The Silky Veils of Ardor

As Constant Reader knows, Gregalicious loves short stories. He regrets deeply that they are much harder for him to write than novels (I’ve often joked that I find it much easier to write a novel than a short story; the word count limitations are hard for me as I always tend to write probably more than is needed to illustrate a particular point–take this sentence, for example), and I am sure part of this insecurity comes from my oft-told tale about my first writing professor, who earwormed his petty nastiness into my brain and soul. (But also this gives me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction in that I know I’ve published more fiction than he did during his time on this planet; to this date, I still cannot find a single fiction publication for the prick.)

And while I am a firm believer in the mentality that writers should always be paid–even if merely a token–for their work, I will often write short stories if requested, and don’t mind donating a story for a good cause. The two stories I had in Bouchercon anthologies weren’t paid, nor was my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s; like I said, when I am asked to write a story I am genuinely so flattered that the editor thought enough of me and my work to ask. I like writing short stories, even if they are a struggle for me, and there aren’t many places where one can get them published these days.

I was enormously flattered to be asked by short story master Josh Pachter to write a story for his anthology of stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. The irony, of course, is that while I am familiar with Ms. Mitchell and her work–and I like what I know of it–I am not as familiar with her canon as I am with women singer-songwriters like Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton or Carole King; I also realized that the songs of hers that I could name off the top of my head–“Free Man in Paris”, “Help Me”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, etc.–were the same ones anyone could; I wanted something not quite as famous and perhaps a little more obscure, something to which a Joni Mitchell fan would say oh yes, of course you chose that song.

So, I did what I often do in these situations: I asked my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford), and he immediately came back with “You should pick ‘The Silky Veils of Ardor.’ It’s about that hot guy all the high school girls fall in love with and breaks their hearts.”

That was definitely intriguing, so I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song several times as I listened to Joni’s sweet voice singing them…and I knew immediately what story I was going to tell.

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The elevator doors opened. Cautiously, her heart thumping in her ears, she stepped out into the hotel lobby and took a quick look around. At the front desk, a young woman in uniform was checking in a couple. They didn’t look familiar. But it had been so long since she’d seen any of them…would she recognize anyone?

She didn’t notice she was holding her breath.

She walked across the lobby to the hotel bar entrance. A reader board just outside said WELCOME BACK BAYVIEW HIGH CLASS OF 1992!

The black background was faded, the white plastic letters yellowed with age.

The urge to head back to the elevators and punch at the UP button until the doors opened, get back to her room and repack her suitcases—everything she’d just carefully put away neatly in drawers and hung in the closet—was strong. She resisted, recognized the need as irrational, closed her eyes, clenched her hands until she felt her ragged bitten nails digging into her palms.

You can do this you can do this you can do this you can do this….

A dull murmur came from the hotel bar, laughter and talking, the rattle of ice against glass, the whir of a blender. From where she stood, she could see the bar was crowded, cocktail waitresses in too-short black skirts and white blouses with trays balanced on one hand maneuvering expertly around groups of people.

Maybe no one there was from the reunion. Maybe she was early. Maybe—

You can do this!

She’d always had social anxiety. Had never made friends easily, couldn’t make small talk, sometimes said the wrong thing, alienated people without even knowing what she’d done. Parties and dances had always been agony. Even with friends, people she felt relatively certain actually did like her, there was always the irrational fear she’d say the wrong thing, forget a birthday, commit some horrific social faux pas that would turn them against her, show them what a damaged, worthless person she actually was. She’d started seeing a therapist after college, years after she should have, but her parents thought therapy was all touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo for the weak and all you had to do was suck it up and forget about it, not worry, lock it all away in some dark corner of your mind and move on.

