I Can’t Tell You Why

Wednesday morning, and it’s also pay day–on which I pay the bills and watch all the money I worked so hard for vanish in the blink of an eye. I cannot believe in two days the first parades will roll down St. Charles Avenue…which means when I get off work on Friday I need to run all my errands, because making groceries will be an impossibility over the course of the weekend–at least until Sunday night. But then…I only have to work two days next week, and then I am on vacation until Ash Wednesday.

Woo-hoo! Vacation!

I only got halfway through yesterday’s chapter; I was tired last night after a second long day at the office–I didn’t even watch another episode of Versailles, and was also too tired to read. My short days are coming up, though, and I should be able to get caught up on my reading and my revising over the course of the rest of the week…bearing in mind there are parades this weekend. Oshun and Cleopatra are Friday night, and there are five on Saturday–Ponchartrain, Choctaw, Freret, Sparta and Pygmalion. Sunday there are four: Femme Fatale, Carrollton, King Arthur, and Alla.

There will be beads.

But the true madness begins next week.

I seem to be having some trouble this morning getting motivated; I am feeling lazy this morning. Perhaps it is a lack of caffeine, perhaps it’s just a holdover from the last two length work days, I don’t know. The weather took a strange turn yesterday. It was chilly and wet in the morning before raining all afternoon. Usually, this means another drop in temperature at this time of year…yet the fog rolled in and when I left the office last night it was extremely humid and warm. My car windows were all fogged up, as were my windows here at the Lost Apartment…and the sweater I’d worn because it was chilly was too heavy and hot. I have no idea what I should wear to work today…maybe a sweater over a T-shirt, so I can remove the sweater if it gets too warm. My windows are covered in condensation, which means it’s much warmer outside than in.

So, I just looked at the weather. It’s 72 degrees right now and the low is 63. Yeah, probably no sweater today after all.

All right, I am going to try to finish revising that chapter before work. Back to the spice mines!

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Our Lips are Sealed

As Constant Reader is already aware (primarily because I can’t stop talking about it), I have a story in the upcoming anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by the sublime Holly West and featuring an intro by the fabulous Jane Weidlin. As a huge fan of the Go-Go’s from the very first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio of my car (I immediately bought their first album, Beauty and the Beat, on my next pay-day; it remains one of my all-time favorite albums. I also liked Vacation, just not as much…but Talk Show is also brilliant.

Another thing that is exciting for me about being in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is who I am sharing the table of contents with! Some of the best writers in the genre today! Woo-hoo!

And first up in the table of contents is Lori Rader-Day. Lori is currently an Edgar Award finalist for her Under a Dark Sky, and she was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award for her first three novels (The Black Hour, Pretty Little Things, The Day I Died); winning for Pretty Little Things. She has won the Anthony Award twice, and been a finalist for the Macavity and the Barry Awards. A most impressive resume, particularly given there are only four novels to her credit thus far. I personally enjoy Lori’s work; which probably would be best classified as domestic suspense, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate classification. Her works are, like Megan Abbott’s, about the darkness inside women and their friendships.

And her story was inspired by “Our Lips Are Sealed”!

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When the credits for the movie the girls weren’t supposed to be watching started to roll, Colbie went to check that her mother was asleep, stamping down on the hand of her sister, Alexa, on the way out. Alexa sat up and sniffled into her fist but kept silent with effort. On the floor, Jane and Patricia picked white flecks of popcorn out of the kernels left at the bottom of the bowl. Nori slipped into the bathroom with her pajamas balled up in her fist.

Jane watched her go. “I usually sleep naked.”

“Bullshit,” Patricia said. Jane was older, by almost a full year, already thirteen. But Patricia was taller. If she needed to, she would hold Jane down and force her to say she was a liar.

Colbie returned to the doorway with a six-pack of soda cradled in her arms. “My mom’s either dead or she took one of her pills. Where’s Nori?”

“Peeing,” Jane said. She picked at the chipped blue nail polish on her big toe, leaving a patch of paint on the pink carpet of Colbie’s room.

“Why didn’t you invite boys over? I went to a boy-girl sleepover when I was at my old school—”

Patricia snorted. “For church? That doesn’t count.”

“Let’s do something else,” Colbie said.

“Not a lock-in, bitch,” Jane said. “A sleepover. With boys.”

Patricia rolled her eyes at Colbie. Everything seemed to have already happened to Jane, but out of sight, at her old school, in her old town. She sometimes wanted to ask Jane why she didn’t just go back if everything was so great there. She was sure Jane would say she couldn’t because she was a kid. Which, for once, would be the truth. They were all stuck where they were, being who they were. Patricia turned to Colbie. “What should we do?”

