Half of My Heart

So, it’s now Tropical Storm Sally, with landfall expected sometime on Tuesday, given its current projections, and we are right smack dab in the center of the Cone of Uncertainty–although the path overnight has shifted somewhat– it going right over us; with storm surge through Lake Borgne through the Rigolets and into Pontchartrain as well as the mouth of the river. The surge is only supposed to be a maximum of twelve feet, which is okay since the levees can handle up to sixteen, but yikes if you’re outside the levee system!

I got caught in a downpour yesterday while running my errands–file this under What Else Is New–which I honestly don’t mind; it’s kind of becoming expected for me. I’m surprised when I run errands and don’t get caught in a downpour. What’s annoying is how rain makes New Orleans drivers–never the best in ideal circumstances–makes them forget everything (what little) they actually know about how to drive and become even bigger morons. I am also amazed at how many people cannot deal with the possibility of getting wet in the rain, or having to walk a few extra yards in the pouring rain. Um, if I’ve learned anything about New Orleans rain in the nearly twenty-five years I’ve lived here, it’s that it doesn’t matter: you’re going to get soaked, no matter what, and once you reach a certain point in soaking wet it really doesn’t matter anymore. You can only get SO wet.

It’s really not rocket science, people. Seriously.

I started writing a short story which started forming in my brain on Friday night–“Fear Death by Water”–and that title is actually a quote from T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Lands.” Nothing to fear here, Constant Reader–while I do own a copy of Four Quartets I’ve still not read it; there was a lengthy quote from the poem at the opening of a book I was moving in the ever-shifting attempts to declutter the Lost Apartment Friday evening–the book, which I loved and should probably reread, was Nightmare Alley, which my friend Megan recommended to me and it is quite the dark noir ride, But those four words–fear death by water–struck a chord in my creative brain and I heard the opening sentence very clearly in my head: But she would have never gone out on a boat, she was always afraid of water and as the sentence began to crystallize in my head, I started seeing the rest of the opening scene and also that this would be a gay NOPD detective Blaine Tujague story. So after I put the groceries away yesterday afternoon and before changing out of the clothes that got wet in the downpour and showering, I opened a new Word document and began writing this story. It stalled out about a hundred or so words in; I am hoping to get back and spend some time with it again today.

The vacuum works better now that the filter has been clean, but it’s still not as strong as it once was; or perhaps I am merely remembering it being more powerful. I am not really sure. It takes more than a couple of runs over things to get the properly vacuumed (I love that the Brits say “hoovered”, as they turned the brand name of a vacuum into a verb). So the Lost Apartment looks much better this morning than it has in a while, but i still need to get some more work on it done. It’s a start, though, and every little step works.

We watched The Babysitter: Killer Queen last night, and while the previews made it look quite marvelous, it wasn’t really. The highlight was Robbie Amell shirtless, and he was the only person in it who seemed to have committed to actually performing, other than the male lead and the new female love interest. (Note to producers: you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless.) We also started watching a new series called The Duchess, which had moments of humor but seemed kind of flat in all; we’ll give it another episode to see if it picks up. We are also sort of losing interest in Raised by Wolves; the most recent episode struck us both as a bit dull and we’re losing interest in the story; it’s taking a bit too long for the story to really start moving. I was playing Bubble Pop and checking social media while watching the fourth episode, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty damning indictment.

I also started Babylon Berlin yesterday, and it’s quite marvelously written.

I way overslept this morning. Our phones of course went crazy around six in the morning with the emergency alert about the state of emergency being declared with Hurricane Sally, which may now be a category 2 and again, I am worrying about the power situation more than anything else; I have a freezer filled with food that will perish should we lose power for a significant amount of time, which would absolutely suck rocks. It appears there will be lots of rain as well as high winds that we’ll be dealing with most of tomorrow; I’ve not received any notice yet about work so currently the plan is still for me to go in to the office. That, of course, could change at any moment, so we shall see. No, we aren’t planning on evacuating–but that may change given the power situation, and if we do lose power, at least I can get some reading done.

I plan on trying to make some progress with my emails today, as well as trying to work on the story and getting chapter eight finished on the book as well.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, wherever you are, and stay safe.

It’s Nice to Have a Friend

Yesterday was kind of lovely, really. As I took a vacation day to get caught up on things, get some rest, and try to get the Lost Apartment under control again (I also discovered, among other things, that vacuum cleaners have filters you are supposed to clean monthly, which explains so much), it was kind of a nice day. I did get the bed linens laundered and a load of laundry done; I did the dishes and ran the dishwasher, and I also intended to vacuum, which is when I realized my vacuum cleaner has not been sucking properly in quite some time (I’d even looked into buying a new one, several times) and then thought, why don’t you google it and see if it’s something you can fix, which of course led to the shocking discovery about the filters. I removed it and washed it thoroughly (so disgusting, really). But, embarrassing as that was, it was also lovely to realize that I do not, in fact, need to buy a new one–at least until the filter has finished air drying, I reinstall it, and see if it starts picking things up again.

