Bennie and the Jets

What a lovely weekend this past one was, seriously; the Abomination in College Station aside, and even that was more of a seriously? than anything else.

I got back to New Orleans around seven pm on Friday night; there’s a time zone change going and coming, but it always seems like because of that I make better time coming home than going. It’s a mental thing, obviously; same amount of time, same amount of miles (slightly less than 1500 round trip), and yet…it seems to go so much faster. I always think–and I know this makes literally no sense–that since I am driving south and going from a higher elevation to a lower one, that it’s all downhill.

said it didn’t make sense.

I also somehow managed to wrestle with some ideas and projects-in-progress while I was gone; whether those solutions to the problems will work (or if the problem is a real problem in the first place) remains to be seen.

But Saturday morning I had coffee with my friend Pat, preparatory to my Costco run; it was actually a most productive meeting. She helped me with some great info for a short story I am writing, and she also gave me some tips on how to do my New Orleans research (and also thought Monsters of New Orleans was a great idea). The Costco trip wasn’t as bad as one might have thought the Saturday after Thanksgiving; I assume everyone burned out on shopping on Black Friday. But Costco is never an ordeal, even when it’s crowded; which really says a lot about their management philosophy and how well they treat their employees. Everyone is always so nice and friendly and polite; compare that to the staff at, let’s just say Wal-mart, and you see what I mean.

This actually set the mood for a rather lovely weekend. I relaxed and recovered from the trip, while getting caught up on things around the house–grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. It was quite lovely. I actually finished reading End of Watch during the Abomination in College Station, and one benefit of spending time at my mother’s house? I really think my house needs a deep thorough cleaning and reorganization; i.e. my kitchen could be more efficiently set up. I also need to clean out kitchen and bathroom drawers, and as for my TBR pile–well, if I have had it for more than two years and haven’t read it, time to donate it. And if, later, I decide I want to read it…well, I guess I can buy it again if I want to read it that badly. (I’m talking big, but I know once I start going through the books I am my book-hoarding tendencies are going to re-emerge.)

I know myself all too well.

I also read  “The Book of the Lion” by Thomas Perry,  from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Dominic Hallkyn played back the voicemail on his telephone while he took off his sport coat and hung it up to dry in the laundry room. The smell of rain on tweed was one that he knew some people might say was his smell, the smell of an English professor. The coats–tweed or finer-spun wool in the winter and seersucker or summer-weight fabrics in the late spring or early fall–were his work uniform, no different from a mechanic’s coveralls. He wore them to repel the skepticism of the young.

The first couple of calls were routine: a girl in his undergraduate medieval lit course has been sick, so could she please hand in her paper tomorrow? Of course. He had plenty of others to deaden his soul until that one arrived. Meg Stanley, the Department Chair, wanted him to serve on a Ph.D. oral exam committee. Unfortunately, he would. Reading the frantically scribbled preliminary exam and then asking probing questions in the oral would be torment to him and the student, both of them joined in a ritual of distaste and humiliation, all of it designed to punish them both for their love of literature, but it was part of his job.

Thomas Perry is another luminary of the crime fiction world whose work I’ve neither tasted nor sampled until now. One of the lovely things about anthologies, such as this, is that you can get a taste of an author’s work, a feel for their writing style, without the commitment to reading an actual full-length novel, and you can then decide whether you wish to add the author to your must-read list. “The Book of the Lion,” a tale of academic/rare book intrigue, certainly got Perry added to my list of authors to explore. In this story, our stuffy professor Hallkyn receives a mysterious phone call from a man who claims to have discovered a rare copy of an even rarer work; Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Book of the Lion,” a romantic history of Richard Couer-de-Lion that has been lost to the ages. The value of such a book, of course, would be in the eight figures at the very least; it’s worth to literary scholarship perhaps even higher. It’s a sort of historical treasure hunt story–this reminds me of William Martin’s Harvard Yard, which involved the search for Love’s Labour’s Found, a long-lost Shakespearean play–and also had several delightful twists.