Nori opened the bathroom door an inch. “You guys?”

And seriously, is there anything more noir than a tween girls sleepover? Lori does an excellent job here playing with the power dynamics in a group of girls; girls who are just starting to become women and how they deal with the changes in their bodies and how they relate to each other.

Definitely a great start to the book!

November Rain

So, I submitted two stories this week. Pretty cool, huh? One was “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” which was commissioned for an anthology (hope they like it!) and the other was “The Problem with Autofill,” which has already been rejected twice and this might be it’s final gasp. I also revised it again, and catching the mistakes and making some other things more clear in this version kind of also made me think, oh, well, there’s why it was rejected. I like the story a lot–I like both stories, honestly–and so we will see. I don’t know this new market I submitted it to, but nothing ventured and all that. And this morning that new market emailed me that they received the story.

If that wasn’t a breath of fresh air, I don’t know what is.

After today and tomorrow my vacation for Bouchercon begins, even though we don’t leave until Wednesday morning. Monday is, of course, a holiday, so I didn’t see any point in working on Tuesday and then being off again the next day. This way, I can also ease into my vacation, clean the house thoroughly, run errands, pack, and get everything in order the way it should be in order before we leave for St. Petersburg. I am looking forward to Bouchercon, but am also really looking forward to having the time away from work to recharge. My confidence in my writing–which is always an ebb and flow kind of thing–has been kind of low lately, so it will be lovely to be around other writers and readers for a lengthy weekend so I can reconnect with my writer self. I can’t believe August just flew past the way it did, and I got so very little done. Heavy heaving sigh. I am going to take the Scotty manuscript with me to St. Petersburg–yes, pretending that I’ll have the time to look at it and/or work on it–but there’s always the plane.

I also haven’t had the energy to read, either, and I am running out of time to get the books I need to read for my Bouchercon moderating panel finished. AIEEEEEEE!

Again, you see why I need to take all this time away from the office.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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I’m Your Man

Well, the first day of vacation passed without too much of note occurring. We grilled out for dinner–burgers and cheese dogs–and watched It on HBO; I cleaned and started organizing the kitchen; we watched a few more episodes of Big Mouth on Netflix-, and oh yes, Paul spent most of the day watching Wimbledon. I was most pleased to spend a day relaxing (and yes, I find cleaning and organizing to be relaxing; feel free to sue me), and will probably spend today doing more of the same, in addition to going to the gym and doing some writing and answering some emails. I keep thinking today is Sunday, which is also kind of funny–evidence of how nuts the mind can be; I kept thinking yesterday as Saturday. I need to revise my short story for submission to Cemetery Dance (yes, a long shot, but it’s a bucket list thing and I am going to keep trying every year until I actually get in) and in other bizarre news, I also managed to start writing my next book yesterday. I didn’t intend to; but I just felt like I needed to get that opening written down. It’s been swirling in my head for months now, and getting started neither took a long time nor was it particularly painful (what’s going to be painful is rereading the Scotty manuscript, which I am rather dreading).

Here it is:

The summer I graduated from high school my mother ruined my life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Mom says I do that a lot—well, that, and that I’m melodramatic. When I tell her being called a drama queen by my mom will make a great story for my future therapist, she just gives me that look and says, “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”

This particular book is going to be vastly different from anything I’ve written before–I am being most ambitious in my thinking with this one–and I am also writing about a kind of character I’ve never really done before–oh, sure, gay teenager, to be sure, I’ve done that multiple times–but he’s also the only child of a incredibly successful attorney single mother, and the tricky part, the part that’s kept me from writing this book, which began as a short story called “Ruins” about thirty years ago, was I simply could not figure out how to get my main character to spend the summer in rural Alabama, which I have finally managed to do.

Also, yesterday while I was cleaning and organizing–and really, this is the best way to have this sort of thing happen–I kept getting ideas on how to fix and repair the Scotty novel. There really is something to writing an entire draft from start to finish, even knowing that it’s sloppy and you’re leaving things dangling or starting threads that you don’t see through to fruition, as opposed to going back and revising as you go so that by the time you reach the end, you’re past deadline and you don’t get to revise or rewrite the end, or have the time to go back and do much fixing once you’ve finally devised the end. I’ve always been paranoid about that with my Scotty books, which is kind of how I’ve written them all since Mardi Gras Mambo. But if 2018 has been about anything, it’s been about going back to the beginnings and remembering how I used to do things, and going back to my original systems has really been helpful when it comes to writing.