I also got a lovely notice on Facebook that my former editor at Alyson, Joe Pittman, had tagged me in a post, and when I went there to see what it was, was greeted with a reminiscence of his days at Alyson, and:

Hi everyone, it’s Joseph. It’s September. I’ve got another story of my publishing life, one of the most rewarding moments from my varied career. Let’s call it Love, Alyson Books.Okay, let me go back in time. It’s 2005 and I was hired by a small publisher named Alyson. The company had just relocated from Los Angeles to New York, and they were searching for a new staff. I applied for the Executive Editor position I saw advertised, got called in that day for an interview. I wasn’t exactly dressed for a job interview, but the woman I spoke with said that was fine. “I assume you have grown up clothes.”

I got the job, and two weeks later started. Every staff member had just been hired, and we had lots of manuscripts and contracts to cull through. From the publisher, to the marketing director, an editor, a production editor, and an assistant and me. That’s it, six of us. We had a big task set before us. Alyson had a storied history in the world of LGBT publishing and had released many iconic books. There was a lot on our shoulders.Our job? To bring Alyson into the 2000s, and show how LGBT themes had hit the mainstream. We had to totally revamp the list. We published 50 books a year, we had a very small budget, and as Executive Editor, I was told by the boss that I would be “the face of the imprint.” I embraced the role until it came to an ignominious ending.But in two and a half years, I felt I did some of the most important work of my career.

It started, horribly, with Hurricane Katrina, but led to a book and a series that would help define the LGBT past, present and future. It was a series with titles that began with the word “Love.” And that’s what these books were, love stories dedicated to a certain city, to a movement, to a community.The thing about working at Alyson, it wasn’t like traditional publishing, where agents sent you a manuscript, you read it, you liked it, you acquired it. Sure, we did a bit of that, but mostly we had to come up with our own ideas, track down authors who would be ideal in crafting our idea into a book. I hit the jackpot with an existing Alyson author, mystery writer Greg Herren. Greg lived in New Orleans, and he and his partner Paul Willis went through hell that late August. Katrina ripped their lives apart, as it did to so many others in the region. My idea, let’s get a bunch of writers together to pen nonfiction stories about their city. Why they lived there, what they loved there. Greg was reticent at first. The wounds of the city too fresh. But the book happened.

LOVE, BOURBON STREET was published to great acclaim, and that next year it won the prestigious Lambda Award for Best Anthology. I remember sitting in the audience when the book was announced the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud of Greg and Paul’s dedication to the project, I couldn’t have been happier for the city New Orleans.

Love, Bourbon Street is a book I don’t really remember much about, to be perfectly honest. It happened, and came about, in that gray time after the evacuation and before we were able to move back into the Lost Apartment (which, to me, closed the circle, even though the city’s recovery would still take more time–a lot more time); I think it even came out while we were still living in the carriage house amidst the clutter and boxes and praying every day that the Lost Apartment would be suitable for living again soon. I remember I was still house sitting for my friend Michael on the North Shore in Hammond when Joe called me with the idea–the great irony was earlier that day Paul had called me, and suggested we do a fundraising anthology about New Orleans by New Orleans writers, and I had emphatically said no. Most every one of the writers we knew were still displaced, no one could come back to New Orleans even if they wanted to, and we were all, from the blogs and emails I was reading, in bad places emotionally. I didn’t even know if I could write anymore; I was grimly writing a blog post almost every day so that the creativity wouldn’t completely stagnate, but other than that–nothing was happening. I had pitched a fourth Scotty book to Kensington, but at some point while I was on the road I’d emailed my editor there to say obviously I cannot write that book now–it was, ironically, going to be called Hurricane Party Hustle and be set during a hurricane evacuation when most everyone in the city had left, only for it to turn east at the last minute and spare the city (which had happened at least three or four times since we’d moved to New Orleans in 1996)–and I certainly never thought I was going to write another Chanse book; the second one had come out the previous year while Paul and I were still getting over the Incident and I think I did one signing for it; it came and went with very little fanfare and I had pretty much figured that series was dead in the water as well. I had been rewriting the manuscript that would eventually be published as Sara because an editor at a Big 5 publisher had asked me to write a y/a for them earlier that year and I’d decided that was what I would do after I, if I, ever finished Mardi Gras Mambo.

But I wasn’t sure if I would ever write about New Orleans again, or if there would even be a New Orleans for me to write about.

