Pretty Baby

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

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

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

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

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

Boys, after all, will be boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

Saturday morning in New Orleans and all is right–for now–in the world. I slept in this morning, which felt great, and while I have some errands to run–mail, drop off a return, make groceries, take books to the library sale–overall I pretty much have the day free. The LSU-Kentucky game isn’t until six thirty, and I don’t have any need to actually watch any of the other games today–although I will undoubtedly have the television on and tuned into said games–but I want to work on cleaning today, getting organized, and potentially doing some writing. I started writing another Blatant Self Promotion (BSP) post for Bury Me in Shadows the other night, and I really would like to get that finished and posted (I had hoped to write a post a day to try to sway you, Constant Reader, into opening your wallet and buying the book, but there’s only so much time in a day and I do need to rest and refresh both body and brain) at some point either today or tomorrow. But the book–and therefore the self-promotion–walk a line that I have to be very careful with, which always makes me nervous. It’s never my intent to ever offend or upset anyone, but my books are my books and my personal politics, values, and beliefs do affect what I choose to write about–and if you’re looking for a conservative point of view (or a white supremacist one) you are definitely buying the wrong books should you buy one of mine.

Yesterday was actually kind of lovely. I did some work, I made some condom packs, and I rewatched a film from the 1970’s that fits both into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival as well as the Halloween Horror Film Festival: Brian de Palma’s The Fury, based on a book by John Farris, which I read at the time (I eventually originally saw the film on HBO; I never rented it nor saw it in the theater). Horror fiction and films made an enormous comeback in the 1970’s; one could see the genre actually achieved never before see heights in that decade. Part of this, naturally, was the publication of Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, and the enormously successful, Oscar-nominated film adaptation of it a few years later (still one of the best King adaptations of all time). Both publishing and film responded accordingly, and also in the late 1970’s the one-two punch of Halloween and Friday the 13th took the slasher film to new heights, taking the horror genre along with them. The 1970’s also saw the debut of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, which wound up spawning an enormously successful series of books that completely changed the vampire dynamic in fiction–following the lead of Dark Shadows and making vampires into deeply flawed, romantic heroes. But horror was everywhere in the latter part of the decade (you should really check out Grady Hendrix’ marvelous Paperbacks from Hell, which examines the proliferation of horror titles in the 1970’s and 1980’s, through the window of their cover art), and so, naturally, The Fury–with the same director as Carrie, Brian de Palma–was primarily viewed as a rip-off trying to cash in on the success of Carrie.

But if The Fury is similar to Carrie in some ways, it is much more like Firestarter than any other King work; as I rewatched I kept being reminded of Firestarter and thinking about it (and thinking it, too, was due for a reread). The premise of the film/book is that there is a secret government agency (1970’s paranoia again) tasked with exploring and examining the potential of young people with some psychic gifts, whether it’s ESP, telekinesis, etc., with an eye to weaponizing them as well as advancing science (the government will turn anything into a weapon of war; this moral debate is mentioned very briefly during the film but to no great degree). Kirk Douglas plays the father of an extremely gifted young man, played by Andrew Stevens (which may or may not have been my first exposure to the handsome son of Stella Stevens; he also appeared in a two-part television adaptation of John Jakes’ The Bastard, and I don’t remember which came first. Nevertheless, he was quite handsome and had a terrific, sexy body). The very first scene of the film shows them on the beach somewhere in the Middle East; there’s a terrorist attack and Douglas is the target, but Stevens is kidnapped by the bad guys and Douglas manages to escape, embarking on a lifelong quest to find and rescue his son from these bad guys operating under the aegis of the government (I cannot emphasize how deeply distrust of the government ran in this time, in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam, there was a definite shift in public perception). The movie then switches over to Amy Irving, daughter of wealthy parents attending an extremely exclusive girls’ school in Chicago. Amy (another tie to Carrie) also has powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control; a bully starts harassing her in the cafeteria, and Amy blurts out the girl is pregnant–and the girl starts bleeding from her nose profusely, causing a panic, etc. Amy is then recruited to a school to test her talents–the same people who kidnapped Andrew Stevens, but their end game is never really explained; they’re all just bad guys who work amorphously for the government. Amy and Andrew are somehow connected; being able to see each other’s thoughts and so forth, so Douglas helps her escape from the school and they go looking for Stevens. SPOILERS: Stevens and Douglas finally end up dead, basically killed by the government people–not really, but they are definitely the reason they do–and in the final scene Amy uses her powers to punish the bad guys (again, very similar to Firestarter, which The Fury predates by several years). It’s not a bad movie, per se, but it’s also not a great one; it’s certainly not as engaging as Carrie–and I remember thinking that about the book as well; that it was just a quickly written attempt to cash in on King’s success.