And I got to say, I love that very much.

Next up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Wrought Iron Lace”:

The guy who just moved in across the courtyard is gorgeous.

 I would guess that he’s still in his early thirties, maybe still the late twenties. Since I turned forty it’s really hard for me to judge age. Twenty years olds look like babies, fifty year olds look forty, and that group in between I just have no fucking clue. I watched him move in the day after I came home from the hospital. I have three pins in my leg from the car accident, and I have to keep it elevated as much as possible. I can’t stand on it yet, even with crutches, so I have a nice loaner wheelchair from the hospital. Friends are running errands for me when they can, and checking in on me to make sure I’m not lying on the floor in the bathroom helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home by myself ever before. It’s amazing how little there is to watch on television, even with eighty cable channels. Is there anyone left on the planet who has not seen the movie Sixteen Candles? Why do they have to keep airing it?

It was a Saturday, and if ever there was a day of television hell, it’s Saturday. There’s nothing on, at any time of the day. I don’t really care that much about billiards, snowboarding, or timber-sports, thank you very much. I knew that the vacant apartment on the other side of the courtyard had been rented, the lower one, but I’d forgotten someone was moving in. My apartment is the second floor of a converted slave quarter, and my balcony has a view straight into the living room and bedroom windows of the lower in the back of the main house. I had seen the young lesbian couple who had lived there naked in the bedroom entirely too many times, and had trained myself not to notice those windows.

What can I say? I was bored, bored, bored.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning, I’d been up for three hours, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by again until two o’clock. I put a Jewel CD on, and pushed myself out onto the balcony. It was a beautiful October morning, the sky blue, the sun shining and warm, but none of the humidity that made New Orleans almost unlivable in the summer. There was a stack of books on the balcony table, and I figured this enforced captivity was a pretty good time to catch up on my reading. On top of the stack was a hardcover with two incredibly pretty young men giving each other the eye on the jacket. They were fully dressed, so I knew it was a romance rather than some porn. The sex would be soft-core, the characters fairly two-dimensional, and the problems they faced would be most likely vapid, but it would while away some time without requiring a vast degree of thought.

The door in the gate opened, and this guy came in. Wow, was my instant reaction. I put the book down on the table. He was wearing a black tank tee, tight black jean shorts that reached almost to his knees, with the bottom inch or so rolled up, and calfskin ankle boots with heavy socks pushed down on top of them. He was wearing a black baseball cap with the fleur-de-lis emblem of the Saints on the front. He had a key ring in his hand, and he walked right over to the door of the vacant apartment and unlocked it. When his back turned to me, my jaw dropped. He had without a doubt the most beautiful ass I have ever seen in my entire life. It was hard, it was round, perfectly curved. It was an ass to make men weep, an ass that belonged on an underwear box, an ass that could launch a thousand hard-ons.

I lit a cigarette.

A couple of other guys, muscular, attractive enough but nothing like the first, came back carrying boxes. Any other time, I would have probably been attracted to either or both of them, but the incredible beauty of the first boy (I found myself thinking of him as a “boy” strangely) made them seem like the girls who don’t make the Top Ten at Miss America. I’m sure they were used to it–it probably happened to them in bars all the time. I sat there for several hours, watching them move boxes and furniture, occasionally breaking to have a beer or a smoke break at one of the iron tables in the courtyard. The also-rans eventually removed their shirts, displaying fairly nice torsos, one with some hair, the other completely smooth. Again, under ordinary circumstances I would have been fantasizing a pretty damned vivid three way scene. If I could walk I’d be down there helping, flirting a little, feeling them out about trysting. I would watch the sweat glistening on their bare skin in the sun and wonder how it might taste, if their armpits were becoming a little smelly perhaps from the sweat, if their underwear was sticking to their asses. But my mind was solely on my new neighbor, hoping that he too would take his shirt of, give me a glimpse of his chest and back, maybe the waistband of his underwear showing above his shorts. It never occurred to me that they might be aware of me, the aging man in the wheelchair up on the balcony watching them hungrily without even saying hello. I never saw them look up or give any indication they were being watched. For all I knew, when they were out of sight on the street taking stuff out of the truck they could be laughing their asses off at the perv on the balcony, thinking he’s hidden behind the  wrought iron lacework. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. I could not tear myself away from watching the boy in the black tank tee.

