouts…and I also have been missing them. This is a good thing, and I am very pleased that my natural inclination of blowing off the gym has become, at least currently, a thing of the past; a former behavior, if you will.

I’ve also concluded that there are so many wonderful notes in my journals that when I am not actually writing on the book, I should start going through the journals yet again and pull ideas out of there, actually creating electronic files and folders to track the stories. I have written at least six or seven hundred words in my journal on “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and I need to convert that into a Word document as soon as I can so I can really start writing the story. I also can’t believe I allowed myself to go so long without keeping a journal; I believe it was 2017 when I started keeping them again, and it’s really been rather nice. While I no longer write for the most part by long hand–primarily to spare myself the ordeal of transcribing–I do find that brainstorming while scribbling has a restorative, creative effect; the journals were enormously helpful when writing both Royal Street Reveillon and Bury Me in Shadows–and there are an awful lot of helpful notes and brainstorming in them about the Kansas book, which are certainly coming in handy as I write the book. It has evolved so much over the decades since I started writing it all those years ago, and so much that I wrote in it originally has come in helpful over the years, being pirated and plundered for other books and stories. I am very deeply ensconced inside this manuscript now–to the point where I haven’t been thought about Chlorine since I started this deep dive into this final edit. This is unusual; earlier in my career I would become immersed in a manuscript the way I am now; but over the years it inevitably got to the point where I would always be thinking about–and wanting to work on–the next one while rushing to get through the current. I also think having this razor sharp focus is making the book better than it might have been.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?

I also was thinking about “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday for some reason, as well as “To Sacrifice a Pawn”–two other stories I think I started writing in December; yes, December, because the idea was to write something for a last minute Christmas anthology Gabino Iglesias was pulling together (it’s always interesting to me how I will write a story for a submission call of some sort, but the story rarely ever gets published by the market I wrote it for; take “The Snow Globe” for instance. That started out being written for a Halloween anthology HWA was doing; I never finished it and the deadline passed. I turned it into a Christmas story for another anthology call; it was rejected, but now I have sold it somewhere else entirely), but of course I was in the weeds with Bury Me in Shadows and never finished it; I think the most likely thing that’s going to happen is I will spend March planning out Chlorine while finishing some of these other stories and getting them out for submission. I think I still have two or three stories in anthologies that will be coming out this year at some point; I am really looking forward to seeing the finished books. And at some point soon, I will have enough stories for another single-author collection of my own, which is very exciting.

But the sun is rising over the West Bank with pinks and reds and pale blues staining the sky; and I must start putting together today’s lunch, packing my backpack, and getting into the shower to face down yet another day of clients and work at the office. I’m also going to need to start pulling together my tax information (yay); which I’m also kind of dreading…but I can do that after I finish the book, really. No rush there at all–which is a good thing; there are few things I hate more than prepping my taxes for the accountant.

And so I shall go ahead and bid you adieu for yet another morning, Constant Reader, and hope your Tuesday is as marvelous as you deserve.