What was interesting–what is always interesting–about watching these old movies is seeing actors who have not yet made it big in bit roles. There were three I picked out in this one: Melody Thomas, yet to become Nikki Newman on The Young and the Restless for decades; Daryl Hannah as one of the bitchy mean girls at the private school Irving attends; and Dennis Franz, playing a cop years before NYPD Blue.

We watched the season finale of Ted Lasso (oh, Nate, you poor broken man) which made us both laugh and cry, as it always does; the show really is a joy and I am rather distraught we have to wait now for the next season, and then a new show on Apple TV called Acapulco. This show is interesting; a wealthy older Latino man is explaining to his nephew his life story; how he came up from nothing to become wealthy, and how it all began with him getting his first job at a ritzy resort hotel in Acapulco called Las Casinas when he was a teenager. The parts with the older man talking to his young nephew are not engaging at all; there’s a mimicry of The Princess Bride with just a hint of the story-telling structure of How I Met Your Mother as well; it didn’t work for me in this instance. But the teenagers working at Las Casinas back in the 1980’s? Very charming, engaging, and likable. We’ll keep watching, but I want to see less of the present and more of the past, which is the show’s true strength.

That’s about it here from the spice mines. I think I’ll have some more coffee and try to get that BSP post finished. Have a great Saturday, Constant Reader!

Morning Rider on the Road

So, going back to the office wasn’t a terrible experience. We didn’t see any clients yesterday–we’re hoping to get the supplies we need delivered today, so we can get started again tomorrow–but I was able to go into the office and get some things done before coming home and doing some more work at home as well. I am going in again today–good to get the routine back on track again–and am hopeful that tomorrow will be another step forward in returning to normality.

It looks like we’re going to feel something from Hurricane Nicholas, which looks to be following a particularly strange path for a tropical disturbance, but the majority of whatever it may be won’t be until Thursday. It’s gray outside my windows this morning, but I think overall the weather should be fairly decent today? I suppose I should check.

Yes, it’s supposed to rain all day today, with the heaviest fall around eleven this morning. Yay. But I kind of like gloomy, rainy days, to be perfectly honest. My preference for them is to be at home under a blanket with a book, but you can’t always get what you want.

When I visited my parents a while back, one of the books I took with me was James Jones’ unabridged From Here to Eternity, which apparently included the scenes referencing gay bars and gay activity amongst the soldiers–and how some weren’t averse to making some extra money getting paid for sex. It’s always been one of my father’s favorite books (and movies), but I had never read it. I started it a few times when I was a teenager (I always enjoyed World War II stories) but with these scenes restored (they were cut from the original publication, for obvious reasons) I thought it might prove of interest–particularly since I have an idea (don’t I always?) for a book set on Oahu that opens on December 8, 1941. I got maybe three hundred pages into the book, and literally reading it was torture. I finally gave up and moved on to something else; I don’t remember what it was, but I certainly enjoyed it much much more than I was enjoying From Here to Eternity–and the primary reason I was hating the Jones novel was because all of the characters were, basically, assholes with few if any redeeming qualities. Last night as I sorted things for work at home, I decided to watch the film again–the original, from 1953–and…yeah, I’m not really certain it holds up after all this time either. My primary takeaway from the film was how ridiculously lean and fit the actors (Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra) playing the main leads were. It’s funny, because the book’s frank look at sexuality (Clift’s character falls in love with a prostitute; Lancaster has an affair with his superior officer’s wife, played by Deborah Kerr) is so ridiculously tame by our modern standards; crime series currently airing on network television are more risqué than this film–let alone soaps. (Kind of like Peyton Place–there’s more lurid content in an episode of The Young and the Restless than in the entire book!) I wasn’t overly impressed with the film, to be honest–and it was hardly a glowing depiction of the military. But it was interesting…and made me think about that book I mentioned earlier than I want to write someday.

But the gym is back to its normal hours, and so I’ll be able to get back there to workout after work today. Yay! I’ve actually missed going to the gym in these turbulent times; I did make it over there last week for a quick workout one day, and I am really looking forward to things going back to routine again. I like my routines, I like my patterns, I like my ruts, frankly; and again trying to remember what all was going on and what all I was working on before this disruption began has been challenging. Head down, nose to grindstone; get it all together, man!

