The Long Run

Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone,  I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).

To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.

I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed. 

Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love.  David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)

(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)

My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress  had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.

Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.

Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.

One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t  remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.

And what about desire?

A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. Some interesting points, no?

Now, check out this one. 

I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)

I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.

I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.

It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.

And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)

Domino Dancing

I was very tired yesterday for most of the day, with the end result of not going to make groceries on my way home–an odious chore that has now defaulted to today. I slept very well last night, for the first time in a couple of nights, and slept later than I’d intended. I woke up at seven this morning, as is my wont, and I thought, oh just a few more minutes, the bed feels lovely and the next thing I knew it was after eight. I also feel like I could have stayed in bed for the rest of the morning without the slightest quibble or problem. But I peeled myself out of the bed and am now drinking my first cup of coffee. I was too tired last night when I got home to do much of anything, either, so I pretty much stayed in my easy chair for most of the night. We’re giving up on Defending Jacob, because the plot isn’t making much sense–it kind of went off the rails, which is a shame; it’s done very well and has a remarkable cast, but there’s only so much you can do with a script and plot that don’t really work all that well. It’s a shame, since I love both Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, but the material didn’t do right by them. We then started watching Dead to Me–the second season dropped yesterday–but while Christina Applegate (whom I love) and Linda Cardellini are pitch perfect, again, the story of season two didn’t grab either one of us, so we moved on to an Acorn show, Gold Digger, starring Julia Ormond, as a recently divorced, wealthy woman of sixty who has fallen for a handsome young man the age of her oldest son–and naturally, her children aren’t terribly thrilled about this. It isn’t clear if her lover actually loves her or is a gold digger; there are only two episodes, so I guess we’ll find out tonight.

Yesterday was an interesting day on social media. Shitstorms aplenty and as always, lots of foolishness. Rather than try to explain, I will send you to S. A. Cosby’s response to the attacks and outrage from “y/a twitter” (most of whom are pieces of shit, quite frankly) about ALA Booklist using the cover of his upcoming novel Blacktop Wasteland (which is getting the kind of advance buzz you don’t see very often in this business; similar to the buzz that built for Gone Girl and Rob Hart’s The Warehouse last year). You can see his response here, or if you’d rather, you can read the entire response not as a thread on Booklist’s website, right here. Perhaps the best thing about the entire controversy (which still makes my blood boil a little bit) is the incredible self-own of so-called “woke y/a twitter” to the cover of a crime novel written by a man of color and centering a man of color being featured on the cover of the American Library Association’s trade publication. I want you to sit and think about that for a moment: the American  Library Association. Which means librarians were the ones who saw it and became “outraged”, and therefore decided ALA needed to change the cover….LIBRARIANS. I’ve noticed over the years that “y/a Twitter” is borderline trash; they’ve already taken over the world of y/a publishing, obviously, and have decided that they, and only they, can anoint and crown the proper authors and the proper books; and the elitism and privilege on display is horrifying. Libraries, after all, are the key to the success or failure of y/a as a general rule; the librarians come after you, and your book, and you’re done. Y/A Twitter has done this before–there are at least three novels I can think of that they have come for; in one case, the book was pulled to be revised and I don’t remember what happened to the other two, frankly, after they were charged with racism and otherism (one was called The Black Witch–you can tell by the title it had a target painted on it almost from the font); I’d always meant to go read those books to see for myself how problematic they actually were (while recognizing that I read through a lens of white privilege). This happened to a friend of mine who wrote a book with a trans character; he got a detail wrong and y/a Twitter came for him and his book–the charge led by a trans librarian whose own book, I might add, was released recently to much applause from y/a Twitter. You see how insidious this is? How the self-righteous Madame Defarges and their knitting needles can pick and choose whose book is going to do well and whose isn’t?