I wrote this story for an anthology called  A View to a Thrill (finally! I remember the anthology!) which was about voyeurism. Voyeurism always reminds me of Rear Window, and so I wanted to do a kind of Rear Window take on a gay erotica story; without the murder, of course.

When I first moved to New Orleans all those years ago, I always wanted to write a book about a group of gay guys–friends and frenemies–who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter and their quest for love and happiness and success; kind of Armistead Maupin meets Jacqueline Susann, using the same structure of Valley of the Dolls–one older character who’s already at the top of his game and owns the buildings, and the three younger ones who become unlikely friends/frenemies on their journey. I called it The World Is Full of Ex-Lovers (a play on two Jackie Collins titles), and from time to time, I found myself writing short stories about these guys. “Stigmata,” which was my first or second non-erotica short story, was about these guys; so was “Touch Me in the Morning,” the story I wrote for Foolish Hearts and had completely forgotten about until I took the book down and looked at the table of contents. I’ve got a lot of first drafts and partial drafts of stories written about these guys and their courtyard. One of the things I love about New Orleans is how, in rental situations (like the one I currently am in) you find yourself in a kind of enforced intimacy with your neighbors; one that you tend to ignore for the most part to maintain the illusion of privacy.

I even used the concept of the French Quarter courtyard with friends living around as a key component in Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Maybe someday I’ll write that book. You never know.

Anyway, I digress. As I was pondering my ideas for a voyeur story, what better setting than a French Quarter courtyard that a number of people rent apartments around? I broke my character’s legs and gave him the upstairs apartment in a slave quarter/carriage house in the back of the courtyard, who observes a really hot young man moving into one of the apartments in the back wing of the main house, through the wrought iron lace of his balcony. I think the story turned out well, and I’ve always been pleased with both it and its title; in fact, when I thought about collecting the erotic stories together originally the book’s title was going to be Wrought Iron Lace and Other Stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Kiss

Thursday morning, and the first full day of my mini-stay-cation. Hip hip hurray! Yesterday I got a new journal, which is always a lovely thing; I’d forgotten how much I loved getting new journals once I’d filled the last one. When I started using them again by buying one on New Year’s Eve this year, I was excited to be starting up again with them; I’d forgotten how getting a new one felt–how wonderful and full of possibilities and potential the new journal is; all those blank pages to be filled with thoughts and ideas and titles and characters and sentence fragments and snippets of dialogue. Do I get too excited about the new journals? Maybe; but they also, for my OCD/anal retentive self, symbolize new beginnings as well as completion; even if finishing a journal doesn’t mean completing an actual manuscript or short story, there’s something about filling those pages that is enormously satisfying. When I first started writing when I was in high school, I always wrote on notebook paper long hand; usually in black ink with a fine point (I’ve always been partial to fine point black ink pens; and this new brand I’ve recently discovered, Tul, is amazing. I love these pens), and I think that’s why I get that satisfaction from writing by hand in a journal. Opening a Word document and starting to type isn’t quite the same feeling, and I always have a sense that everything I write that way is somehow incomplete.

I don’t know why that is, but it’s true, and probably is at the root of my deep sense of dissatisfaction with almost everything I write.

Or I’m simply neurotic.

My back is incredibly sore this morning; it was sore yesterday, but the pain is so bad I fear that I am going to be on a heating pad pretty much for the entire day. This is, while enormously disappointing, not the end of the world; I had hoped to be really productive today. I still can be, of course; it simply means not doing what I’d planned to do–which was organize stuff and deal with storage, but that will also include lifting boxes and I am in no place to do that–so maybe today means some light cleaning, writing, and reading. As long as I am productive, that’s all that really matters. And there’s quite a bit of mess that needs tidying up. I am taking the car to the West Bank tomorrow to have the oil changed at the dealership; I am going to treat myself to lunch over there and possibly do a little shopping whilst over there as well. And then I still have the three day weekend, which is lovely, of course.

I’d hoped to go to the gym today, but that’s simply not an option at this point. There’s no way I’m risking weight-bearing exercise with my back like this.

Sigh. I’m turning into that Grumpy Old Man, aren’t I?