We also watched a few more episodes of Only Murders in the Building, which we are really enjoying. I’m not really sure if this is a murder mystery, or about three true crime aficionados who’ve become convinced they are not only investigating a murder but making a podcast about it at the same time. I am really enjoying the show; the Martin Short character gets on my nerves periodically, but I really like the Steve Martin character, and those apartments! I can only imagine what those apartments are actually worth in today’s Manhattan rental climate.

I am also hoping to get back into Velvet was the Night soon. I read a chapter last night (or was it the night before?) and am really enjoying it thus far, and we haven’t really gotten into the story itself yet; Moreno-Garcia is letting us get to know our two main characters first; she really is a gifted talent, and am looking forward into delving more into her work in the future–perhaps either Mexican Gothic or Gods of Jade and Shadow will be up next. I love that she doesn’t limit herself to genre, which used to be a no-no in this business; you were supposed to pick a genre and if you wrote in another one, you used another name (Michael Koryta has written both crime and horror under his own name; lately he’s started publishing the horror as Scott Carson). God, how this business has changed in the years since I took my first tentative steps into it so long ago. Some of those changes are for the better–prime example being Moreno-Garcia slipping between genres effortlessly under the same name–and some not so much; I miss writing gay erotica from time to time…although I love that my erotica fell out of favor with “current” readers of gay male pornography because when I write it, it’s about lust and sweat and masculinity and control–as opposed to roses and music and love and fading to black and cuddling when fading back in.

And I need to get back to writing, which I am assuming will happen once I feel more settled, with the ground more stable beneath my feet again. Today is the 14th, which means I only have 16 days left in which to finish the first draft of Chlorine like I had wanted; I think I am going to continue working on it, while prepping for writing the next book and revising some of the other things I have on hand that aren’t finished or in early draft form; I need to make a list, don’t I?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader, never fear!

Go West

Good morning, Thursday; just today and tomorrow before we slide into another delightful three day weekend. Memorial Day! Huzzah! I am always about another day off from the day job–which I completely understand that it sounds like I don’t like my day job, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I just enjoy not having to go to work more than I enjoy going to work; I’m not sure how everyone else comes down on that category, but I’d be more than willing to bet that most people prefer their days off to their days on.

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

Anyway, here I am at the crack of dawn swilling down coffee and trying to get more awake and alert. I am looking at a long day of screening at both buildings (Marine in the morning, Elysian Fields in the afternoon) and right now it seems like its about a million years staring into my face. But I will persevere, and deal with the heavy traffic on the way home just after five. Tomorrow is the Friday of a long weekend, which is absolutely lovely, and my ink cartridge was delivered yesterday so I can pick it up on my way into the office tomorrow and actually start printing shit I need to print again this weekend. Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite being tired–that tired lasted again, like the day before, pretty much all day–but I managed to get my errands accomplished after work and got some organizing and straightening done in the kitchen/office area; always a plus. Paul was a little late getting home last night, but we watched an episode of The Great and then I started streaming The Story of Soaps, an ABC show about the history of the soaps–just to see if it was any good–and it was quite enjoyable; I’ll look forward to watching the rest of it this evening. I watched soaps from the time I was a kid–our babysitter in the summer watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows, which is how I got started watching them, and over the years I remained pretty (fairly) loyal to General Hospital and One Life to Live. The summer we moved to Kansas, until we got cable we only got the CBS affiliate from Kansas City, so my mom and I ended up watching the CBS shows–from The Young and the Restless through Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and The Edge of Night. After cable, we watched General Hospital–it was the late 1970’s by then, and everyone was watching General Hospital by that point.

It’s interesting, in some ways, that our moves–my moves–gradually went west. The suburb we moved to when we left the south side of Chicago was west; from there to Kansas, and from there to California. I started heading more and more east from California, to Houston and then to Tampa, before going north to Minneapolis and coming back south to New Orleans. I never thought about it too much, really; but it’s interesting how I’ve moved around the country and the strange pattern to it. Of course, we’ve been in New Orleans since 1996 (barring that year in Washington), and since I’ve lived here longer than I have anywhere else, I tend to think of New Orleans as home more than I’ve ever thought of the places I’ve lived previously. Granted, had we never left Chicago, I probably would think of Chicago as home, but I’ve literally only been back to Chicago maybe twice, possibly three times, since departing the area in 1975. I’ve never been back to Kansas, and I’ve been to Houston many times since I moved to Tampa–but only twice to Tampa since leaving there (I’ve actually been to Orlando quite a bit; I’d say I’ve visited Orlando more than anywhere other than Houston over the last twenty-odd years).

I tend to not write about Florida, for the most part; while I’ve written about a fictional city in California based on Fresno in the Frat Boy books (the third was set in a different fictional California city, San Felice, based on Santa Barbara), and I’ve written about the panhandle of Florida, I’ve never really based anything on, or written about, the real Tampa or a city based on it (I do have ideas for some stories set in “Bay City”); I’ve not really written about Houston, either. My fiction has always primarily been set in New Orleans, with a few books scattered about other places (Alabama, Kansas, a mountain town in California called Woodbridge) but it’s almost inevitably New Orleans I write about; which makes sense. I live here, I love it here, and I will probably die in New Orleans.

And I’m fine with that, frankly.

“Go West” is also a song I associate with New Orleans, actually. I know it was originally a Village People recording–which I actually never heard before the Pet Shop Boys covered it–but I always associate it with 1994 and when I first started coming to New Orleans; it, along with Erasure’s “Always” were the big hits of the moment that were always being played in gay bars, and I heard them both for the first time on the dance floor at the Parade on my thirty-third birthday; which was also the first time I ever did Ecstasy. So, whenever I hear “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, I always think back to that birthday and that trip to New Orleans (“Always” has the same affect, but not as intensely; I’ve never been able to find the proper dance remix the Parade used to play–and in fact, a lyric of the song, “Hold On To The Night”, became a short story I’ve never published anywhere–and haven’t even tried to revise in almost thirty years. It wasn’t a crime story; I was writing gay short stories then, about gay life in New Orleans–and no, I never published the vast majority of them (with the sole exception of “Stigmata”, which was published in an anthology that came and went very quickly), although I did adapt some of them into erotica stories and some could easily be adapted into crime stories…I know a fragment of one, I think, morphed into “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was published in Jerry Wheeler’s The Dirty Diner anthology, and was probably reprinted in Promises in Every Star.

I should probably pull those stories out again and see if there’s anything I can do with them,

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

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Stuck With You

Well, it’s been a day.

I took my car into the dealer this morning to have the oil changed–which only has to be done either once a year, or every 6000 miles, whichever comes first; I’ve now had the car 16 months and hit 8000 miles today–and while I was there, I made notes in my journal, read some of Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, while The Young and the Restless played in the background on the television. I was there considerably longer than I expected to be, given I had an appointment and all, but there was no fee and I had more than enough to keep me entertained. Just around the time the car was ready, of course, the brooding skies opened up and there was a torrential downpour. We are in a flash flood warning until tomorrow evening around 6–and there’s also now Tropical Storm Alberto out there just off the Yucatan, probably heading this way with us in the Cone of Uncertainty. I debated not running my errands because of the downpour. I was on the West Bank, and I’m not familiar with whether or not areas and/or aspects of the West Bank streets flood or not during this kind of constant, steady downpour, with 4 to 6 inches of rain expected. But it lightened up some, and so I ran the errands and got home.

All told, I was gone for nearly four hours; but a higher percentage of that time was spent dealing with the bridge traffic coming back to the east bank than was necessary, in my humble opinion.

Sigh.

But now I am home, there’s some sunlight outside, but everything is dripping, and my windows are covered in condensation. I’ve put the groceries away and sorted the mail. I tossed a load of laundry into the washing machine and fed the attention-starved, incredibly whiny in his neediness cat. There’s still some straightening up to do in the kitchen–as always; everything I’ve done yesterday needs to be redone, but it won’t take as long so I can add another layer to the cleaning; perhaps vacuuming–and I’ve got some books to reorganize. I’d like to get some actual writing done today; but I’ve been doing a lot of the mental prep and making a lot of notes; while I was having lunch I came up with an entire scene for the WIP and came up with an absolutely brilliant (he typed modestly) bit of character development which will save me a lot of space in words by nailing down this character in what looks like a mere throwaway sentence. There’s certainly more Shannara Chronicles to watch, and I also can go back and finish both Lost in Space and Troy: The Fall of a City. I have more short stories to write and edit and polish; Scotty chapters to read and the WIP.

Yup, not lacking for things to do around here this weekend.

And yet I am feeling so relaxed, it’s lovely.

It’s truly lovely feeling creative again; after the barren desert that was last year. It’s so awful when you worry if you’ve lost your creativity and your drive to write; my primary identity, the way I see myself, is so clearly writer that it makes me so much happier when I am actually able to do it; when my mind is filled with ideas and scenes and characters and sentences and titles and stories. I always say I have creative ADHD; my mind just bounces around in such a strange way from idea to idea and when I free associate like that, I come up with all kinds of things that sound good at the time.

 And now, back to the spice mines.

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