The Cisco Kid

Good morning, Monday.

I woke up to a major thunderstorm; in fact, my alarm went off at the same time as some lightning flashed and the entire house shook with the thunder. I’m not too keen on the idea of getting soaked going to the car, and from the car to the office, but as long as the streets aren’t flooding I imagine I’ll be relatively okay. (Note to self: put fresh socks in backpack, just in case. There’s nothing worse than wet feet at work)

I manage to not only finish Chapter Twenty-one yesterday, but I also did some work on “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which was also lovely. I only have another four to go to finish this draft, which is ugly, messy and sloppy, but I think the revision will most likely go very quickly. I know there are things that are going to need to be added–and the writing has to definitely be fixed, corrected, and polished–but I am feeling very good about the state of the manuscript. I doubt I’ll be writing a chapter a day this week, but at the same time, I feel fairly confident that it’ll be finished relatively soon, and I can dive back into the Kansas book, possibly with an eye towards getting it finished by the end of September. I am also taking a long weekend for my birthday in August–and of course there’s also the long holiday weekend for Labor Day as well.

I also organized yesterday, putting away files that I’m not going to need access to for quite some time (if at all), as well as closing out other files. This is long overdue, and now my office space isn’t cluttered with files anymore.

I almost finished off The Romanovs yesterday; all that’s left is the final chapter, which clearly covers Alexander III and Nicholas II–and I’m no rush to watch the slaughter of the Romanovs again, having just seen it in The Last Czars. I do have a better grasp of Romanov history now–the lesser known Romanovs–which was all that I wanted from watching this show. After that, I made dinner and Paul and I settled in to watch HBO’s Years and Years, which is extraordinary, and terrifying. Set in the not-too-distant future, the story follows a family as it flashes forward from the present to the near future, and is actually quite adept at showing how easily civilization as we currently know it could collapse. It’s so horrifyingly realistic, and that’s what makes it so utterly engaging and terrifying at the same time. It’s set in England, and over the course of the first two episodes we see how the United States gets involved in a hideous confrontation with China that ends with a nuclear weapon being launched; the international outrage isolates the United States, international sanctions simply make the Americans double down, and the slow but steady fallout from this is wrecking the UK economy., and we see how that affects one family: a grandmother, two brothers, and two sisters, and their family. Russell Tovey, an out actor I’ve loved since the UK version of Being Human, is playing gay in this; we see his first relationship fail and him getting involved with a Ukrainian refugee. It’s really quite stellar, although I’ve heard the end of the first season is a bit disappointing.

The storm seems to have calmed for now, which is lovely–although it’s probably just getting ready to cut loose when it’s time for me to leave. (I just checked my phone for alerts and yes, we are in a flash flood warning until 8:15; I get to leave for the office at 7:30. Yay?)

All right, I’m going to start dealing with my day. Sigh, hello emails.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

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Right Place Wrong Time

Well, I survived Monday’s return to the office–and there wasn’t a body count.

It is, however, still early in the week.

Yesterday’s heat was simply insane. The heat index was about 115, I think, and it felt every one of those degrees every time I had to go outside. It was 95 last night when I drove home from work at eight o’clock, which is also just completely insane.

I did a little bit of writing yesterday, not much, trying to get going on the WIP again. I’m a little bit at sea with the WIP right now; not touching it over the course of my vacation wasn’t exactly much of a help, and the heat and everything  yesterday, as well as adjusting to getting back to the office, kind of made that a bit on the difficult side. I will, of course, try again tonight.

Paul also got home really late last night, so Scooter and I are no longer on our own here in the Lost Apartment anymore. I’m glad he’s home–he’s always gone just long enough for me to get over the “home alone” thing; I enjoy the solitude at first, and then it gets a bit lonely by the end of his trip. And now we can get caught up on everything we’re watching, which is also another one of those win-win things. Huzzah!

I’ve been watching Netflix’ The Last Czars, which I am enjoying–it’s very well done, and the actors cast playing Nicholas and Alexandra are perfectly cast; but it’s a little bit different watching a show about doomed royalty than it used to be. There’s been a kind of tectonic shift in my mind and my way of thinking, and while the story of the last Romanovs is certainly tragic on a human scale, on a national scale I don’t really have that much sympathy for them as I might have in the past. He was an ineffectual ruler, and they were both religious bigots; they actually believed they had a divine mission from God to be autocrats and sole authority in Russia; and therefore they were always in the right–as their people starved and his bad decisions and policies brought the country to the brink of ruin, while they lived and dined in luxury and spent, spent, spent. It’s really not hard to think they sort of deserved the basement in Ekaterinburg–and the way history is taught, I’ve come to realize, with its emphasis on royalty and nobility with no interest on the lives of the people whose bodies, taxes, and lives were exploited by the ruling class–all with the blessings of their religion–isn’t necessarily the right way to teach history. I’m not saying the lives of the rulers aren’t important to the histories, just that the emphasis on them is misplaced. History should be taught as the history of the people, and the development of law and modern government–which the people have had to fight for, every step of the way…one thing I’m enjoying about this show–an odd combination of documentary, reenactment, and actual footage from the time–is that it doesn’t shy away from the crimes or the arrogance of the Romanovs, especially when it comes to their people. There’s one particularly brilliant scene where Alexandra scolds Nicholas for even considering giving in and creating a duma (the Russian version of parliament), while the nation is on the brink of revolution. “They’ll want more,” she scoffs, convinced of their divine right to power, “they’ll always want more, and then what?” She wasn’t wrong about that, but she was most definitely wrong about their divine right, and she was almost always wrong about the people.

I have agreed to write a forward to a new edition of an almost forgotten gay classic back from the plague years; the book was published posthumously after the author died from AIDS in the early 1990’s. The author, Jay B. Laws, had only managed to write two gay horror novels before died; the first, Steam, is better known than the second, and is one of my favorite horror novels as well as one of my favorite gay novels. I had read the second, The Unfinished, years ago but it’s quite odd; I don’t remember anything about it, so rereading it is like reading it for the first time. It’s quite good, and I don’t think I’ll have any trouble writing the forward–and I am also glad this has kind of forced me into rereading the book, which is practically like a new book to me. And, as a gay novel, it fits into the Diversity Project quite nicely.

There’s a low-pressure zone drifting from mid-Georgia into the Gulf, which will most likely turn into either a tropical depression or a tropical storm; forecast to dump a shit ton of rain on wherever it comes to shore, either Thursday or Friday, possibly this entire weekend. Hurray. The water in the Gulf is also ridiculously warm–89 degrees off the coast of Louisiana, near the mouth of the river and New Orleans–which isn’t really going to help matters much. (This heat wave has me already dreading my next power bill.)

Oh, yes, I also spent some time rereading the opening chapters of the Kansas book, which I’d started revising one last time last summer before being pulled away into other projects, and it’s in much better shape than I had remembered–I was still marking up the pages with a highlighter and my pen–but it also has me thinking that perhaps this final rewrite isn’t going to be nearly as painful as I first thought, or had been thinking since I got pulled away from it to work on something else. Huzzah!

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

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