I have never attended a high school reunion, and frankly, have little to no desire to ever do so–with no offense intended to anyone I went to high school with. Our school was very small and remote, for one thing–my graduating class had only 48 students, and at that point, were the largest graduating class in our high school’s history. It’s not easy to get there–one would have to fly into either Kansas City or Wichita, rent a car, and drive for at least an hour just to get to the county seat, and of course, my high school was about nineteen miles (give or take) north of the county seat. I do think about going back from time to time, more to take a look around and see what’s different now as opposed to then; to refresh my memories a bit for writing about the region–which I’ve done somewhat already, but not nearly as much as I could. Using Google Earth has already shown me that my memory is faulty–I’ve fallen into Google Earth wormholes frequently–so while there is some idle curiosity about going back, there’s very little desire or motivation. It’s difficult, I think, for my classmates to understand that I really don’t have much desire to revisit that time of my life; it’s certainly not their fault but the four or five years I spent in Kansas also contain some of the darkest periods of my life.

I wrote a short story about a high school reunion under my Todd Gregory pseudonym; “Promises in Every Star,” which eventually became the title story of my Todd Gregory collection. I first had the idea for that story when I received the invitation to my ten year reunion, back in 1988; the title is a lyric from one of my favorite til Tuesday songs, “Coming Up Close,” from my favorite album of theirs, Welcome Home, which I can listen to over and over again, and have, many times; it’s definitely in my Top Five favorite albums of all time. I don’t remember where I originally published that story, but it was many, many years later, after I had the original idea and wrote the first draft (in long hand), and after that, I figured I was finished with high school reunion stories.

Until “The Silky Veils of Ardor.”

As I listened to the song, the more the story began to take shape in my head; a high school reunion, twenty-five years later; returning to the town where she went to high school for the first time since she graduated and moved away with her family. I had already written the opening, for another short story; as I revised and retooled that particular story, the character grew and changed and wasn’t the timid, nervous, medicated woman she originally was–but I loved that original opening, and decided to lift it from the initial drafts of that story onto this one. I found the original word document of the first draft, erased everything after the opening few paragraphs, and renamed the file THE SILKY VEILS OF ARDOR. The rest of the story flowed out of me after I finished rereading and tweaking the original opening to fit the new story, and I was off and running. I revised the story several times, and one of the things, one of the points, I was trying to make with the story is about how differently we see high school than our friends and classmates did–which is an idea I’d been toying with after an exchange on social media with some of my classmates after I’d posted something–a status update or a blog post, or something along those lines–about how miserable I’d been in high school; my friends were all astonished because how remembered high school was very different from the way they remembered it, and me. I remembered feeling isolated and lonely, like an alien from another planet set down into their midst; a freak everyone kept at arm’s length. They, on the other hand, remembered me as being popular and well-liked by everyone.

And that, my friends, is where this story came from. I still think about those tricks our memories play on us; our inability to see what was right in front of us if we could just see clearly.

The book will be officially released on April 7th from Untreed Reads; you can preorder it at any vendor that sells ebooks. There’s a stellar line-up of writers, and some of the proceeds are going to charity.

And thanks again to Josh Pachter for inviting me.

Here’s a link to Joni singing the song–this is the video I listened to for inspiration.

Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel

It started raining last night as I retired to bed. Lovely, I thought, the sound of rain always helps me sleep better. There’s just something about being warm and dry underneath blankets while it’s pouring rain outside that, I don’t know, that makes me feel comfortable and relax, which is, quite naturally, rather lovely. It rained pretty heavily all night, actually; thunder woke me a couple of times, but I was able to easily go back to sleep, which was quite marvelous. I woke up this morning a little later than usual, and after seeing articles like this one, popping up on my notifications when I sat down at my computer, I might not have known how bad the raining–and subsequent flooding–actually was. My street generally doesn’t flood–it might take on an inch or so or water, but the entire neighborhood basically drains to Coliseum Square–but I did go out and check. I didn’t see any telltale leaves or dirt on the sides of any of the cars parked out there, so I am going to assume my car is okay this morning.

One can hope, at any rate.

So, yesterday I managed to write quite a bit in a very short period of time; over three thousand words on chapters nine and ten, finishing them off and bringing me back to the point where I have to start writing new chapters. Revising these first ten chapters has, as intended, brought me back into the story again, so today I am going to try to write Chapter Eleven as well as map out the rest of the middle of the book. This pleases me inordinately; I should be able to get the rest of this first draft finished by the end of the month; there’s also a three day weekend to look forward to, which is also kind of awesome. It felt great doing all that writing yesterday, and when I was finished for the day I was amazed at how great I felt. It was also a bit of a relief; whenever writing becomes hard, you always begin to question whether or not the well has run dry and your glory days are behind you.

I think that becomes worse the older you get, too–because things you’ve become used to over the course of your life begin to go away the older you get, you know? Things like teeth and hair and firm skin…the ability to write.

I watched the first episode of Fosse Verdon last night, and greatly enjoyed it. I was sort of familiar already with the story–I watched All That Jazz a very long time ago, and that film sort of spelled out the Fosse story, while of course centering Fosse and shoving Verdon’s importance to his career to the side (as always); I’m glad to see this series making this very clear. Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell are incredible; I don’t know who the actress playing young Liza Minnelli is, but she also knocked it out of the part, turning what could very easily have been your standard caricature into an actual performance. It also didn’t hurt that the first episode primarily focused on the filming of Cabaret, a film I first saw when I was very young and didn’t much care for, but as an older adult have grown to appreciate all the more–and watching this episode actually made me want to see it yet again. It’s a very good show; I hope people are watching.

I am also still thinking about Dead to Me, which is absolutely superb. Seriously, Constant Reader, you need to watch this show.

So, yesterday, as you can tell, was a good day for the most part–the overnight street flooding aside–and I also managed to get some filing and organizing and cleaning done, which was also pretty marvelous. The Lost Apartment looks better than it has in quite some time–I was managing the cleaning/writing balance pretty well–and when I was finished (quite early, actually) with the writing I was able to focus on the cleaning/filing/organizing, and it all went well. I did some backing up of computer files–the computer is getting wonky again–and did all the dishes and so forth, which was also quite lovely. I also did some note-taking in my journal.

Go, Gregalicious!

I am also really loving my Spotify subscription; I am truly sorry I didn’t discover it and its magic long ago. I’m listening to a lot of albums I used to love and reacquainting myself with how much I love them–the Cars, the Go-Go’s, Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Aretha Franklin, Pat Benatar, the Pointer Sisters, Josie Cotton, Tina Turner, ’til Tuesday–the list goes on forever, really. I’ve saved tons of albums to my library, and have been having the best time listening to them and–as music always does–being swept back in time to when I used to listen to them originally; I guess revisiting my youth?

It’s also daunting to realize how old some of these records actually are; I mean, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is about forty-two years old now…which again adds to the horror of how old I am. AIEEEEE! But so many of them still hold up today, you know, and don’t sound dated at all, and I’m really enjoying rediscovering how great some of the records I owned in the past were and had just forgotten about. I mean, I’d absolutely forgotten how amazing the Cars were, or how terrific the Pointer Sisters’ Break Out album actually was–and still is.

So, today, I intend to write Chapter Eleven, map out some future chapters, and get some other things done before Game of Thrones tonight.

And then the entire week starts all over again, lather, rinse, repeat.

But I do have high hopes for getting things done today. Fingers crossed, Constant Reader, fingers crossed!

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Crush on You

Saturday! I am having dinner with a friend this evening, who’s in town for the ALA (American Library Association) convention; someone I don’t get to see with the level of frequency I would prefer, so am very excited to spend the evening discussing the genre and books and maybe just a little hint of gossip. Huzzah!

