I Wanna Be Your Lover

So, Facebook was apparently wonky yesterday, and so was Instagram. I rarely go to Instagram–I’m not really sure what the point of it is, and I mostly follow male fitness models because I like to look at pictures of pretty men, feel free to judge me for this–but I did have some things I wanted to post on Facebook yesterday which kept failing on me. But the wonkiness kept me off of there for most of the day, and I have to say it was kind of lovely.

I am loving Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, as I knew I would. This weekend I am going to have to spend most of my free time reading, because I still have two more books to read to prepare for my panel and time is running out.

Yesterday the box o’books for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories arrived, and it looks fantastic. I can’t tell you, Constant Reader, how pleased I am with what Bold Strokes has been doing with the packaging of my books. Great covers, the interior with Janson (my favorite font); they look terrific, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s been a while since I got a box o’books; the last Todd Gregory novel came out in January of 2018, and this is the first fiction I’ve published since then (I don’t count anthologies, even though my name is on the spine). Yeah, I know that’s just over a year, but for me that’s a long time.

And no, the feeling of opening up a box o’books with my name on the cover still hasn’t gotten old.

I am really looking forward to getting the box o’books for Royal Street Reveillon.

I had hoped to have the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of this month, but I don’t really see how I can do that while getting the reading done that I need to do for my panel…which means, I suppose, that I’ll have to rejuggle my calendar for the year. Ha ha ha, like I actually have taken the time to make a to-do calendar for the year. I’ve not even been making to-do lists. Maybe this is why I’ve felt so at-sea this year; I should get back on that and get back to normal.

I started watching The Order on Netflix last night, per the recommendation of some of my co-workers, and I kind of enjoyed the first episode. It is a paranormal show of some sort, but it, like True Blood (and the grandmother of all these shows, Dark Shadows), doesn’t take itself seriously and there are some seriously funny moments on the show. I also watched the first episode of Gregg Araki’s new show on Starz, Now Apocalypse, and also am intrigued enough to watch more. American Gods is also apparently back for its second season, which is something else I can watch during these last few weeks pre-Festival while Paul is working around the clock.

My new computer was delivered yesterday–I did wind up ordering a new MacBook Air on-line on Monday (not that there’s anything wrong with the HP Stream; there’s not, but it’s a long story I won’t bore you with and it doesn’t hurt to use it as a back-up in case of other issues AND this way when we travel we won’t have to share a laptop which is always aggravating), and it did arrive and I am picking it up this morning on my way to the office. Today and tomorrow are, of course, my half-days, which is lovely, and so I can come home tonight and get things started on cleaning around here as well as reading, and then tomorrow I can make groceries on the way home and be in for the weekend. This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day, which means parades and day-drunks roaming around the neighborhood, so not leaving the house is optimal.

And on that note, I should return to the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader,

IMG_0976 2

This Town

As I have mentioned before, I kind of invited myself to contribute to this anthology. It’s probably the single most brazen thing I’ve ever done as a writer. I’m not sure how it happened, exactly; I just saw it on Twitter or something and shamelessly contacted Holly West, who–rather than saying who the fuck are you? HELL FUCKING NO, was quite gracious and said, “By all means! I have a spot for you!”

The songs I got to choose from were three of my favorites, but I eventually decided on “This Town,” after reviewing the lyrics:

We all know the chosen toys 
Of catty girls and pretty boys 
Make up that face 
Jump in the race 
Life’s a kick in this town 
Life’s a kick in this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us
Change the lines that were said before 
We’re all dreamers – we’re all whores 
Discarded stars 
Like worn out cars 
Litter the streets of this town 
Litter the streets of this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

 

 “We’re all dreamers–we’re all whores”–that was the line that sold me; this was the song I was going to use.

But despite the fact that was the line that convinced me, these lines:

Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

were the ones that actually inspired my story.

cover-west-murder-go-gos-frontOur IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, his bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, his bored eyes just flicked over the lami- nate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about every- thing. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitat- ed. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up ran down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our arm- pits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic. They only no- ticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking sec- ond place because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

She was Celia, and we were better for knowing her, special for being her sisters, like she’d selected us to be pledges and not the actives.

She somehow even knew the best places to catch the parades at our first Mardi Gras and wasn’t from New Orleans.

Haven’t we all known a girl like Celia, the one who somehow always knows what the next thing is, who always wears new styles and fashions before anyone else, who always seems to know where the best parties are, where to find the cute guys, the one everyone is drawn to, who draws the eye, who is the center of attention?

I was in a fraternity in college, and another trope that pops up regularly in my fiction is college Greeks–fraternities and sororities. Chanse was an alum of an LSU fraternity (I have an in-progress short story where Chanse deals with the current day members of his old fraternity after a suspicious death on Big Brother Night, “Once a Tiger”), and of course there are the Todd Gregory fraternity novels. Sororities fascinated me back then, and they still do today; they were a lot stricter than their male counterparts back when I was in college, and still seemed stuck, rules and tradition-wise, in the 1950’s.

Anyway, one day during Carnival last year I was standing under the balcony in front of the praline shop during a Saturday afternoon parade–Iris, I think it was–when a gaggle of sorority girls passed by in front of me. The clear leader of the pack was a beautiful young woman the others were clearly trying to please and impress; the alpha to their betas. They all paused right next to me so the leader could light a cigarette. As she put her cigarette in her purse three men of varying ages immediately stepped up to light her cigarette for her–one was in his fifties, one was slightly older than the girls, and another who might have been in his thirties–and I remembered another golden girl from a sorority back when I was in college…and I wondered what it would be like to be, not the alpha girl, but one of the betas, caught up in her thrall, and what you might be willing to do  for your alpha. Is it peer pressure, is it desire to please, what precisely is it that keeps you in thrall and makes you do things against your nature?

And that night, I started writing “This Town.”

The great irony, of course, was that after I’d written the story and Holly graciously agreed to use it in her anthology, I was reading William J. Mann’s Edgar-winning Tinseltown and realized that “this town” has a specific connotation, one that makes the song itself make even greater sense: “this town” is how people in Los Angeles refer to show business, i.e. “you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.” I’d even know that, from years of reading biographies and memoirs and histories of Hollywood and the studio system, but…my mind and my memory is a sieve these days.

But I’m very proud of my story, and I hope that you will like it, too, when you get a chance to read it.

Coming Up Close

I wound up taking yesterday off from writing/editing, which really puts me under the gun today. But after working yesterday, getting groceries, and laundry, I was exhausted, and figured I’d get up early this morning and get going on the editing/rewriting. So, of course, I wound up sleeping late–I got almost ten hours of sleep last night, which is extremely unusual for me on any night. But I am not going to argue with it; I clearly needed the rest, right? So, I am going to get this entry finished up as a warm-up, clean up my email inbox as necessary, and then I am going to finish getting the kitchen cleaned up before showering and getting down to business here. I promised that I would get it finished today and turned in, and I am going to make this deadline no matter how badly I would rather curl up in a chair with About the Author, which I am absolutely loving, for many reasons.

I am only on my first cup of coffee right now, and am slowly waking up, which is kind of lovely. The shower will, as always, finish the process. It is a little disturbing how filthy the kitchen has become–out of order and all that. I am thinking about making shrimp creole for dinner, which means making it around two thirty (making the roux; etc.–it takes four hours to cook in the crock pot). I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting the edits/rewrite finished today, either–it really won’t take very long, I have very concise editorial notes and my editor really has a sharp eye for simple, easy ways to make the story and characters stronger, which is lovely. It’s simply a matter of not allowing myself to get distracted by anything, which is harder than it sounds.

At least, it is for me.

While I have been talking about Todd Gregory in the lead up to the release of his (my?) third Frat Boy book this week (its official release is Tuesday, for those of you who are keeping up), I’ve decided to skip over the vampire stories (“Blood on the Moon” and Need) because, while I enjoyed them and am proud of them, they are a different animal (there is a fraternity connection; my main character in both of those was a fraternity boy–Beta Kappa, of course–at Ole Miss) than the Frat Boy books. And while of course my Todd Gregory short story collection, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, has little to do with either the Frat Boy books or the vampire stories, it’s more of a piece with the Frat Boy books than the vampire stories–although the short story “Bloodletting”, which is also Chapter One of Need, is included in it.

As I often have said, short stories are often more problematic for me than writing novels; so of course, having a short story collection put together has always been a dream of mine–from having enough stories to actually having any interest in such a book from a publisher. And Bold Strokes gave the collection a great cover.

promises in every star

You really can’t go wrong with that cover, can you?

It wasn’t my first short story collection, though. This was:

WannaWrestle-Front

That book happened in late fall, 2004. A publisher approached me and wanted to do a collection of my wrestling stories. I hadn’t published enough stories at that time to make up a full book, so I had to write some new ones, and I did. The book didn’t come out when it was supposed to, I never got paid anything for it, I wasn’t even sure if it was available anywhere–to be honest. The subsidiary rights were sold to Insightoutbooks, and it did very well there–again, I never saw any money because of ‘problems’ with the publisher. In the fall after Katrina, I got an offer from the publisher for a flat cash settlement to return the rights to me, terminate the contract, and get all remaining copies in stock at the warehouse….which ended up being nine copies. I seriously doubt the print run was that small, you know? In other words, I got thoroughly screwed…but at the same time, I wanted the mess over and done with and didn’t have the time nor interest as I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and living situation after the flood, you know? I think you can still find copies of it somewhere on line–for ridiculous amounts of money. I personally only have one copy left. Maybe I should do it as an ebook. It can’t hurt, it’s just sitting there, right?

Anyway, I digress. As I look over the table of contents for Promises in Every Star, I see that only two stories–“Man in a Speedo” and “Will You Love Me in September?”–were the only stories in it to be previously unpublished; I’ve not really written any Todd Gregory short stories since the book came out, which is kind of odd, really. People just stopped asking me to write stories for their anthologies. Not sure why that is, but there you have it.