Given the fact, though, that Paul wanted to do this and my publisher called me later the same day to suggest it, my superstitious lizard brain decided it was something we needed to do; I don’t remember how long it took for me to either call Joe back or email him that we would do it, but we did. It was difficult to do, primarily because recruiting people spread out all over the country wasn’t easy, nor was getting people who were terribly depressed to try to write something about why they loved New Orleans when 90% of the city lay in ruins was a bit much. Also, people would agree to write something and then change their mind right before the deadline, which kept pushing the delivery date–already a tight turn around, because Alyson wanted to release it on the one-year anniversary–back. Finally, I pulled all the essays together into a single document, saw how many words were left to reach the contracted minimum, and started pulling together my own essay, the anchor piece, “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.” I remember I worked on it over the weekend that Paul had his eye finally removed, and so he was asleep thanks to painkillers most of the time and would only wake up for me to clean the socket before going back to sleep. It ended up being almost thirty thousand words, and I really don’t remember very much about writing it, if I’m going to be honest; I don’t. I just remember pulling it into the word document of the manuscript, seeing that we now had the length requirement covered, saved the document, and hit send.

That same fall, as we were doing the whole Love Bourbon Street, Joe was also calling and emailing me, trying to convince me that I had a duty and obligation to write another Chanse novel. “You’re right there,” he kept saying, “and who better to let the world know how it felt, how it feels, and what’s it like to go through something like this?” Again, I kept resisting. I didn’t know if I could write, I didn’t know when i would write, I didn’t know anything. And then, in late September, I drove back into the city once it was reopened, to check out the damage to the house and see what all we had lost, as well as to see if anything clothes-wise was salvageable from the upstairs. As I crossed the causeway bridge and saw all the damage to Metairie, I recoiled from it all, felt sick to my stomach and a headache coming on; by the time I got onto I-10 I had gone numb again so I could handle it all. As I noticed the mud-line on the walls along the highway, the words It was six weeks before I returned to my broken city popped into my head, and as I came around the curve in the highway, right near the Carrollton exits and the Xavier campus and the Superdome came into view, the words started coming into my head and I knew that not only could I write this book, I needed to write this book.

As soon as I got back to my sanctuary in Hammond, I emailed Joe and said, I am going to do the Chanse book and it’s going to be called Murder in the Rue Chartres.

And yes, both books won Lambda Literary Awards (my only wins, out of 14 or 15 nominations in total) in back to back years.

So that’s the story of how a very kind and generous editor essentially saved my career as a writer.

It’s funny, because whenever I think about possibly doing a collection of essays, it always takes me a while to remember, well, you’ve already published one that will take up a quarter of the book.

And now, to have some serious cleaning joy with my clean-filtered vacuum cleaner.

KDX 125

In case you’ve been wondering, Constant Reader, my blog titles are usually song titles; back when I first started doing that, I just used whatever song was playing on the stereo or my iPod (remember those?) when I started writing the entry. I’ve tried not to use the same title twice, but after fifteen years or so it’s kind of hard not to. I started using the Top 100 lists from certain years, but those got exhausted after a few years, and now I’ve moved on to singles by the Pet Shop Boys….many of their titles are awesome and wry and witty; today’s, I am not so sure about, hence my decision to explain.

It’s been a very exhausting week, and I am bone tired. I’ve not been to the gym this week at all; I will assess how I feel tomorrow about going; I can certainly, in a worst case, go on Saturday. There’s a tropical storm out in the Gulf heading our way, the country has seemingly gone mad, and sometimes I just feel so completely overwhelmed I don’t even want to get out of bed, let alone check social media or my emails.

But I persist.

Today wasn’t quite so bad as I feared when I started writing this post this morning; it was actually rather pleasant. The sad thing is I am starting to adjust physically to the heat and humidity; they did get us an enormous fan and a couple of smaller ones–but when I had to go into the building to do my timesheet and send my activity log to my supervisor I thought it was freezing inside the building–and had the same experience when I stopped at the grocery store. Naturally, the first floor of the Lost Apartment and my kitchen/office is miserable, even with the ceiling fans on, but I ordered two of those small, portable Arctic air conditioners–a co-worker highly recommended them–and when they arrive, we’ll see how they work.

I do think I am going to be able to sleep tonight. I am feeling sleepy–my mind is still going strong though–but I guess we will see. We started watching a show called London Kills on Acorn, and are enjoying it–we gave up on Dead Still after two episodes because it was, while very well acted and produced, kind of slow and not as interesting or engaging as I would have hoped.

Well, it’s now Friday morning and I’ve actually skipped a blog day. Shortly after I wrote the above I got so sleepy I barely managed to make it upstairs and into bed before sleepwalking, seriously, and I slept very well last night. I could have stayed in bed easily for another hour or so, but I have things to do and work to get to and so forth. But it feels absolutely lovely to have rested–perhaps tonight I will rest again–and maybe I can make some progress on work i have to do.

I got some glorious short story feedback on a submission I’d sent out, and am really looking forward to revising it. This is “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” for those of you keeping track; the Sherlock story which was very far outside my comfort zone. I do think the notes I got will make it a much better, and stronger, story; and I am going to trust my instincts–as I read the notes, ideas began to form in my head on how to make this story stronger and better, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

And on that note, with the Gulf Coast now under a hurricane warning, I shall head back into the spice mines.