I cleaned the house yesterday when I got home; the big macro clean; hopefully today, around writing and editing, I’ll get to do the micro clean (macro: picking everything up, cleaning counters, putting dishes away, doing bed linens; micro: sweeping and mopping and cleaning dust off picture frames and reorganizing cabinets, etc.). I slept deeply and well last night also; I woke up this morning around nine feeling foggy and not quite there awake yet; I am about to brew my second cup of coffee but I feel wildly awake and motivated…we shall see how long that lasts.

Today I want to focus on working on the Scotty book as well as read the WIP’s first four chapters aloud. My deadline for finishing the Scotty is next Saturday; I have essentially eight days to write six chapters. I also have to wrap up a ridiculous amount of plot and subplots in six chapters, but it is something I think I can do. After all, the first draft is always going to be a mess, isn’t it? And then I can work on cleaning up that mess when I work on the second draft. I do project it being finished by the end of September and turned into my publisher at that time.

As we progress into my next story in Promises in Every Star, we come on to “Angels Don’t Fall in Love”:

“Angel…..”

I wake up in the middle of the night whispering his name. When my alarm goes off at seven in the morning, for that brief instant I imagine that he is there with me in the bed, that he never left, that his warm body is lying there next to me, and when I open my eyes his round liquid brown eyes will be looking into mine with that curious sexy mixture of innocence and awareness. But my eyes open, as they do every morning, to see the other side of the bed empty, a vast desolate waste of cotton sheets and woolen blankets. My heart sinks again, down into that blackness, the darkness of despair, loneliness, and missed opportunity. For I have known love, I have known passion, I have known joy.

And lost it.

I first laid eyes on Angel one night wandering home from the bars at about two in the morning. I’d had more than my fair share of drinks that night, and was giving up and going home. Staying out didn’t mean meeting the man of my dreams, or even just a warm body with a forgettable name for the night. It just meant more alcohol, more disappointment, standing alone in a corner of the bar, not approaching anyone, nobody approaching me. Before going out that night I’d made a promise to myself that I would break the cycle. I would not stay out ordering more drinks thinking that maybe in five minutes the right guy would walk in. The drinks would only cloud my judgment and distort the way guys looked, making them look far better than they would in the cold light of morning, when I would ask myself, what were you thinking? It was a tired old game, and one I didn’t feel like playing anymore.

He was standing, leaning against a lamppost on Royal Street just a block from my apartment. He was smoking a cigarette dangling from his lower lip. His hair was that dark shade of black that looks blue in the light. There was a mustache and goatee, and he was wearing one of those white ribbed tank tops that cling. His jeans were several sizes too big and were slung low across his hips, exposing black boxer shorts. There was a tattoo on his right arm, a cross in outline with beams of light radiating from it. In the flickering light of the gaslit lamp he seemed to be a large presence, but when I got closer I saw that he was maybe five five, five six possibly. His eyes were amazing, round liquid pools of brown with golden flecks in them, like the sad eyes of a Madonna in a renaissance painting by a forgotten master. They were framed by long, curling lashes that looked dewy in the light.

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Again I don’t remember which anthology I originally wrote this story for, but I reprinted it in my Todd Gregory anthology Wings,  and again, of course, in Promises in Every Star. “Angels” was inspired by an old ’til Tuesday song, “Angels Never Call.” I happened to be listening to the Welcome Home CD when it cued up, and as I listened to it, the image of a man coming home after an evening in the gay bars of the Quarter came to me, encountering a young man named Angel, and the story just progressed from there. It was the first, or at least one of the first, erotica stories I wrote that had an edge of the supernatural to it; was Angel just an attractive young Latino male, or was he actually an angel? It was around this time that I found myself exploring themes in my erotic short fiction, and including supernatural elements, turning the erotica into stories with sex scenes in them. “Angels Don’t Fall in Love” was about, as so many stories I’ve written are, about loneliness and needing to make a connection with another human being. It’s a theme I’ve returned to over and over again, and probably will continue to do so.

And now, back to the spice mines.