I love all of these stories–“Promises in Every Star,” “The Sea Where Its Shallow,” “Unsent,” and “Wrought Iron Lace” are particular favorites of mine–and I was terribly pleased to have them all in one book.

I’d love to do another collection of my darker stories–crime and horror–and I think I may have enough published to do one, although I’d probably have to write some new ones (and I do have some unpublished ones on hand) but I might have to do it as a self-published thing. Who knows? We’ll see.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

The Long and Winding Road

Hey there, Tuesday! How are you doing? I slept well last night–we watched an interesting documentary called The Imposter before going to bed, which raised more questions than it actually answered, to be honest–and I woke up feeling rested and rarin’ to go this morning. Well, maybe a little over rested, if you know what I mean; I’d rather have fun than get anything done today. But that is NOT an option. Period.

Since my next Todd Gregory opus is dropping next week, I thought I’d start talking a little about the Todd Gregory books, how I came to be Todd Gregory, etc.

I started publishing short stories as Todd in or around 2003, and primarily it was because I’d been doing wrestling erotica under my own name (which is actually kind of a pseudonym itself, but more on that later) and so anthology editors would request wrestling stories from me when they’d invite me to write something for their next project. While I didn’t mind writing wrestling stories, I also wanted to write other things; so I decided if erotica readers expected wrestling stories from Greg Herren, then I would have to use another name to write erotica stories that didn’t involve wrestling. I chose Todd Gregory because it was also, like Greg Herren, part of my actual name: Gregory  Todd Herren. I’ve always gone by Greg; the only person who ever called me ‘Gregory’ was my maternal grandmother, and in her thick Southern accent it came out as “Gregruh”, which I’ve always kind of liked. So, technically, ‘Greg Herren’ is my real name but isn’t my LEGAL name. So, Todd Gregory kind of worked for me, and I think the first story I published under that name was called “The Sea Where It’s Shallow,” which remains one of my favorite stories of my own. And thus, Todd Gregory was born.

Flash forward a few years, and my editor at Kensington asked me if I was willing to write a gay erotic novel set in a fraternity. I had already edited the anthology FRATSEX under my own name, and it was enormously successful– it had actually earned out before it’s official publication date, and continued to be a lucrative source of income for me for years before Alyson chose to stop paying me–and so I said, “sure.” The working title for the book was Fraternity Row, and while it was going to be a gay erotic novel, I wanted to deal with issues of homophobia within fraternities, and the fraternity closet. The name was changed before publication, and let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with this cover:

every frat boy wants it

Every Frat Boy Wants It.

The title kind of bothered me; once you’ve been in a fraternity, you hate the abbreviation ‘frat’ (you wouldn’t call your country a cunt, would you? echoes through my head every time I see it) but I’ve learned to live with it. It’s funny, though, how you get trained…anyway, part of my character Chanse MacLeod’s scarring past included being in a fraternity while he was at LSU, and I used that fraternity again, Beta Kappa (doesn’t exist in real life). I also decided to invent a small city with a college, Polk, California, and California State University-Polk (‘see as you pee’), which were loosely patterned after Fresno and Fresno State.  I decided to make my main character someone who had moved to California from Kansas, much as I had, and I dug back into my files, where I had created characters for a fraternity based novel years ago–Phil Conners, Blair Blanchard, and Kenny Ryan–and decided to use the structure of that story to create this one, only with a gay twist.

As I walk into the locker room of my high school to get my backpack, I’m aware of the sound of the shower running. Even before I walk around the corner that will reveal the row of black lockets and the communal shower area just beyond, I can smell that pungent smell of sweat, dirty clothes, and sour jocks. I would never admit it to anyone, but I love that smell. Especially when it’s warm outside–the smell seems riper, more vital, more alive. For me, it is the smell of athletic boys, the smell of their faded and dirty jockstraps. At night, when I lie in my bed alone jacking off in the quiet darkness, I close my eyes and I try to remember it. I imagine myself in that locker room after practice, the room alive with the sound of laughter and snapping towels, of boys running around in their jocks and giving each other bullshit as they brag about what girls they’ve fucked and how big their dicks are. I try to remember, as I lie there in my bed, the exact shape of their hard white asses, whose jockstrap is twisted just above the start of the curve, and below the muscled tan of their backs. It’s the locker room where I first saw another boy naked, after a;;–the only place where it’s acceptable to see other boys in various states of undress. The locker room always haunts my fantasies and my dreams.

It was fun to write, and it was about how my main character, Jeff Morgan (I ended up creating a new main character) met Blair, who talked him into rushing the house, and how the two of them slowly developed into a relationship; with Jeff having other experiences along the way as he fell in love with Blair, who didn’t seem to want to be in a relationship with him. The book, with all of its lusty sex scenes, was really about falling in love for the first time, as well as becoming comfortable with your own sexuality.

I still get royalties. It was originally published in 2007, and you can still get the print copies from second hand sources, but the ebook is still available and while the book–which I haven’t read in a while–is probably pretty dated now, it’s still selling ten years later.

Which is kind of cool, really.

And now back to the spice mines.