And yet, for all their “woke” screaming and screeching about how “we need diverse books” and “own voices”–they have no problem rewarding straight white women writing books about queer youth for mainstream presses, while ignoring the work being done by actual queer voices writing about actual queer youth, rather than the nice straight white suburban lady’s view of what queer youth is. Only those published by the Big 5 need apply, as well–actual books about queer youth being written by actual queer people and being published by queer presses? Ignored, pushed away and aside–those books don’t matter (because obviously, if you aren’t published by the Big 5, clearly you don’t matter). God forbid the same straight white woman write about any other marginalized community; then they would be cultural appropriators and buried under a firestorm of angry tweets….but it’s perfectly okay for them to write about queer people.

Interesting, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I’ve recently decided to change the age of my main character in Bury Me in Shadows from seventeen to twenty-three was because I knew ALA and y/a Twitter would ignore the book completely; a book about a queer seventeen year old by a queer writer and published by a queer press? Not queer enough and not important enough–but by all means let’s applaud some books by straight women writing about teenaged gay male eunuchs who are just looking for love and romance. Straight y/a characters, of course, are allowed to experience love and lust and desire; gay characters have to be eunuchs…because, you know, gay sex is actually kind of icky, right, ladies?

I kind of have mixed feelings about the ALA, to be honest. I love libraries, and I love librarians, who are actually kind of fierce and usually are out there on the front lines every day fighting for the First Amendment and against the banning of books. But when I had my own experience with suppression and so forth; the ALA sat aside and pretended it wasn’t happening. I actually wrote to the ALA asking for help in that situation. They didn’t respond. Neither did Lambda Literary, for that matter, or any of the gay press. I wasn’t a big enough Hollywood star to merit any attention for what was actually happening from either Out or The Advocate–which have been joke publications cine before the turn of the century–but when push came to shove, not a word of support, nothing. The Publishing Triangle in New York and the ACLU took some action…but I can honestly say there’s no worse feeling than being targeted by a right-wing hate group, smeared and slandered by said hate group, and seeing ALA and Lambda Literary sit on their hands and pretend like it wasn’t happening. The great irony is that in the spring of 2006, well after this all had happened, ALA came to New Orleans–the first major conference to return to the city after the flood–and asked me to do a reading at one of their events. I did it, of course–but the whole “we did nothing at all while you and your work were under attack, but please, come read to our conference” kind of left me with a seriously bad taste in my mouth.

But y/a Twitter? As they pat themselves on the backs for their “wokeness”, they can all fucking go to hell and burn there for all eternity. By all means, keep promoting the people who kiss your ass and build up the books by your friends; because that’s really what ALA should be all about, right? Gatekeeping?

Disgraceful.

It is also very important to add to this that even after it was repeatedly pointed out to them by actual crime writers that it was 1) a book cover 2) a book by a man of color and 3) the cover was one that the author loved, they doubled down, refused to listen, and insisted that the cover was offensive and racist.

Yes, that’s right: y/a Twitter got a man of color’s book cover taken off the cover of ALA Booklist because they thought it was racist.

As for me, well, I cannot wait to read Blacktop Wastelandwhich you can order right here. Cosby’s first novel, My Darkest Prayer, was a revelation; and I honestly believe Cosby is destined to become one of crime fiction’s biggest stars. Blacktop Wasteland is going to be one of the books of the year–it’s getting starred reviews all over the place; the reason it was selected to be on the cover of the magazine in the first fucking place was because of the great review it got in Booklist, and their staff recognizing how important of a book it’s going to be this year.

Today I have to go get groceries because I was too tired to do so yesterday; I was tired all day for some reason, and I just got more and more tired the longer the day progressed. Maybe that was why I was so not into anything we were trying to watch last night; but I did manage to read another chapter of Thunder on the Right, and I did get another thousand words done on “Falling Bullets”–which I also want to try to get finished this morning before the Rouse’s run. There was a wonderful storm last night–lots of thunder and torrential rain, which I always enjoy and always helps me sleep better–and it looks hazy out there this morning. There’s branch and tree debris all over our sidewalk, so there was clearly some strong wind last night as well.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad?

Well, it’s Sunday morning and there’s a Saints game today; I will probably ignore it, as my blood pressure and heart can’t really take it, and spend the day continuing to keep my head down and try to plough through all this work I have to get done today.