So, yes, Mr. Perry has been added to my list.

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Live and Learn

Trying to settle back into the mundanity of every day life again. Dishes piled up in the sink, a load in the dishwasher that needs putting away, books and files and papers and note cards and silverware, bottle caps and letter openers and my checkbook scattered about with reckless abandonment and no discernible pattern other than a concurrent lack of desire and energy and interest to do anything about it. Clothes are strewn across the floor of the laundry room while books gather dust on top of the dryer. For yet another day, I allowed myself to wallow in the malaise aftermath of a writerly weekend; a foot back into the swirling and comforting waters of my writing career. At some point–most likely tomorrow morning–I shall rise and make myself some coffee, answer the seemingly insurmountable amount of emails that have clustered in my various in-boxes, organize electronic photos downloaded and stolen from various social media sites to further document the weekend, and generate emails of thanks and gratitude. But tonight, realizing I didn’t even post a blog entry today, I chose to simply sit down as my tired mind and exhausted body wind down for bed and compose a start to tomorrow’s blog in an effort to maximize efficiency and leave more time in the morning for making lists and figuring out what needs to be done and what needs to be worked on, prioritizing and reordering and stepping full-time back into the day-to-day existence of going to work and running errands and cleaning and writing and reading and trying to stay on top of things and at the very least tread water rather than losing more ground.

Traveling does this to me, and especially traveling for writing; each time I am immersed full time into the writing/publishing/reading community it always takes me a little bit longer to pull back from it, to stop missing it, and get back to the business of being Gregalicious again.

One of the loveliest things about traveling, for me, is being able to read. I don’t know how people travel by air and don’t read, to be honest with you. The time just flies past and you can forget that you’re in a busy airport with some people who don’t care about clipping their toenails or other such horrific things in public, or hurtling through the air in a long metal tube thousands of yards above the ground through the theory of lift, a Physics principle I wish my father the engineer had never explained to me because now it creeps into my head every time I fly. I was not only able to finish reading The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young as our flight taxied to the gate in Tampa; and I started reading Madeline Miller’s brilliant Circe on the way back and cannot wait to finish it.

But The Gates of Evangeline was truly a stunning work.

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The sky is a dismal gray when I finally go to remove my son’s car seat. It’s raining, a cold autumn rain that feels both cliche and appropriate for a moment I’ve spent more than three months avoiding. I stand by my Prius, peering through the rear window at the empty booster seat, wondering for the hundredth time about the thin coating of mystery grit Keegan always left behind. And then I do it.

I don’t give myself time to think, just proceed, quickly and efficiently. Loosen the straps. Dig into the cushions of the backseat and unhook the metal latches. One tug, and the car seat lands with a thunk on my driveway.

They never end, all these little ways you have to say good-bye. I turn my face toward the drizzle.

The summer has gone, slipped away without my noticing it, and somehow October is here, flaunting her furious reds and yellows. Squinting, I take in the houses of my neighborhood their wholesome front yards: trim lawns, beds of waterlogged chrysanthemums, a couple of pumpkins on doorsteps. And leaves, of course, everywhere, blazing and brilliant, melting into the slick streets, clogging gutters.

These are actually not the opening paragraphs of the novel, but rather the opening paragraphs of Chapter One. I chose to not use the opening of the prologue to share, primarily because, while the prologue is extremely well done and gripping, it primarily serves to set the mood for the story, rather than introducing the reader to the main character, Charlotte Cates–whom everyone calls Charlie–and Charlie is the driving force of the novel; its success with the reader entirely depends on how you feel about Charlie, as a character, as a person, as a woman, and as a mother. That is key to the novel; if you don’t like Charlie, you aren’t going to enjoy the book.

Which is a shame. The plot of the book is powerful, an interesting mystery about a missing small boy of wealth and privilege who vanished from his room on the palatial family estate of Evangeline in Cajun Country, Louisiana. Charlie is a successful career woman, managing editor of a Cosmo-like magazine, divorced her husband for cheating, and was raising her son on her own. Her parents died young and she was raised by her grandmother; her parents were, as we say down here, “pieces of work.” But then her young son dies suddenly of a rare aneurysm, casting her down the road of grief, pain, blame, and horror. Whatever flaws she might have, Charlie is grieving, and her grief is so real and palpable that you start rooting for her as she leaves her job and drives to Louisiana to write a true-crime book about the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau. Many mysteries haunt the plantation, and Charlie has to navigate those while digging into what happened to Gabriel. The book is beautifully written, and how Charlie begins to slowly come out from under the dark cloud of her own grief, through her interactions with the others at Evangeline and the local people she becomes involved with, is even more powerful than the mystery she is trying to unravel. Charlie also has psychic visions she doesn’t understand, sometimes seeing the past and sometimes seeing the future; and one of those visions–of a boy being taken, rowed into a swamp by someone who has sexually abused him and plans to kill him–is the impetus that gets her to shake off her grief and head to Louisiana in the first place. The visions, which easily could be used to move the story along, etc., are intertwined into the story instead in such a way that seems organic and never seems manipulative.

I greatly, greatly enjoyed this book. As I said, it’s a crime novel but it’s really about coming to terms with grief, accepting tragedy, and moving on. I cried at the end. I will say I had a couple of quibbles, but over all, a great read.

There’s apparently a sequel, which I will definitely seek out.

What You Need

Today is National HIV Testing Day, and I’ll be doing testing all day in the Carevan in the parking lot of my neighborhood Walgreens. A long day, to be sure, and I will most certainly be exhausted tonight when I am done. But at least I’ll only have a two block walk home.

The heat and humidity feels particularly crippling this year; maybe I’ve gotten too old to handle it, or something, but I find myself these days tired and drained all of the time; exhausted, and never hungry; I have to remind myself to eat something every day. Right now, it’s not as bright as it should be outside my windows; there is cloud cover blocking the sunlight but in the distance I can see blue skies. I’m on pace to finish the Scotty by the end of this weekend (thank the Lord) despite the fact the book is a sloppy mess; but a sloppy mess can be fixed.

I’ve also not been reading as much lately; I haven’t had the energy. I have started reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which the film Love Simon was based on, but I am not really getting into it very much. Maybe that will change the deeper I get into it, but what I really want to do is dive headfirst into Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita.

Then again, I could be tired and drained and out of it this week because last weekend wasn’t a normal one; and I even was out on Monday night this week. My stay-cation built around the 4th of July cannot come soon enough, Constant Reader.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Oh, What A Friend I Have in Jesus”:

I watched as the storm rolled in from the ocean into Acapulco Bay. The lightning flashes at the mouth of the horseshoe shaped inlet lit up the night sky In the distance, the black water below the jagged white strings turning green. I sat on the balcony of a beachfront highrise, smoking a cigarette, unable to sleep. It was about four o’clock in the morning, and I knew I was going to have to let myself out relatively soon to catch a cab back to the S. S. Adonis, which was setting sail for Mazatlan at promptly eight in the morning. Part of me was tempted to just go on to the airport and catch the next flight back to Los Angeles. I wasn’t enjoying the cruise, as I’d known I wouldn’t. It seemed now, as it had in the days before departure, like an incredible waste of time.

Inside the apartment, beyond the open sliding glass doors, Jesus mutttered something in his sleep and rolled over onto his back. I looked inside, noting the long thick brown cock resting off to the side of the large balls. His flat, perfectly smooth stomach rose and fell with every breath. I felt my own cock stir again inside my underwear, but ignored it and turned back to look out to sea. There wasn’t time for another round, and besides, he was asleep. When he woke, I would most likely be out to sea, on the cruise I regretted taking. It’s only five more days, I reminded myself. After Mazatlan, we turn back north and head straight back to LA. You can get through it, surely.