I did get some more work done on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday, and I have to say, setting it in the past (1994) was a pretty smart thing for me to do. Thinking about the past, of course, isn’t something I tend to do very often and when I do, it’s rare that I dwell on anything. But trying to remember that time period for a gay man has been kind of interesting; ever since that Twitter kerfuffle about HIV/AIDS the other week and my post the other day about writing about the subject has got me thinking about that time more. Yesterday on Twitter there was a thing–based on I guess something Suze Orman said, about people needing to have twice their salary saved by age thirty-five–and all I could think was how, at age thirty-five, I was just so happy to be still alive that the future wasn’t something I didn’t really think that much about. A few years ago, at work I sat down with a retirement financial planner and as she went over my finances and so forth she very sweetly and gently scolded me for not planning better for my future. Without thinking I replied, I didn’t think I would live this long, to be honest, and watching the implications of what I’d said play on her face and her embarrassment was an interesting experience. She was a younger woman, of course, and as I quickly reassured her that I wasn’t offended by anything she’d said I also marveled that the mentality most of us gay men had back in the early to mid 1990’s is forgotten largely today, not thought about, that fatalistic resignation that infection and death was inevitable.

This heating pad feels fantastic, I must say.

I am also watching The Shannara Chronicles on Netflix, based on the series by Terry Brooks. I read the first, The Sword of Shannara, when I was a teenager and it was new; I never continued with the series despite enjoying that first book. The Shannara Chronicles is/was MTV’s attempt at a Game of Thrones style high-fantasy series. It’s very well done; visually it’s stunning, and apparently the show covers the series beginning with the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara. The primary difference between HBO’s series and MTV’s is that, of course, Game of Thrones is gritty and dark and unafraid to be ugly; the entire cast is an interesting mix from stunningly beautiful young people to older people–an entire range of bodies and faces on the spectrum of looks, just like real life. Shannara is glossy and everyone on the show is quite spectacularly beautiful; and mostly young. I was interested in the show because I remembered the first book fondly and thought I’d give it a chance; it also has Manu Bennett as Allanon the druid, and I’ve been “stanning” (isn’t that what the kids call it?) him since his days on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. 

Austin Butler, who plays lead hero Wil Ohmsford, is quite pretty:

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As is the primary villain in season 2, Bandon, played by James Trevena.

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And who doesn’t enjoy looking at pretty people on their television? One of the things I find interesting is that in Season 1, when Wil was finding himself as a hero he had long hair; which he has cut off in Season 2. Bandon, in season 1, finding himself he had short hair; now in Season 2 as the primary antagonist, he’s grown out his hair.  I’m sure there’s symbolism there; but the longer hair has made the character of Bandon look older and more mature, and likewise, the shorter hair for Wil makes him look more adult.

Strange.

And on that note, I’m heading back into the spice mines. The heat has made me back hurt a lot less, so I am going to take advantage of that until it starts hurting again.

 

The Chain

Vacation all I ever wanted…interestingly enough, I’ve been sleeping extremely well since Friday; maybe it’s the cold (for us) snap, but I’ve been getting at least nine hours of divinely deep sleep every night since Friday. Which is lovely, really–the whole point of this stay-at-home vacation was to not only get a lot of work done but to get rested and relaxed. So, I have to say that’s all working out quite well so far, which is lovely. Yesterday I worked and we got caught up on watching some of our shows (Eyewitness, Gotham, Supernatural, The Exorcist, with Arrow and The Flash and Secrets and Lies on deck), and I read some of Falling Angel, which has a great noir voice.

I love me some noir. I think one of the problems I have with writing noir–or when I’m trying to write it–is I can’t ever get that noir voice right. I’m going to try to write a noir novel in 2017; it’s been dancing around in the back of my head for a really long time, and I think the time is ripe for me to try to write it at long last.

Woo-hoo!

The kitchen is a mess this morning, and I do have a couple of errands to run today, in addition to the work I want to get done. One of the purposes of said vacation was to get a good deep cleaning on the Lost Apartment done, and I plan on working on the kitchen today around the work I have to do. It’s funny how you can let things slide for so long…actually, no, it’s not, but I also have to cut myself a break. I work full time, write full time, and edit part time. Something has to give in that scenario, and two of the things that have are my workouts and my cleaning schedule around the house. I need to stop beating myself up over these things; there are only so many hours in a day, and I am fifty-five and need down time sometimes.

I think maybe one of my goals in 2017 will be to cut myself a break every now and again, and accept that I don’t have to try to be Superman anymore.

Wow, just typing that felt freeing.

We’ll see how that goes.

But I feel up to the challenge. In 2017 I am going to write another Scotty book, a noir, and another y/a. I also want to get some of these short stories revised and redone and submitted out and out there. (I also need to update calendar reminders for deadlines re: some anthologies I want to submit to.) I also need to step up my reading, and spend less time on social media.

All right, I need to dive into the spice mines or I’ll start goofing off and get nothing done.

Here’s today’s hunk: