My October Symphony

At this point in the summer, the cool warmth of October seems a distant futuristic dream. It’s always that way in August, and I no longer have Southern Decadence to look forward to; and haven’t in years. There’s no Decadence this year, of course, thanks to the pandemic, but I have also not participated in the madness of wild partying over the course of that weekend in over a decade. My participation has been primarily limited to passing out condoms on Friday night before escaping to the deep cool of my air conditioned home for the rest of the long weekend.

But my, did I used to have a great time during Southern Decadence! (See: Bourbon Street Blues.)

We started watching Babylon Berlin last night, at long last, and are already quite mesmerized. It’s a fascinating period–pre-Nazi/post first war Berlin was quite decadent, if you believe freedom from repression of all kinds is decadent. I’ve read very little about this period, although I have read Isherwood and of course I’ve seen Cabaret about a million times, but other than as a prologue to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in histories of the second World War, I’ve not really read a lot about that period of Germany’s past; certainly not anything that goes to any great depth. I also have a copy of the book somewhere; I’ve always meant to get to it as well as other books set in Europe during the same period. I don’t read nearly as much historical fiction anymore as I used to, or as much as I would like; I’m not really sure why that is. I love to read, I love to write, and I love history, so one would think art forms that combine those things would be something I would be all over, and yet–I’ve written precisely two short stories set in the past, and not even that distant. “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the 1950’s during the gay purge of the government, and of course, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (which might be my favorite title of anything I’ve ever written), is set in 1915 or thereabouts; a nebulous period of time during which the Great War was raging in Europe but the United States had yet to get involved. I have some things in progress that are historicals, or period pieces, or whatever may have you; the one I am really itching to sink my teeth into is a story set in Black Death era Rome, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap.” But I really need to be focusing as much creative energy on Bury Me in Shadows as I can right now, and so everything else isn’t going to get any real attention for the next few weeks or so. My plan is to, of course, do my day job to the best of my abilities, try to keep treading water as far as emails and everything else is concerned, and focus as much as possible on the manuscript. It’s in decent shape but very rough; the skeleton is there, but there are bones that need to be removed and replaced, others that simply need to be reset, and I also somehow have to manage a soul-transplant; replacing the one I originally created for the book with a completely new one–and these are all tricky things to manage that will require focus and energy.

And of course, one of the best things for stoking my creativity is to read really good writing, and I have Blacktop Wasteland to not only read and savor, but take inspiration from as well.

Then again, you never know.

We also finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which was really quite lovely; I’m not certain that I want to read the book now, but I might. I’m not a huge reader of true crime–which doesn’t, when you think about it, make a lot of sense–and there’s so much else for me to read that I am behind on–oy, the ever-growing TBR pile in my house is as out of control as kudzu in rural Alabama–but I know I really need to start reading more of it. I think one of the main reasons I avoid it is fear that I’ll want to adapt it into fiction–just as Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou sort of inspired what might eventually become another Chanse novel–and I’m not really all that interested in serial killers or rapists, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’ve toyed with the idea for a serial killer novel for quite some time now–and it has occurred to me that setting it in the past, when people weren’t quite as aware of them as we are now and before the creation of profilers (although I wanted to include a profiler who was wrong about everything in this one) might be a better way to go with it–but I’m not really sure I am the right person to write such a book.

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

Confidential

Here we are, Sunday, and I don’t feel nearly as tired as I did yesterday. Friday and Saturday were days of exhaustion, really; nothing quite makes me feel so old as having to spend most of Saturday on my fainting couch (easy chair) because I have so little energy I can’t really get much of anything done. Oh, I got the laundry finished, and I did a load of dishes, but other than that….yeah, most of the time was spent in the easy chair. We watched Parasite last night on Hulu (it’s streaming free there) and was quite impressed and moved by it; it definitely was not like anything I’ve ever seen before, and that’s saying something, given how most films are merely rehashes of other films, as evidenced by Extraction, the Netflix original film we watched directly after, starring Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary hired to kidnap back an Indian drug lord’s son from the enemy Indian drug lord who’d kidnapped him. That was essentially the plot, and the movie was mostly explosions, guns being fired, and physical fighting scenes (at one point, it occurred to me that I could open a Scotty book with Scotty, Frank and Taylor watching a similar type film, and Taylor idly saying, “This is what Colin does, isn’t it?”–which opens up a huge can of worms.); entertaining mildly, but not a satisfying film-watching experience. It was apparently based on a graphic novel…but let’s just say it was no Watchmen, and leave it at that.

I didn’t write much of anything yesterday because I was so tired, and I tried to read, but my brain couldn’t handle continuing to read a novel, and Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin deserves better focus from its readers, so I moved on to some short stories. I read W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” (more on that in its own entry) and started reading his “Rain” before my mind derailed again and I had to set the iPad down. I also reread some of my own short stories, that are in some sort of progress–remember how I said the other day that I had nineteen in some stage of completion? There’s actually more than that, if I am being completely honest with myself (which I also knew) and some of the ones I didn’t count–“The Trouble with Autofill,” “Night Follows Night,” “The Enchantress,” “Moves in the Field”, “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” “Once a Tiger,” “Please Die Soon”, “Burning Crosses”–are actually closer to completion than I originally thought; some of them are actually better than I remembered; and letting them sit for so long…rereading them now I was able to see for myself what else the stories needed; the necessary tweaks to get them done and ready to go.

Sometimes you need distance.

Today I have to revise the Sherlock story again, as well as the one I am submitting to a blind-read anthology. They’ve both sat, like the others, for quite some time (at least a week) since I last looked them over, and so I am hopeful that, just as yesterday, rereading the two stories today will help me see what they are missing, so I can get them in order to send them out. April is nearly over, and I need to get these finished, as well as get back to work on the Secret Project; the sooner that is finished the better, quite frankly, and I need to get these things finished and out of my hair; or at least not have them hanging over my head anymore.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling better these days about myself as a writer. I’m not sure what that’s all about, to be honest, but it’s kind of nice. The problem is finding the time and energy to devote and commit to it. Working a basic 9-5 schedule these days is highly unusual and taking more than a little while for me to get used to, if I am being completely honest, and I think the early rising every morning is what is making me so worn out by the end of the week–and sometimes it feels like i need an extra day to recover sometimes. But it is what it is, you know, and the sooner I get adapted to this new reality the better off I’ll be. It isn’t easy, after a lifetime of mostly never working 9-5, to get used to working 9-5. (Cue Dolly Parton’s classic, should have won an Oscar, song.)

I’m behind on everything, I might as well add, not just my writing and not just my reading. My email inbox is overflowing with matters needing my attention; I simply haven’t had the energy or strength over the last two days to even face them, and that must needs be remedied today (I always answer emails as drafts over the weekend, preparatory to send them all on Monday mornings; my first rule of emails is never answer on the weekends because emails beget emails). I knocked off the box of index cards I use as an address book (it’s very twentieth century, and I really need to move everything from it to the spreadsheet address book I created years ago) and those need to be sorted and put away somewhere safe that I won’t knock them over again. I need to do the floors, both kitchen and living room. The sink is again full of dishes. I need to clean stuff out of the refrigerator that is no longer edible–the noodles from over a week ago; the Swedish meatballs from last weekend–and I also need to figure out how to stretch my upcoming paycheck to last another two weeks.

And I have to write today. I want to spend some time with my new story “The Flagellants,” and at least get the ideas about the opening in there and written down. I want to write some more on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I want to read some more, since I clearly can focus this morning; I think after I finish writing this and my entry about Maugham’s “The Letter” I may go ahead and do some stretching and then get cleaned up; that always seems to help with motivation and energy. I think this week I have to do some ZOOM things for promotion; I’ll need to check the calendar so I don’t miss out–which has tragically happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again. I suppose there are worse things….it’s really a wonder I have any career at all, quite frankly.

And yet, here I am, some thirty or so novels and some fifty or so short stories into it. Plugging along like some blunderer who doesn’t know what he’s doing so he happily keeps going, writing books and selling stories and getting more publication credits as he goes with little or no direction. I used to  have a plan; I used to make plans–and then everything got so completely derailed during the Time of Troubles that I no longer look ahead, think ahead, plan ahead–what’s that saying? Man plans and the gods laugh?

The Laughter of the Gods would make a great title for my memoirs, should I ever write them. It’s actually a pretty great title, and I should make use of it. *makes note*

I also, of all things, have an idea for a period mystery short story, set in the Roman Jubilee of 1350–that Barbara Tuchman providing me with more ideas all the time. I’d had an idea about writing a crime series set in the fourteenth century and in Italy, following the last years of life of English soldier for hire Sir John Hawkwood, who retired to Italy and died in Florence–but I don’t think he was there in 1350, when someone attempted to murder the Papal Legate and he got an arrow through his cap–this made me think of a story called “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, in which the Papal Legate hires Hawkwood to find out who committed this borderline sacrilegious assault on, basically, the Papacy. There is but scant mention in Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror of the incident, and so more research would clearly be needed–I’m not even sure Hawkwood was in Italy at the time, but of course I could fictionalize the character as well, if need be–but I like the idea of writing a period story. I’ve only done a few of those, and while they may be historicals now, they were set during a period I was actually alive and lived through; “The Weight of a Feather” is probably the first and only story I’ve published set during a time I hadn’t been born yet.

So…maybe a trial balloon with a historical story? Why not? I do love history.

And on that note, I’d better head back into the spice mines.


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Two More Bottles of Wine

The weather, apparently, is going to be terrifying today.

I’d planned to run errands, but with the terrible forecast I think it’s best if I stay at home today and ride out the stormy weather. Hail? Flash flooding? Tornadoes? YIKES! And it does look foul out there outside my windows–an eerie gray light and pouring rain, grayish-dark clouds covering the sky. The gutter that drains the back and side yards, running alongside the walk, is full and overflowing; but water isn’t cascading off the house and through the drain pipes. So, yeah, probably best not to go outside.

Okay, that thunder was loud and long. Definitely not going anywhere today.

It’s okay, though; I have plenty to keep me occupied. There’s lots of writing to be done and laundry to put through its cleansing paces; I have reading to do and some other things I have to get taken care of over the course of this lovely time away from the office. I’m starting to get busier, which means I need to guard my time more jealously, budget it accordingly, and perhaps most exciting of all, start keeping lists again.

That gives me such a charge, you have no idea.

I am one of those sick and twisted individuals who gets more done the more he has to do; the luxury of free time lends itself to more leisure, I find–as well as a reluctance to leave the inertia behind. I had a lovely time last weekend, listening to music all day Saturday while doing some important catching up on lo those many things I always tend to let slide and keep on sliding; a body at rest tends to stay at rest–and there’s nothing I love more than proving just how true that axiom actually is. It’s amazing–even this morning, I woke up just before eight but the bed was so comfortable and warm and relaxing, I didn’t want to get out of it. Scooter climbed up on me shortly afterwards and fell asleep while purring, and of course that put me right back to sleep. But I am awake now, not groggy in the least, and confident that now that my body is in motion it will stay in motion. Huzzah!

I continue to read Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and we are now up to the 1950’s. I’m really enjoying my sojourns into New Orleans’ past; these histories are helping me get a better understanding of my home city, which I love more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. It’s hard to explain sometimes to people, but New Orleans is home more than anywhere; I just have always felt welcomed and a part of the city’s fabric, connected in a way I never did anywhere else–and it’s quite frankly shameful that it’s taken me so long to start studying New Orleans history. They are also helping me with my first real foray into writing historical fiction; I did write “The Weight of a Feather,” which was set loosely in the early 1950’s, but “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” my attempt at writing in the Sherlock Holmes canon, is definitely taking me back into a time I am completely unfamiliar with; recreating the New Orleans of November, 1914 is going to be one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done–which makes it all the more exciting, quite frankly.

We watched another episode of Messiah last night, and I have to say, this show is incredible. I can’t recommend it enough. We’re three episodes in, and for me, one of the best indicators of how good a show is how easy it is to get lost in the story; that when the credits start rolling it comes as a shock because it doesn’t seem like you’ve been watching for an hour. That’s how every episode of Messiah has been so far; and as I’ve said before, there’s nothing quite so fascinating to me as religion and religious history. Given how evangelical Christianity is trying to turn our country into a theocracy, and has been for quite some time (the separation of church and state in this country has always been an ideal we never have quite reached), it’s always interesting to me to think about the return of Jesus as supposedly prophesied in the Bible (I’ve never been convinced that Revelations is anything other than the ravings of a madmen rather than actual prophecy–but all of the end times/Rapture stuff traces back to that particular book of the Bible; as well as to The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, a huge bestseller back in the 1970’s and, in my opinion, the beginning of all the Rapture/end times stuff; but that’s for another blog post after I reread the Lindsey book.) and how modern day evangelicals, with their Prosperity Gospel and other nonsense would react–a friend and I refer to the Jesus they worship as “Republican Armani Jesus,” or RAJ for short; that’s why Messiah is so interesting to me. It’s also remarkably well-done.

LSU’s football team arrived in New Orleans last night, which I watched on various social media feeds. It was kind of cool seeing how people lined up on the highway to hold up signs and flags and cheer for the team on their way to New Orleans from Baton Rouge, and there was a mob scene at the hotel on Canal Street when the busses finally pulled in. The route through Baton Rouge was also clogged with fans cheering them on–and you can actually feel the electricity in the air here yesterday. I put in an eight hour day at the office yesterday, and shockingly enough, despite the fact that I had to drive through the Quarter and the CBD at five thirty on a Friday night–the worst day and time for traffic of the week, plus the team was arriving around that time–it only took me a little over twenty minutes to navigate the crowded streets and traffic.

We do love our football teams down here in the bayou country.

Monday is going to be insane.

 But in the best kind of way, really.

Hmm, there’s a lull in the storm. It’s eerily still outside; no wind, no rain, and just really gray and weird. I don’t see our outdoor kitties–we have a new addition; an orange-and-white tuxedo kitty we’ve dubbed Simba. He’s really sweet, and he and Tiger seem to have a wary frenemy relationship. Simba is far too friendly and affectionate to be feral; I don’t know if he’s someone’s cat in the neighborhood that they let roam free, or if he belonged to the asshole college students next door who recently moved away and they left him behind–which really pisses me off. Simba’s ear is also not clipped, so at some point we’re going to need to catch him and take him in to see if he is chipped. I hope, if he is abandoned, he and Tiger are holed up safely under the house or somewhere out of this rain.

It would be so easy for me to become a crazy cat lady.

I think it’s about to start raining again; there was some severe thunder just now.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Respect Yourself

Saturday, and a big day for one Gregalicious.

I have some things to do this morning before I am interviewed around noon for a radio show, after which it’s errands, including the (groan) grocery store. It’s only for a few things, so it shouldn’t be too hideous….yet it is going to be hideous. Sigh. But then I am spending the afternoon watching the Iron Bowl and tonight’s LSU game. Will the Tigers manage an undefeated regular season? We’ll find out tonight.

It’s going to be weird going back to work–these unstructured, do-what-you-want-when-you-want days have been kind of lovely, and addicting. I don’t have any regrets about the things I didn’t get done, either. I went into this week without making a to-do list, and primarily rested, physically, mentally and emotionally.  I’m very happy that I chose to do this, and rested rather than drove myself insane trying to get things done, or playing catch-up. I didn’t do as much cleaning and organizing as I thought I would, but that’s just how the week managed to play itself out. My kitchen is a mess this morning, so I need to get that all straightened up and cleaned, and there’s some laundry to fluff and fold. I also have to pay the bills this morning–another odious chore–but one that cannot be avoided any longer.

There’s also no Saints game tomorrow–so if I want, I can get a lot done tomorrow–whether writing, reading, or cleaning.

Last night I stumbled onto a documentary series on the National Geographic channel about the 1980’s; I’d already watched the CNN docuseries, The 80’s, and tremendously enjoyed it, so as I was killing some time before Paul got home, I settled in and started watching. I’m not much for nostalgia, really; I don’t spend a lot of time looking back on my past or the events of my life too frequently. The past is the past, and while one can learn from it, after all, one certainly can’t change anything that happened in the past. But watching these docuseries is a kind of reminder; and this series was called The Decade That Made Us, which I thought was an interesting take. A lot of stuff that started in the 1980’s, naturally, is bearing fruit today–cell phones, personal computers, etc.–and of course, it’s always difficult to watch and remember the 80’s in terms of HIV/AIDS–you simply cannot do a docuseries about the 1980’s and not mention HIV/AIDS, or remember that it wasn’t, really, that long ago. (Sure, it’s getting further and further into the past with each day, but still–1980 was forty years ago; in 1980 the second world war was only forty years in the past.)

But one of the novellas in progress I am writing, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is set in the not too distant past; 1994, to be exact. I’ve always written, for the most part, in the ambiguous present, with a few exceptions (“The Weight of a Feather” is one; it’s set in the early 1950’s), and it can be a bit difficult at times to remember, no he wouldn’t have had a computer or cell phone and trying to remember how we functioned without instant, immediate access to each other. (There was a really funny part in the docuseries last night where someone basically said that–“how did we meet up before cell phones? We made plans, days in advance, and included directions like “meet me under the clock at Grand Central at 4″…I had forgotten, or rather just not thought about, that….) It’s interesting trying to remember what 1994 was like, who I was back then and what was going on in the world. My main character is a  gay man who has just retired from the military, having found out he was about to be purged as a gay (gays in the military was a political battle the Clinton administration was fighting back then; “don’t ask don’t tell” was the disgraceful compromise that came out of that fight–but it was, pathetic as it was, better than the previous system, which was dishonorable discharges.) and, with no family left that he’s close to, decides to come to New Orleans to start a new chapter of his life as an openly gay man at thirty-nine, and what that experience is like. There’s some element of crime and suspense to the story, but it’s really about that feeling of liberation when you’re finally free to be yourself, while still living in the shadow of HIV/AIDS. I love the idea of this story, and am having fun writing it, remembering what New Orleans was like back then, and what it was like to be gay in New Orleans at that time, as well.

I may never do anything with it, but I’m having fun writing it, and that’s really the most important thing.

I am seriously considering doing a collection of novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons, but am not sure if there’s a market or an audience for it. I already know what the next novella would be, and then all I need to do is come up with two more.

Heavy sigh. Like it’s that easy, right?

Ah, well. And now back to the spice mines.

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I Sing the Body Electric

I’ve been reading a lot of history lately (nothing new there, really; my favorite non-fiction generally tends to be history), focusing primarily on New Orleans and Louisiana for the most part. As I read histories of New Orleans, here and there I find little bits, here and there, about the queer subculture in the long years and decades before Stonewall; little bits, here and there, more of asides in longer narratives than anything else. There were, of course, male prostitutes in Storyville back in the day–generally not housed or regularly employed in the houses, but should a customer be desirous of, shall we say, male companionship, the madams would send a runner down to a gay watering hole a few blocks away in the Quarter and find someone looking to make some quick cash…and they never failed to find someone willing to satisfy the “peculiar tastes” of the john.

Finding this, and other references to bordello activity by reformers protesting their existence and wanting them shut down, as “sodomy” quite naturally piqued my interest. As a port city that was, at one time, the largest port and largest city in the southern United States, a city that was also a blend of many different cultures and so forth, New Orleans clearly had always had havens for homosexuals in those dark times when we were outlaws. As I read other New Orleans histories, I do keep an eye out for these references, and mark the pages in order to find them easily again.

There’s a lot of stories untold there in the past, and I’ve been considering the possibilities of writing more historical-based fiction in New Orleans. I’ve already started a short story about a young gay man who occasionally picks up extra cash by working in one of the brothels at night “on demand,” and I think it has some terrific potential.

Queer people have often been erased by history, just as people of color and women have been, and while I will most likely never write non-fiction (you can’t make things up, which is the primary drawback for me), I do enjoy reading histories that focus on the gay community.

For example, David K. Johnson’s award-winning The Lavender Scare, about the purge of gay employees from the federal government in the 1950’s as intelligence risks (their sexuality left them open to blackmail from foreign spies; at least this was the fear) eventually led to my short story “The Weight of a Feather” (which I am still not convinced shouldn’t have been a novel); and as such, was quite delighted when Johnson released another scholarly look at queer American history this year, Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement.

I had, of course, known that “physique pictorial” magazines essentially were the original gay porn magazines; those images still can be found on the Internet.

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Johnson’s thesis holds that the mailing lists, and sales, of these magazines early on developed a cohesive gay market, and the recognition of said market gradually led to activism and wholesale societal change; that the magazines themselves created a sense of community by letting deeply closeted and frightened gay men know they weren’t alone; there were others like them, and helped them feel seen.

This further extrapolated into films and books, and gradually a gay rights movement.

The book is well written and deeply researched, as was The Lavender Scare (recently filmed as a documentary I am looking forward to seeing), and shed a light on a time I don’t know much about; few people know much about that time. One of the greatest tragedies of the community is how it was ravaged by HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and 1990’s, until the development of the drug cocktails that first extended life, and eventually managed to make HIV a manageable infection rather than a fatal one; a lot of oral histories were lost as a result, and an entire generation of gay men was not only lost, but deprived the next generation of community elders and mentors.

I’ve been toying, over the last few years, with several ideas for noir novels with gay themes and characters set in the decades before Stonewall, and Buying Gay will, should I ever decide to do so, prove to be an invaluable source of material.

Well done, Dr. Johnson.

Hazard

Thursday morning and I am still feeling unwell.

And winter has arrived in New Orleans; a cold front that of course would be considered spring or fall most everywhere else north of I-10 arrived overnight. It is amusing that our local weather people are talking about a cold front when it is seventy-four degrees outside. But that’s at least a ten degree difference from yesterday, and it is getting close to mid-October, so the colder weather is fairly overdue.

Colder, not cold.

I’m hoping that today is the last day of this lingering whatever-the-hell-it-is; that one more day of soup and vitamin C and juice and DayQuil will not only make today bearable but will also cure whatever it is that ails me. I really loathe being sick–not, of course, that anyone else really likes being sick. Although I suppose there are some who do.

Yesterday as I spent the day covered in blankets in my easy chair I finished reading Circe by Madeline Miller (already wrote about it, but buy it–it’s fantastic), and then fell into some New Orleans history worm-holes on the Internet on my iPad. The history of New Orleans is so rich and vibrant; bloody and filled with not only death but defiance. It started with me seeing a post from the Historic New Orleans Collection of an article about Prohibition in New Orleans–which was pretty much ignored and not really enforced as much as it should or could have been, perhaps–and I thought to myself, self, there’s probably a really good novel that could be set in this time period dealing with Prohibition and everything else going on in the city at the time. Was it James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series that was set in the past? Which reminds me, I need to revisit that series anyway.

I am kind of amazed, really, how little of New Orleans history I actually do know. I mean, I know who founded the city and when, when it became Spanish rather than French, when it was sold to the United States, the Battle of New Orleans…but there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I do know some about the uglier parts of the city’s history–the homophobia and racism, Delphine LaLaurie, how I-10 was deliberately routed to destroy prospering African-American neighborhoods and of course, the hideousness of the Upstairs Lounge fire and aftermath–but there are so many gaps, as I said before. I know about the murder of the police commissioner that led to the mob violence against the Italian immigrants, and the horror of the battle of Monument Place; I know about the Axeman murders and Storyville and Bellocq and his photos of Storyville prostitutes.

But there’s so much more, and so much I don’t know. This is why I always laugh when people call me a “New Orleans expert.” I am far from that. I know neighborhoods and streets, houses and the Quarter. But there are entire populations of the city I don’t know much about; the Greeks and the Islenos, the Vietnamese in New Orleans East, and the growing Latin/Hispanic populations. There are neighborhoods I don’t know, and the West Bank is, for the most part, completely unknown to me.

In other words, I need to explore. I need to read more New Orleans history, and I need to get out in my car on weekends and drive around, exploring and visiting and sight-seeing. I do feel that my next series will most likely be set in New Orleans’ past; it’s just that I don’t know when or where or what it will be. I’ve experimented with the past in short story form; “The Weight of a Feather” (included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories) may not be set in New Orleans, but the main character is from here. “The Blues Before Dawn”, an in-progress story, is also set in the past…and I think it’s an interesting time/subject to take up. (I don’t know how to end the story or even what the middle is, if I am to be completely honest; but it has a terrific opening and I am sure the story will come to me someday.)

I think one of the primary problems I’ve had over the past few years, that sense of feeling disconnected from the city that I’ve mentioned before, comes from, in all honesty, not reading the newspapers here. When the Times-Picayune became the Sometimes Picayune I stopped reading it; I will only visit their website to read write-ups on the Saints and LSU games. The New Orleans Advocate is doing a great job of picking up the slack, but I never think to pick it up and read it. I need to be better about that; I need to be better informed on what is going on in the city. There’s currently a scandal brewing–or it’s already brewed–about the Archdiocese and one of the Catholic boys’ schools in town; it’s what you would expect–sexual abuse and a cover-up; which has happened so many times now in other cities as to be almost a cliche. There’s a novel there as well, even though when I had the idea a long time ago–years before this scandal brewed up and made it onto the public radar–I was told it wasn’t an interesting topic and no one would want to read it.

I disagreed then, and I disagree now. I think it’s not only timely, but people would read it. It would have to not be a cliche, and it would have to be cleverly done, but I think it would work quite well.

And now, I feel the fever returning and I need to go lie down again for a moment.

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Something About You

Sunday and it’s my Saturday, which is going to really mess up my body clock, don’t you think? Today is going to be my errands-and-cleaning day; the Lost Apartment is, once again, a disaster area, and the bed linens need a-laundering, and I have to get groceries, and…and…and…

At least I have tomorrow off. Today is going to be one of those days where if I get some writing done, terrific, if I don’t, well, it’s a cleaning-and-errands day and it’s miserably hot. I am going to barbecue later on today–I’m also going to cook things for the week—and so am not really sure how much time I would have for writing today anyway.

I watched another documentary the other night–after the Tab Hunter–which also gave me the answer to the noir novel dilemma I hadn’t been able to figure out for quite some time. It was so obvious I don’t know why it never occurred to me before but whatever the reason, I’m glad I know the answer now. Now that another part of the puzzle has been fitted into place, it’s simply now a matter of figuring out the ending, and I can dive headfirst into writing it, once I’m caught up on everything else I am writing. When I get finished with the Scotty and the WIP, that’s when I’ll decide whether I am going to write the noir next or Bury Me In Satin, the y/a I want to do this year.

So little time! The fact that I lazily waste so much time makes me crazy, yet doesn’t somehow motivate me to not waste time somehow.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to do a classic noir-style novel with a homme fatale instead of a femme fatale, and this particular story has always really worked for me in terms of something I want to write; I have my main character and some of my supporting characters already in place. The enigma I couldn’t solve was the homme fatale; I can see him in my  head; I know what he looks like an d what his body looks like and the charm and charisma–but the motivation was something I couldn’t quite grasp; and that missing puzzle piece was key to who he is as a character, and now I have that piece. Huzzah!

I suppose I need to get back to the spice mines. Sigh. Now that I’m thinking about these projects, I’m feeling motivated to do some writing.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Anyway, here’s the opening of one of my new short stories from my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, “The Weight of a Feather”:

It was one of those buildings that went up right after the war, slapped together in a hurry because the city needed more living space.  The soldiers were coming home with their grim memories and the city was booming. People needed places to live if they were going to work in the city and there was money to be had. It was an ugly building, yellow brick and cement and uniform windows, with no charm, nothing that made it any different than any of the other apartment buildings that had gone up, that were still being built.

 The Christmas lights winking in some of the windows didn’t make them look any cheerier.

It was starting to snow, big wet flakes swirling around his head and sticking to his dark coat. There was no sign of life from Rock Creek Park at the end of the street. Max had walked past a small diner on the corner, a few lone customers behind windows frosted from cold. He’d thought about going in, getting coffee, but it was too risky.

Best to get it over with.

He buzzed the apartment, and the door buzzed open. There was a big Christmas tree in the lobby, empty boxes wrapped underneath. The white linoleum floor was already showing signs of wear and tear. He ignored the elevators and headed for the stairs. It was hot inside, steam heat through radiators making him sweat under his layers.

The third-floor hallway smelled like boiled cabbage and garlic and onions. He raised a gloved hand to knock on 3-L.

The man who answered the door smiled. Special Agent Frank Clinton was in his early thirties at most, cold gray eyes, his face battered from boxing Golden Gloves as a teen. He was wearing twill pants held up by suspenders over a white ribbed tank top. He looked up and down the hall. “Get inside, Sonnier.” he said in his thick Boston accent.

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If You Love Somebody Set Them Free

I have to panel today and tomorrow at Saints and Sinners; one is a genre panel and the other is an on-stage interview with Jewelle Gomez; we are being interviewed by Eric Andrews-Katz. I can’t seem to get it into my head which is which day; old age is not pretty for anyone. The irony is the primary topic has to do with being prolific and/or maintaining a career over a long period of time; considering I haven’t published a novel under my own name since 2016 and the last Todd Gregory was January last year (I think), it seems kind of weird to be talking about being prolific. But I suppose all the stuff I’ve published since 2002 kind of makes up for the last year or so of slacking off.

I guess I can talk about how I used to be prolific.

I’m also supposed to read from my work. Sigh. Not sure what I’m going to read. I can always fall back on Timothy, I suppose; that always goes over pretty well. Or I could read from this story that is eventually going to be available on Kindle as an ebook. (It IS up, but I keep finding mistakes, and having to upload a corrected file; and I am not going to try to start selling it until I have it right. My fabulous friend Erin also put together a better cover for me AND made sure the formatting and everything was done in a new file, but since I had already corrected something on the page–adding a tag line about A new story of suspense from award-winning author Greg Herren–I have to wait until the page corrects before I can put the new file up AND the new cover; and trust me, the next time I do this I am going to make sure I do everything right the first fucking time.)

I have downloaded a copy of the story from Kindle, so I do have an electronic file, so I could just read from my iPad, I suppose. And since I’ve read it out loud a few times already the last few days in order to catch mistakes…I’ve kind of practiced. It’s a thought.

Heavy sigh.

I’ve also been playing around with the short story collection. I realized I was including stories in it that are out for submission, operating on the assumption that if my publisher wants it, it wouldn’t come out until sometime next year, so the stories would either have been accepted or rejected by then; but by including them in the collection I was assuming they would be rejected, and why would I put that kind of energy out into the universe? I know one is going to be used; I’ve already gotten corrections from the editor of the anthology, but the others–well, it will be a while before I hear back from them; and one is notorious for how long it takes to respond; they still have a story I submitted last summer so still keeping my fingers crossed on that one. But again, gay characters in this one, so the odds against me are even stronger than they were for the other story.

It’s funny, but I am so damned stubborn, you know? Twenty-odd years ago when I decided to finally make my dream a reality and started taking writing seriously, I deliberately chose to write about gay characters and gay themes and tell our stories. I knew it was going to limit my success; making them crime novels limited the success still further. I said the other day I never tried writing crime short stories for the longest time because I knew gay crime stories wouldn’t get published in the limited markets for crime stories, and the limited markets for gay fiction wouldn’t publish crime stories. “Annunciation Shotgun” was the first time I wrote a crime story with gay characters, but I also knew it was going to be published; New Orleans Noir’s editor had requested the story, and had requested specifically I write about a gay character. And now that I’m going through this burst of writing short stories, some of these could have been about straight people, sure…but in some instances the story requires the characters to be gay. “The Weight of a Feather,” which I just revised this week, was written years ago for the MWA Ice Cold anthology; stories about the Cold War. It didn’t get used, and I recently took the plunge and sent it somewhere else. It was rejected, but not because of the characters; the story moved too slow, and I immediately saw the value of that critique from the editor, which I used in the revision. (I had always seen, stubbornly, the opening of the story being the image of a man, in winter, in a trenchcoat, standing on a bridge over a creek as snow starts to fall; then he throws a gun into the water and as he walks back home, the story is told in a sort of flashback. I now have rewritten the story to open with the actual commission of the crime, the middle with him walking tells the why; and I am probably just going to use it for the collection. I fucking love that title, too; it comes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead; the goddess Ma’at weighed the heart of the dead against the weight of the feather of truth to determine whether the soul was admitted to the afterlife; my story basically illustrates a situation where, despite the crime, I’d be curious to see how the scales of Ma’at would balance….)

Need to get ready. Later!

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Things Can Only Get Better

It’s Friday, and I have the morning off in order to once again have an eye appointment. Here’s hoping nothing goes wrong with that one, right? Oy. But…it’s also Friday. Hooray!

I managed to finish the first draft of my story “The Carriage House,” clocking in another 2500 words or so; the story in first draft now sits at about 5350 words, most of them written over the last two days. I had hoped to finish my Italy story yesterday as well, and get started on another Scotty chapter, but alas, that was not to be. It also occurred to me last night that I’ve written a lot of short stories so far this year; certainly more this year than I have in any previous year, and it’s early March only. Three were written to submit to anthologies, and the others were simply written because I wanted, felt the need, to write them. I’ve written a Chanse short story, which is also a first; and that’s kind of cool. I know how to fix it; I actually know how to fix all of the stories that now sit in a first draft form, which is also a first. Usually I have nary a clue on what to do with these stories once the draft is written. I also know how to fix another story that’s just been sitting in my files for years; mayhap I shall work on fixing it this weekend, who knows? I also can’t help but think that all these short stories are happening now because of the Short Story Project.

So, today it’s off to Metairie for the eye doctor, then it’s to the office for testing, and then it’s time to come home (it’s my short day) and hopefully to the gym for a workout. I’d like to spend the evening cleaning the Lost Apartment as well, so I can spend the weekend writing (other than the errands that must be run tomorrow).

Well, I never finished that, did I? Nope; my bad. Before I finished it was time to go, and off I went. I am now home, it’s later on in the day, and I’m a bit tired.

I’ll finish in the morning; sorry, Constant Reader!

I didn’t want to get up this Saturday morning, but I did–I have things to do today, errands and such, and must go to the gym–so I’ll sleep in tomorrow, which is when we lose an hour of sleep anyway. It’s not light out; it’s cloudy. I am not sure if that means it’s going to rain or something, but whatever it means…I’ll be out there dealing with it soon enough.

I also have some chores around here that I have to complete before heading out to face the day.

I am going to take today off from writing, despite being behind. I am very pleased with “The Carriage House,” as I said earlier in this missive, and I am relatively pleased with the Chanse story. It needs some more work, of course–there’s at least one scene missing that I need to put into it, as well as some more layers–but overall, I am quite well pleased with it, as well. I am more pleased, I think, that I’ve written a private eye story; I may write more now that I know I can actually do it. I doubt if I’ll do Scotty stories–there’s just way too much backstory necessary–but I have an idea for another Chanse story, this time set on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Oh! The title just came to me! “Once a Tiger.” I kind of like that. (The Chanse story needs not only revision but a new title; “Glory Days” doesn’t work with the story as it wound up. I originally set it at a reunion of sorts, but wrote that out of the story.) I do want to finish my Italy story, and perhaps work on a revision of either “The Weight of a Feather” or “The Problem with Autofill.” I also would like to get another Scotty chapter finished. We’ll see.

I’ve done quite a few short stories this year, as I mentioned earlier; even more than I originally thought I had done. I am thinking more about placement for said stories; I worry that some of the better paying markets–there aren’t many of those any more–won’t want a story with a gay male lead, even if the story itself isn’t particularly gay; “The Carriage House,” while not having anything particularly gay about it’s story line, also has gay character and involved murders of gay men. And you know, that’s really the thing about writing gay stories and novels; when you get rejected, when you don’t get reviewed or recognized–you always wonder. Was it really not good enough to get published/reviewed/recognized, and was it because of the gay factor? If I assume it’s the gay thing, am I not being honest with myself as a writer and rather than accepting that it needed more work or wasn’t good enough, am I using that as a crutch/excuse?

Heavy sigh.

All right, back to my chores. Here’s a Saturday hunk for you.

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Do You Really Want to Hurt Me

Wednesday; the week is half-over–although I am also working on Saturday; my weekend this week will be Sunday and Monday, which is lovely. My birthday is also nigh; I shall be fifty-six! Closer to sixty than fifty, but hey, there you go, you know? Getting older is not for the faint of heart, someone once said, and while there are definitely more aches and pains, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t quite have the energy I once had–I ain’t doing too badly. Yesterday I managed to get some significant work done on Scotty; the book is really taking shape in my mind, and I also got some work done on the line edit. I am not as far along on the line edit as I would like to be, but I am getting closer to being done with each bit that I do.

Progress. It’s everything, really.

I’m enjoying the Eric Ambler novel, Journey Into Fear, that I’m reading, and am hoping to get some more of that read today at some point. I like the way Ambler writes, and there’s just this amazing sense of 40’s noir to the story and the writing; I can visualize everything in my head really easily. Writing something in a different time period–one that I didn’t live through–is kind of intimidating to me; I’ve only written one story that is set in a time period before I was alive; set ambiguously in either the late 40’s or early 50’s, it’s a noir story that still need some work. The title, “The Weight of a Feather,” is one of my favorite titles, so I am pretty determined to do something with the story.

So many stories, so little time. Seriously.

Football season looms on the horizon as well; not sure how well LSU is going to do this year, but as always we have high hopes down here in Bayou Country. New coaches, new offense and defensive plans…I guess we’ll see how it’s going to play out at the season opener over Labor Day weekend in Houston when we play BYU. And football season is, as a general rule, kind of exciting. Ten years ago was the last time LSU won the national championship, in that insane year of 2007 which was one of the wackiest football seasons of all time; from week to week no one had any idea of who was going to win and who was going to lose; Top Ten teams would get beaten by someone unranked every week. SBNation has a great website about that crazy year; I wasted some serious time reading and remembering the other day.

And on that note, ’tis time to return to Ye Olde Spice Mines.

Here’s your Wednesday hunk.

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