The cruise hadn’t been my idea. Whenever I thought about going on a cruise, my mind automatically returned to movies like The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic. It had been Mark’s idea, one of his harebrained schemes born out of his own boredom and need for change. Maybe that wasn’t quite fair—Mark was just more adventurous than I was, always had been, and I was usually more than happy to go along for the ride. It was Mark who’d dragged me to Gay Days at Disney, Southern Decadence in New Orleans, and IML in Chicago. I’d never regretted letting Mark serve as my vacation planner, having a great time every time I went anywhere with him. It was hard not to have fun with Mark; Mark drew people to him everywhere he went with his infectious big smile, sexy blue eyes and his ripped muscular body. Everyone always looked at Mark, everyone always wanted to meet him, everyone always wanted to fuck him. Maybe I was a little jealous of him, but he’d worked long and hard on his body, and the work showed. He was always prone to take his shirt off whenever he got the chance, displaying the huge mouth watering pecs and gigantic biceps that everyone wanted to touch, to see flexed. But I’d known Mark before he’d dedicated himself to turning himself, as he said, ‘into the hottest man over forty in Southern California.” When he suggested going on the Adonis cruise, I’d been more than happy to fork over the several thousand dollars, despite my aversion to being on the high seas.

Mark made everything more fun.

I flicked my cigarette over the edge of the balcony and watched the little glowing red ember tumble end over end down eleven stories before exploding into sparks on the marble walkway below. The wind was picking up as the storm crossed the bay towards land, and I shivered a little. I debated lighting another one; debated getting dressed and slipping out the elevator and heading back to the ship.

Instead, I went inside and got back into the bed, feeling Jesus’ warmth as he breathed shallowly in his sleep. There was a bedside lamp on, and as I drew on his body heat to warm my chilled skin, I looked back at the semi-hard cock with a little drop of liquid in the slit. It was a beautiful cock, purplish-brown and gigantic when flaccid. When erect, it was the stuff of pornographic dreams. I stared at it wonderingly. That thing was inside of me about an hour ago, I thought, resisting the urge to shake my head. It made me feel like no other cock ever had before. I came three times while he pounded into my ass—no one’s ever done that before. I came the first time without even touching my own cock.

Mark had been forced to cancel his cruise at the last minute—a medical emergency. He’d overdone it at the gym and created a rupture inside his own ball sack, and his doctor had insisted on operating on it right away. The surgery itself was minor and routine—an outpatient procedure I’d driven him to and home from—but the doctor forbade him to leave the country. And when I said I’d cancel, too—Mark wouldn’t hear of it. “NO, you go on without me,” my best friend had insisted. “I’d never forgive myself if you didn’t go because of me. You go on. You’ll have a blast, you’ll see.

This story was clearly based on our trip to Acapulco in the summer of 2006; we rented a beautiful apartment in what was known as the “Mexican” part of the city–where the wealthy Mexicans vacationed, rather than the part where most Americans from the US went. The place was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous; there was a pool, the entire building was done in marble, the bedroom had a balcony that opened out to the bay, the pool was just above the beach with wooden steps down…it was wonderful, and it was our first real vacation in ten years. Jesus, the lovely Mexican local my main character has an adventurous evening in bed with, was actually based on a stripper at a local strip club Paul and I discovered called the Club Caliente; the downstairs had female strippers and the upstairs male. We were startled to discover a major cultural difference between American and Mexican strip clubs: in Acapulco, they are completely naked. My writer’s mind began to wander–this was also the first time I was ever in a strip club, and realized the attention I was getting from the strippers was probably triggered by oh, look, a bald old rich American gay man! (“Rich” being the only adjective that doesn’t fit.) So when I was asked to write an erotic story for an anthology of cruise stories, I decided to write about Acapulco and Jesus, the beautiful stripper I’d met. (I gave him a couple of dollars.) The title came about because the Christian nonsense in Virginia had resurfaced, and hey, if the evangelicals wanted to slander and smear me and destroy my career, well, I’m going to title a gay porn story the same name as one of their favorite hymns.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Acapulco, and the view from our balcony:

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