I got very little done yesterday. I had, despite the good night’s sleep and the good rest I got Friday night, it turned out my batteries were still too low for me to get anything requiring a great deal of thinking and thought done. It’s a shame, and I may not have been wise to spend the day resting and watching television and reading, but it was what my brain and my soul needed. I also refuse to beat myself up for taking me time anymore; I am too old and no longer have the energy and/or wherewithal to work constantly without taking time to refresh and recharge and revisit.

The news of course doesn’t help; the constant sense of outrage and anger at events transpiring in the world every day drains me of a lot of energy. Social media, which used to be a fun way of recharging and seeing what people are up to, has turned into a cesspool of lies, ignorance and weaponized hatred. I refuse to engage with trolls or trollish behavior; my rule of social media has always been if I won’t say it to your face I won’t say it on-line. This, of course, can be intensely problematic because I will say it right to your face. But my energies are best spent elsewhere; hearts and minds cannot be changed or altered through nasty social media battling, and I have neither the patience or energy to waste on lost souls with no capacity for reason or logic or compassion for other human beings.

So, today I am going to get cleaned up, do some chores, and I am going to focus on getting some writing/revising/editing done. I had hoped to be finished with the Scotty revision today, but the end goal of being able to turn it in by November 1 is still a distinct possibility, even by not doing any work on it yesterday. One of my primary concerns, as I may have mentioned, was the fear that I am rushing the revisions on these final chapters in an attempt to get it finished on my self-imposed deadline, and yesterday I also realized that I still have an additional three to four days to get this done by the 1st. There’s no need, absolutely no none, to revise three chapters today when I can actually manage one per day and still finish on time. Stop adding stress and pressure to your life, Gregalicious–it will be done when it is time for it to be done.

I got a copy of Joan Didion’s essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and dived into it some yesterday while football games played in the background (I have to admit I enjoyed watching Georgia do to Florida what LSU did to them; and that untimed play touchdown for the win by Kentucky over Missouri was amazing–definitely going down in Kentucky lore, which is usually about near-misses and coming close. As it happened, I thought to myself, you know, these are situations where Kentucky used to always lose. Maybe there has been a sea-change in the Bluegrass State; we will see what happens when they host Georgia next weekend). Didion is a great stylist; the way she uses words and creates sentences and paragraphs with an eye for a very telling detail is extraordinary. (I have some issues with Didion and the lens through which she sees things, but despite that lens the way she writes is exceptional. If I ever sit down and write about Alice Bolin’s Dead Girls, I will probably address them at that time.) And as with any writer who is truly terrific, reading her words made me think about my own, and gave me some thoughts.

As I said at the time, reading Bolin’s Dead Girls made me start thinking about my own essays; I’ve written quite a few over the years, and of course, as my friend Laura points out to me, my blog is essentially me writing a daily personal essay. I don’t know if I ever say anything truly earth-shattering or profound; I don’t think of myself as a great thinker, or being particularly perceptive and incisive in my points of view on many subjects. My intellect–and my ability to write essays–are still things I don’t have a lot of confidence in; thank you, public education and land grant colleges for making me insecure about these things. One of the myriad of reasons I started writing this blog back in December of 2004 on Livejournal was because I wanted to write about things no one would pay me to write about; to share my observations of the world, society, politics, and culture through the lens of a gay man in a highly homophobic world; it was also why I wrote about gay characters and themes in my fiction. My writing, by virtue of my lavender lens, is always going to be somewhat political; despite my privilege as a white man I still didn’t hit the privilege trifecta of straight white male, and while the privilege of being white male is still much better than any other variation of that, gay also negates a great deal of that.

I had originally, and always thought, that if I ever wrote about the Virginia experience, it would be an entire book, which I always jokingly called, to myself, Gay Porn Writer, because that was the way I amused myself throughout the entire banning experience–laughing about me being described in so many newspapers and angry emails and complaints as “gay porn writer Greg Herren.” Over the years since all that nonsense, and over the last few years in particular, I realized that isn’t enough material to write an entire book around, and realized I needed, if I was ever going to write about that experience, another hook. I thought about extrapolating that happening to me in 2004 with the changes in publishing and society since then; but it was always kind of amorphous. I thought maybe using that experience as a jumping off spot to talking about race, gender, and sex might be a great idea. Realizing that the Virginia experience was the basis for a personal essay, a long one, to be added to a collection of other essays I’ve written as well as others I could write, that I could write about my life and my experience and call the collection Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life was probably the best way to do this, and more workable than simply trying to piece together a non-fiction narrative about how gay work is seen as porn by so many homophobic people because the very word gay makes them think about sucking cock or butt fucking.

And I’ve written so much! I had no idea how much non-fiction I’ve actually done in my career; how many author interviews, how many book reviews and fitness columns and whatever else may have you I’ve written and published over the years.

One of the things I did do yesterday around the laziness was start writing down essay titles I remember having written in my journal, in order to start searching through files and computer drives for them, to put them all into one easily accessible folder for me in the future…which also startled me; I remembered so many, and there are probably many more that I don’t remember. But that’s one of the chores I’ve assigned myself today; start pulling those together. I know my essay from Love, Bourbon Street, about Katrina and the evacuation, is rather lengthy and would have to be the anchor to the book.

And now, back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Breaking Us in Two

Sunday. It’s one degree warmer than yesterday morning–wow, right? But you will undoubtedly be thrilled to know that I get everything on my list done yesterday other than go to the gym; and after spending two hours in the storage unit moving boxes of books around, I was pretty damned exhausted physically, and then braved Costco on a Saturday afternoon (it wasn’t bad at all, other than stupid people, which is every day). I also came across some books in the storage that I thought hey, these need to be reread and so I took them out. One of them was Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which seemed, at least to me, to be the proper reread after The Haunting of Hill House, in that they’re very similar; one could even go so far as to say Matheson basically took Jackson’s story structure and turned the dial up a notch. I am enjoying the reread very much; although I’m not very far into it thus far. I also found my copy of Michael Rowe’s groundbreaking anthology Queer Fear, which I reviewed in the Lambda Book Report many years ago when I worked there, and was to be my first encounter with Mr. Rowe; I remember he came up to me at the Lambda Awards the next year, introduced himself, and thanked me for the lovely review. We’ve crossed paths a few times since, and have become friends over the years. I do remember loving Queer Fear, and look forward to delving into it and rereading its short stories again.

I also found my high school scrapbook and my diaries from the 1990’s. I used to buy blank books and carry them around with me everywhere, so I could jot down story and/or book ideas, or write diary entries whenever I wanted to. I am always hesitant to reread my old diaries; I often wince from my immaturity and my over-dramatization of events in my life. Yet at the same time, the diaries also served as a very vital source of self-reflection and self-examination; I suppose this blog has served that purpose since I started it on Livejournal back in 2004 (the idea that I have been consistently blogging for thirteen years rather staggers the mind, doesn’t it? But I’ve been writing in a diary of some sort, off and on, since I was a teenager; this seems to be a natural continuation of that process).

I also found the three ring binder where I kept everything from the Virginia situation of 2005 and 2006; including the ACLU letter to the school board. I’d always intended to write a non-fiction book about it all, called Gay Porn Writer, in which I examined what happened to me in the context, not only of the times but extrapolating it out further into what was going on in publishing and the culture. My memory lies to me now, of course, so I am not certain that I’ll ever write such a book–I don’t know that I would remember things correctly, and even then, what is colored by my perceptions of things. I’ve since moved on, of course–I mentioned the incident in passing on my panel at Bouchercon and had to explain it a little, which was kind of crazy. It was so long ago, and I used to get invited to speak about it all the time. The memories are now hazy and unclear, but I am definitely going to keep all this information.

You never know.

I think I am probably just going to scan everything in the scrapbook, in order to preserve it electronically, and then throw it away. I don’t really need to keep programs from my high school football games, or from choir concerts, and scanning them will better preserve them anyway.

I have one errand to run today, and I also want to go to the gym for a little bit, start dipping my feet back into the water of working out regularly, and despite the cold, I am going to give that a try.

And hopefully, I’ll get some writing done, or at least something done that will move all projects forward.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you:

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