Friends in Low Places

I cleaned the staircase yesterday, wiping each step down and polishing the banister. It’s astonishing, really, how much dust can collect in New Orleans when you don’t have, or take, the time to keep after it. Add to that cat hair, and perhaps you can imagine the odious chore it actually turned out to be. It occurred to me, halfway down the steps, where they turn, that perhaps I should make the time once a week to do this, but I also had to recognize that I  was feeling particularly ambitious yesterday, and there was no guarantee that I would feel that ambitious every week at some point going forward. Yesterday was my first free day where I haven’t been either extremely tired or horribly ill or some combination of the two in quite some time, and I wasn’t really quite sure what to do with myself. Good Friday is one of our paid holidays from work, and I’m no longer sick, and this was the second of the two consecutive days without fever that I needed to get through in order to be cleared to go back to work.

On Monday.

So I took a look around, said to myself, “oh dear, no–this just won’t do” and got to work. I didn’t finish, but I will be able to make time over the next two days to get everything ship-shape and the way I like them.

Hell, I may even do the windows Sunday morning, with my coffee.

And now it’s Saturday, and the midst of what Christians–particularly Catholics–refer to as the Holy Weekend, commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of their redeemer–although I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that, unlike Christmas, it isn’t a fixed date. It’s always struck me as odd, and while I am sure many critics have addressed the mystery of how such a deeply religious time for Catholics essentially began following the fertility rites of the the pagan calendar, it’s still worth remarking on, if not exploring.

Yesterday I chose to walk away from the Internet, my emails, and social media to focus on getting things organized and cleaned around the apartment, as well as doing some reading and writing around the cleaning schedule. It’s very difficult for me to write with a clear conscience and focus completely when my work space is in disarray; I can do it with a messy apartment but it still bothers me. One of the more interesting things to come out of this entire thing–something I’ve commented on to friends–is the discovery, in shaking up our normal routines and schedules and, frankly, ruts, of what’s necessary and what isn’t, and being forced to take a long, hard look, not only at our lives but at how we do things and what our priorities are, and what they should have been. When and if the quarantine has passed and the COVID-19 virus pandemic can be seen only in the rearview mirror, things are going to change going forward. For me, I am no longer doing to work double shifts on Mondays and Tuesdays any more; it wears me out too much and often renders me unable to get much, if anything, done for myself on those days of the week. And while yes, it is lovely to also have two half-days during the rest of the week, the first was always spent recovering from the exhaustion of the two lengthy days and the second, Friday–well, while i was able to get some personal things and business taken care of on Fridays, the truth is much of that could also be handled after work on that day; which is when I always stopped at the grocery store ON THE WAY HOME, and my time-off won’t change by going in earlier and putting in eight hours, either.

As you can see, I feel quite passionate about the subject.

It was lovely, yesterday, cleaning and organizing while taking the occasional break to dip back into my reread of Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, which I thoroughly and completely enjoyed, from page one to the denouement. I am, frankly, stunned at why I did not consider this one of her best books before; it may not have the twists and surprise of The Ivy Tree or Airs Above the Ground, but it’s still quite a suspenseful and thrilling ride and her heroine, Lucy Waring, is far more of a bad-ass than Stewart’s character ever are given credit for being–but more on that subject when I blog about the reread.

It was quite a lovely day yesterday, frankly, and I am hoping that today will be an even better one. I feel quite relaxed and peaceful this morning–and am hopeful that today will be an accomplishment day; I hope to get some writing done, some more cleaning, and get myself back into the groove of–well, being Gregalicious again.

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

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Galveston

So here we are, on yet another Tuesday morning. Yesterday wasn’t a complete loss for me; I was very tired after going out and getting myself tested in the morning, so I came home and decided to take a “Greg Day”; no emails, no work,  and as little social media as possible. Easier said than done, of course, but you know–that’s how the ball bounces sometimes. I did get further into my reread of Ammie, Come Home (I always forget the damned comma in the title) by Barbara Michaels–one of the best Gothic ghost stories ever published, even if a little dated today–and I read a few chapters of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror–the 14th century is my second favorite century, behind the 16th–and when my brain couldn’t focus to read, I watched some videos on Youtube that sent me into yet another wormhole, this one of videos about American Horror Story.

In my defense, it started with a video about Jessica Lange’s roles on the show, which led to Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe, and…you get the picture.

And then, of course, ESPN replayed that particular Monday night football game from back in September, 2006. That warm night when the Saints played their first home game since the 2004 season. A year after Katrina, when the roof came off the Superdome and people died and still others were trapped there for days. When the city was almost completely destroyed, its economy gone, her people scattered. Our futures were uncertain that bleak fall of 2005, and even throughout 2006, with our abbreviated Mardi Gras and frustratingly slow, it seemed, recovery. We’d almost lost the Saints to San Antonio when the city drowned, but they’d stayed–and the true hero of that was Tagliabue at the NFL, not Tom Benson–and now the Superdome, long a symbol of the city and now a monument to its worst moments, was ready to reopen and create a new identity for itself, just as the city was seeking to be reborn, just as those who lived here were waiting for hope. I remember that day in the city–I knew the Saints were winning but I was busy; the Lost Apartment was still lost and still wouldn’t be finished for another two months. All we had was a tiny old black and white portable television in the carriage house, whose carpet had been ripped up to be replaced but hadn’t yet so there were carpet tacks sticking up out of the bare, scarred exposed wood. We were sleeping on a mattress on top of a box spring on the floor. Paul’s desk and computer were set up in one corner of the room, the staircase and railing took up another side and the little television, which was rarely watched, sat on top of a dresser. I ran errands that day and sensed something in the air–I knew the Saints were winning games but wasn’t paying attention because I was busy trying to make a living and keep myself to the very strict schedule I had to follow in order to have the slightest chance of getting anything done. But i could feel it when I went out to the car, in the air. People were wearing Saints jerseys, or at least black and gold, everywhere I looked. Saints flags were flying on the front of houses (we take flags seriously in New Orleans). Everyone was in Saints gear–the post office, the grocery store, Walgreens, everywhere–and when I got home I looked it up on-line: yup, the Superdome was reopening for Monday Night Football, and we were playing the hated Falcons. Paul and I watched on that little black and white television, screaming and cheering and getting a little teary eyed.  It gave us something we hadn’t had in a long time–hope. They called the game both “ReBirth” and “Domecoming”; both fit.

And while the Saints had always been our team before, that night they became OUR TEAM. Even New Orleanians who weren’t football fans became Saints fans that night. And the sheer joy with which the team played that night was so apparent, and so obvious, and they made it so clear they were doing it for the city…I’ve rarely felt so connected with a football team the way I did with that 2006 Saints team.

As glorious as winning the Super Bowl was, I have to say I think the Domecoming game was probably the greatest moment in Saints history.

Watching the game last night during another social and societal upheaval–one that is affecting the entire world and not just us this time–reminded me of that feeling. Tears spilled out of my eyes once again as Steve Gleason blocked that punt and the Dome erupted; listening to that crowd, seeing their faces and the tears of joy on their faces…having something like the Saints to cheer for, to help us through the hard times, and to give us hope again for the first time since Katrina crossed southern Florida…it’s hard to explain that, I guess.

Try to imagine what it’s going to be like when we have sports again–or the first time you can go out to a restaurant again, or what it’s like to be free of this worry and burden and fear…heady stuff, frankly.

And now…now I am feeling tired again, so I am going to go lie down for a bit. Stay safe, everyone.

Evans1

I Hope You Dance

New Orleans is almost completely shut down.

Yesterday I ventured forth to the office, to do my data entry and to clean my desk area. We had several meetings via the Internet, and several trainings–including one in which we were taught how to do work from home–and I wound up bringing my work home with me. We also had a department meeting on-line, to explain things we could be doing while self-quarantined and to make up hours lost by the shutting down of our testing programs. After my enormous freak-out on Monday (yes, it wasn’t a pretty thing when I got home from the office Monday afternoon), I feel a bit better about my job. It’s so weird, because I am used to being out there on the front lines doing testing and getting people treated…and to be instead isolated at home is a strange thing. What was even weirder was driving home. Under normal circumstances I would never leave the office at six; if I did, I wouldn’t take the highway home because I have to take the big off ramp from I-10 West to I-90 to the Westbank, and the bridge traffic usually has the highway backed up to Claiborne, where I get on the highway. Yesterday I didn’t even have to brake, that’s how light the traffic was–at six pm on a Tuesday. There were cars on the highway; I could see cars on the streets below (the highway is elevated as it passes through downtown)–and there were some peoples strolling on St. Charles…but other than that, nothing.

We finished watching Toy Boy last night, which was terrific and a lot of fun, and ending its first season with a terrific cliff-hanger to set up the second season. It’s great for bingeing, y’all; good trashy escapist fun to make you forget that we are trying to survive and live through a terrifying pandemic and the even more terrifying economic fall out from said pandemic. I also have to remember that I cannot stay inside the entire time; I need to get out of the Lost Apartment and take walks, enjoy the sunshine and the weather, and to take my phone or camera with me. No matter how introverted you are, you need to get out of the house sometimes–unless, of course, your introversion has turned into agoraphobia, which naturally means going outside would be the absolute worst thing for you to try to do.

I still have three stories to try to get written by the end of the month, and I am definitely going to give it the old college try. My mind has clearly been somewhere else over the last week or so–it’s hard to believe it’s only fucking Wednesday; this past weekend seems like it was years ago, last week a different life entirely and Mardi Gras? A different reality completely.

I haven’t even been able to focus enough to try to read–which is weird, as reading is always where I go for escape.

But the nice thing about working from home is that I can clean while taking a break from my data entry; I can also have trainings or webinars on my computer to listen to while I clean and organize the kitchen–and I can even broadcast said trainings and webinars to my television while cleaning the living room. This is a strange new work reality–it’s been years since I worked at home primarily–and one I am going to have to adapt to. I saw someone posting on social media yesterday a poll over whether people thought once this has passed, if things will go back the way they were or will be different. It’s a silly question, because this is a big cultural and societal change; it can never be the way it was before again–just like New Orleans isn’t the same city it was before Katrina, and it will never be that city ever again. Things never go back the way they were; just like the United States will never be the same country it was before 9/11 again.

We don’t know what our new reality is going to look like once we get past this crisis, so trying to speculate is kind of an exercise in pointlessness.

But one of the things, the mantras, that helped me get through the aftermath of Katrina was to focus on the things I could control. One of those things was my body; post-Katrina was probably the most dedicated periods I’ve ever had to my health and fitness and my physical appearance. Since the gyms are closed that’s not really a possibility this time around; although I can still stretch every day and go for nice walks, it’s not the same thing as hitting the weights three times a week. I also focused on my writing and editing; I didn’t write as much as I did before the interregnum–there were times I thought I’d never write again–but that didn’t stop me from my editorial duties, and I did eventually start writing again; this was the period that produced Murder in the Rue Chartres and “Annunciation Shotgun” and Love Bourbon Street. I also think writing–particularly since I’d be writing about a non-virus non-pandemic world–will provide a nice escape for me.

I also signed the contract with Mystery Tribune yesterday for my story “The Carriage House”–remember how last week actually started out with good news in my world? That also seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? I’m always happy to sell a short story, and it’s always lovely to sell one to a mainstream market with a gay main character. (You can talk about how publishing needs to diversify all you want, but it’s still not easy to sell a story with a gay main character to a mainstream market.) It’s a terrific story, or at least I (and the people at Mystery Tribune) think it is, and it’s a concept that’s been lying around in my head ever since we first moved out of the carriage house and into the main house the first time, in June 2005, and came back to me when we moved back into the main house in December 2006. Many years ago–probably when I was far too young–I read a book by (I think) Gerold Frank, a true crime account of The Boston Strangler. There was a bit in the book about a woman who ran a boarding house, and began to suspect one of her tenants might be the Strangler; he was always agitated and acting strange the day of the murders, etc.; lots of circumstantial evidence but nothing ever definite. She remembered one day him staring at an advertisement in a magazine featuring an African-American woman for about ten minutes or so, rather obsessively; and she thought to herself, the next victim will be a black woman and sure enough, it was. You know, that sort of thing; the sort of thing that would be the basis for a Hitchcock movie (I’ve never seen The Lodger, which is a Hitchcock film–possibly based on a novel–about a woman who begins to believe one of her tenants is Jack the Ripper. I’ve always wanted to see it.) and it’s always been something that’s fascinated me. I used to joke that I never wanted to be one of those people interviewed on the news with a caption under my name (NEIGHBOR OF ACCUSED SUSPECTED NOTHING), but the concept of living in close quarters with a serial killer, or a thrill killer, or a killer of some sort–and beginning to suspect that you do, has always been an interesting thought and something I’ve always wanted to write about. “The Carriage House” is a culmination of all those thoughts and inspirations, and I am delighted you will finally get a chance to read it.

It’s also one of those stories that I originally thought would be a short novel, but it works much better as a short story.

More on that to come, of course, and now, back to the spice mines.

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The Morning After

Today I will be testing in the Carevan, parked on Rampart Street near the New Orleans Athletic Club, for Tales of the Cocktail. It’s going to be hot as hell, and while there is climate control in the van–it’s still basically a parked RV. The eight hours I spent in there on National HIV Testing Day was rough, and I was exhausted. This is only four hours, but I have to take the streetcar and walk a few blocks in the heat both coming and going; so I imagine by the time I get into the cool of the Lost Apartment this afternoon, I’m going to be done for the day.

We got caught up on Archer and Animal Kingdom last night, both of which are terrific shows–this week’s Archer was the funniest one in a couple of seasons, at least in my opinion–and then it was an early night for one Gregalicious. I managed to not get any writing done last night, but I did get the dishes situation straightened out, and then of course I did several loads of laundry. Today after I get home from work I have to do the bed linens, and if I am not too terribly worn out from the heat I might be able to get some writing done tonight.

I spent a lot more time yesterday thinking about the concept of vanity. I’m not going to deny that part of the reason I started working out–and it took–when I was in my early thirties was entirely due to vanity. Yes, I wanted to feel better and be healthier–particularly as a smoker (I quit nine years ago finally, don’t @ me) but vanity also played a part in the decision to work out; I wanted to be healthier but I also wanted to look better. And as I mentioned yesterday, as the way people treated me better the less overweight and the more muscular I became, that “reward” helped drive me to go to the gym when I wasn’t feeling it, or when I wanted to lazy; I could remember the stimulus of the compliments, the smiles, the guys hitting on me in the gay bars, and that would motivate me to head to the gym when I didn’t want to go. Part of the reason now that it’s so difficult to get myself up for a workout is the vanity motivation is simply no longer there.

Which leads to another question: is it better to be vain–which is frowned upon in polite society, at least in theory–or is it better to no longer be vain because I feel older? Just because I am turning fifty-eight doesn’t mean I should stop caring about how I look or my appearance; but that’s also a part of the problem I have. I don’t care any more if anyone else thinks I’m fuckable, to go back to the Laura Lippman essay (I told you, it’s brilliant, and if you haven’t read it, you really should; I am still thinking about it several days later), and I’m not sure how I feel about that. That shouldn’t play a part in my decision as to whether I should work out or not; and yet, without having that small bit of vanity and pride no longer there as a driving force…I no longer go to the gym.

One of my younger co-workers complimented me yesterday, and asked me if I’d been working out, which I found mildly amusing, particularly since I’ve been blogging and thinking so much this week about body image and working out. It was a lovely compliment about my chest, and my automatic reaction, my default as always, was to self-deprecate. “Oh, God, no, I haven’t been to the gym in over a year and my chest isn’t that big; I have a big ribcage so it makes me look bigger than I actually am.” I then demonstrated to him how big my rib cage is, mainly by putting my hand on the ribs just below my pectoral muscles, and then cupping my right one in my right hand. “See? My chest isn’t that muscular, it just looks like it is.” Thinking about that now, why couldn’t I simply accept the compliment without tearing myself down in the process? Would it have been so hard to simply say, “Thank you! I’ve actually not worked out in quite some time, but I worked out for years and was a personal trainer and taught aerobics.” Just as honest, just as true as what I actually did say, but no deflecting of the compliment and no self-deprecation.

I’ve never been able to simply accept a compliment, and I think that’s a real problem.

Compliments have always made me uncomfortable, and for a writer, this can also be a serious problem. I’ve spent so much of my life trying very hard not to be arrogant, or come across as arrogant, that my default on every kind of compliment is to deflect and demur. I think I was in my twenties when I decided that if I self-deprecated, ran myself down, and humbled myself constantly, no one would ever think I was arrogant (which is a personality trait I really loathe in other people) and if I insulted myself no one else would.

As such, I have always belittled my accomplishments and never take credit for successes–but boy, will I ever obsess over failures! I also have this very bad tendency to never celebrate the moment because I am always looking, not only ahead, but at the things I don’t have, or haven’t accomplished yet. This is also incredibly self-defeating. I always tell people–as I did when I was a personal trainer–that you cannot compare your accomplishments with those of other people; you should only judge yourself against yourself. Would I love to have the career of certain other writers (Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, etc.)? Of course I would, who wouldn’t? But just because I don’t have their careers doesn’t mean I am a failure at my own. I’ve done fairly well for myself, and have published a lot of books and short stories and an essay here and there. I’ve been nominated for a lot of awards and even won a few times–in fact, there are some I forget about when I try to list them. I have difficulty even remembering all the books published under my own  name, let alone those published under pseudonyms. I’ve been very active, first in the queer publishing community and more recently in the crime fiction community; I was even really active in the horror writing community–although I do see myself as more of a horror fan than a writer.

Is it so wrong to be proud of your accomplishments?  I really don’t think so. Last year, on the suggestion of a good friend who is also a writer, I wrote up a list of daily affirmations I intended to speak out loud every morning, because there’s something about saying things out loud that makes them more concrete, more solid, more real. As usual, I stopped saying them out loud after about a month or so, but the time I was actually doing it was an incredibly productive time–it was that time last year during which I wrote first drafts or more of like twenty short stories. I also still hold myself to the standard of those years when I was producing so many novels–it’s so incredibly easy to consistently defeat yourself–and think, oh, you haven’t had a book out in forever, you fucking loser.

I’ve spent most of my life deprogramming myself from so many things I was taught to believe and value as a child; I think one of the things I need to reprogram out of me is the self-deprecation and inability to take a compliment–I never know what to say other than thank you to readers I encounter who say lovely things to me–and stop being embarrassed when people say nice things to me. I should be able to accept a compliment without worrying about becoming arrogant.

Obviously, I need to work on myself; I am still, oddly enough, evolving and growing as a person and as a writer as my fifty-eighth birthday draws near.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader! I need to get back to the spice mines.

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This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

I watched the Auburn-Washington game yesterday while I cleaned the downstairs. I did a lot of chores and errands yesterday; and also did some reorganizing and cleaning so the living room doesn’t look quite so…book hoarder-ish. 

I’m getting better about it. I’ve realized that the true value, for me, of the ebook is that if I read a book I really like and think I’ll want to hang on to for one reason or another, I can donate the hardcopy and buy the ebook; if I’m patient enough and pay enough attention to email alerts and so forth, I can usually get it at a much discounted price. I don’t feel quite so bad about buying ebooks at low sale prices as I would had I not paid full price already for a print version. So, I’m really buying the book twice.

(I also find myself taking advantages of sales on ebooks by a particular author whose books I loved and would love to revisit sometime. I have the entire canon of Mary Stewart on my iPad, and a shit ton of Phyllis Whitneys. I’m also occasionally finding books by Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, which is lovely; I’ve also managed to get some of Susan Howatch’s lengthy family sagas, like Penmarric, The Wheel of Fortune, and Cashelmara. There are many treasures to be found through e-retailers.)

And I also find that, once I’ve let go of the hard copy, I’m not usually all that anxious to buy the e-version. Most of the books I want to keep is because I think it might be something I’d want to write about in a broader, nonfiction sense; like a book about the Gothic romances of the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, what they were inspired by, and how they were books about women’s fears; yes, there was romance involved, but they were also about the dark side of romance. Or a lengthy essay or study about how gay men are portrayed in crime novels written by authors who aren’t gay men, like the rampant homophobia in James Ellroy’s Clandestine or the male/male relationship in James M. Cain’s Serenade or any number of gay male portrayals over the decades of American crime fiction. Then there are, of course, the nonfiction tomes, about periods of history that interest me that I hold onto because I may need them as research for a book or story idea that I have.

I also keep copies of books by my friends, and whenever a friend has an ebook sale I will always grab a copy if I can.

I still haven’t really shifted from reading hard copies to reading electronically, but I am slowly but surely getting there. Anthologies are really helpful in that way; short stories are, of course, self-contained and by definition can usually be completed in one sitting.

I also finished reading James Ziskin’s wonderful Cast the First Stone, and am now eighty percent of the way finished with my Bouchercon homework.

cast the first stone

Monday, February 5, 1962

Sitting at the head of runway 31R at Idlewild, the jet hummed patiently, its four turbines spinning, almost whining. The captain’s voice crackled over the public-address system to inform us that we were next in line for takeoff. I’d noticed him earlier leaning against the doorframe of the cockpit, greeting passengers as we boarded the plane. He’d given me a thorough once-over–a hungry leer I know all too well–and I averted my gaze like the good girl that I’m not.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he’d said, compelling me to look him in the eye. He winked and flashed me a bright smile. “I hope to give you a comfortable ride.”

I surely blushed.

Now, just moments after the handsome pilot had assured us of our imminent departure, the engines roared to life, and the aircraft lurched forward from its standstill. Juddering at first as it began to move, the plane rumbled down the runway, gathering speed as it barreled toward takeoff. I craned my neck to see better through the window,  holding my breath as I gripped the armrest of my seat and grinned like a fool. I sensed the man seated next to me was rolling his eyes, but I didn’t care. Of course I’d flown before–a regional flight from LaGuardia to Albany on Mohawk Airlines, and a couple of quick hops in a single-engine Cessna with a man who was trying to impress me with his derring-do. Alas, his derring-didn’t. But this was my first-ever flight on a jet plane.

This is a terrific start to a terrific novel. The fifth book in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Ellie Stone series, it is, alas, the first Ellie Stone I’ve read. I met the author at a Bouchercon some time back (I don’t recall which one) and of course, I’ve been aware of the awards and the acclaim, and have been accumulating the books in his series for my TBR pile, but just haven’t gotten to them yet, much to my chagrin. So while I am not a fan of reading books out of order in a series (a crime I committed earlier in my Bouchercon homework with Nadine Nettman’s wine series), I certainly didn’t have the time to go back and read the first four.

Now, of course, I am going to have to–and what a delightful prospect this is.

Ellie is a delight, for one thing. The book/series is set in 1962/early 1960’s; and Ellie is a report for the New Holland Republic, not taken terribly seriously by the men she works with or for (with the sole exception her direct editor), even though she is the best reporter and the best writer on her paper. (It kind of reminds me of Mad Men in that way.) The opening is terrific; Ziskin captures that excitement of your first jet flight in a time period where it wasn’t terribly common to fly beautifully, and using that experience to not only showcase how adventurous Ellie is but to introduce her to the new reader as well as give some of her background. She is flying out to Los Angeles to interview a local boy who’s gone out to Hollywood to be a movie star, and has recently been cast as the second male lead in one of those ubiquitous beach movies the 60’s were known for, Twistin’ at the Beach. But he hasn’t shown up for his first day of shooting on the Paramount lot, placing his job in jeopardy, and soon the producer has been murdered…and the deeper Ellie gets into her story and her search for Tony Eberle soon has her digging through the seaming, tawdrier side of the Hollywood dream and system. Saying much more would be giving away spoilers, but Ziskin’s depiction of the secretive side of Hollywood, what studios were willing to do back in the day to protect bankable stars, and what that meant to those on the seamier side of the business is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, and sympathetically written.

I can’t wait to read more about Ellie Stone.

And now I have moved on to Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the last part of my homework. LSU plays tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I want to go to the gym, do some more cleaning, and do some more writing today.

So it’s back to the spice mines with me.