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.

Broken Wings

 

I have written, from time to time, about the issues I face  as a “gay author.”  I try not to get into it often; I always fear there’s a stench of sour grapes when I talk about the challenges of being a gay author of fiction that place gay men in the center of their own stories. Revolutionary, right?

When I first started publishing, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, ironically there was a movement by gay authors to not be called or considered “gay” authors. More than one disdainfully told me when refusing to be interviewed for either Lambda Book Report when I was editor or for one of the queer newspapers I wrote for, or said on panel discussions at conferences, “I’m not a gay writer; I’m a writer who happens to be gay. You don’t call them straight writers, after all.” This statement, which I heard on more than one occasion, always took me aback, because the truth was it didn’t matter what you called yourself; booksellers and reviewers and readers would still see you that way. There was an arrogance, a smugness, to it; kind of saying yes, technically I am but I am not one of those writers, don’t lump me in with THEM.

Basically, you can call yourself whatever you want, but the market and the industry won’t give a rat’s ass what you call yourself.

Case in point: without fail, when you’re a gay author (or a queer author, or whatever kind of minority writer you might be) and you attend a mainstream writer’s/reader’s conference for whatever genre you may write in, you will inevitably find yourself assigned to what’s called a diversity panel. Make no mistake about it: these panels are important and do need to be held. My primary objection to them is their ghettoization aspect; i.e., the only thing of value these authors have to add to the conference conversation is whatever it is that marginalizes them. I have always argued that any minority writer assigned to a diversity panel should also be assigned to another panel. Reducing a minority writer’s value to simply being able to speak to diversity issues doesn’t help the author; and if we are really concerned about increasing diversity in publishing/whatever genre we are discussing, then audiences besides those who show up for diversity panels should also be exposed to those minority writers. People who come to diversity panels already are hungry for diversity in their reading and writing, which makes it a little bit of preaching to the choir.

Case in point: I was at a mainstream genre conference a few years ago, and of course was assigned to the diversity panel. (I was assigned to another, so I was fine with it.) It was an interesting mix of people, but as we talked about how to find and help new minority writers, a noted editor on the panel, cut me off and passionately said, But it has to be about the WRITING. The WRITING has to be good.

In other words, the reason we don’t have more diversity in publishing in general is because the writing isn’t good.

My jaw literally dropped, and I was stunned into silence by the implications of this noted, and relatively powerful, editor’s statement.

And it takes, as you can imagine, a lot to stun me into silence.

During the years 2004-2008 I kind of withdrew into myself and wasn’t really paying attention to the world of LGBTQ publishing as I had from 1997-2004; a lot of things were going on in my personal life, Katrina happened, and I basically just kept my head down and did my work. It seems, to me, looking back, that the world of LGBTQ publishing changed dramatically during that four years I wasn’t paying attention, when I wasn’t deeply immersed in it; perhaps these things were around before and I simply hadn’t been aware, or noticed; but when I started looking around again at queer publishing I became very aware of something that I hadn’t been aware of before: a new-subgenre of fiction called “m/m”; which was fiction about gay men written by straight women for other straight women (a generalization, of course; some of it is written by gay men and some of the authors are queer-identified women, and likewise, the readership is not all, but primarily, straight women). I found it to be a rather interesting phenomenon; I had always argued that gay male writers should market our work to heterosexual women, so it didn’t bother me that straight women were writing about gay characters and gay themes. I’ve always believed writers should write about subjects and characters they are passionate about, and if straight women were passionate about writing about gay men, more power to them, and welcome to our little niche of the publishing world. I certainly don’t want anyone telling me what I can and cannot write, or who I can write about, any more than any other writer would. There was a bit of a kerfuffle over the Lambda Literary Awards back then making a rule stating the awards were only for actual LGBTQ writers, and there was some outrage about that. I completely concurred with the outrage; the awards were for books and writing rather than the actual author. In my opinion, if a straight woman wrote a great and deserving book about a gay man, why not allow her to enter the Lambdas? The book and its writing is what, ostensibly, was being judged; let it be judged on those merits.

Yet I also noticed, in the wake of this decision by the Lambdas (which was later reversed), some horrific commentary and borderline, if not outright, homophobic statements being made by some of these ostensible so-called allies; homophobic statements always seem to rear their ugly heads whenever any gay man dares question the validity and/or authenticity of these works:

If authors only wrote from their experience, we wouldn’t have science fiction or vampires or werewolves.

Funny how a community that wants to be accepted and treated equally will discriminate.

The first is so fucking offensive on its face I don’t think I really need to explain precisely why it is; but imagine if a white writer said that in defense of writing about a black main characterYes, Virginia, queers ARE like mythological creatures or beings from another planet, so you just go right ahead! Frankly, if this is your line of thinking, you definitely shouldn’t be writing stories about characters with experiences different than your own. Imagine if I said well, of course I can write about a straight woman because it’s really no different than writing about werewolves or vampires or Martians.

If that’s not clear enough for you, try this: WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS.

The second is an implied threat; you need our support to get your equal rights as citizens so how dare you question us? You’d better shut your mouth and toe the line or else, you know, I might vote for homophobic candidates!

Ah, yes, the blackmail argument, which begs the question: Are you really an ally? A real ally doesn’t support a community so long as it toes the line of cisgender straight white people’s way of thinking.

Has there been a more flagrant and obvious expression of clueless straight privilege?

Another favorite was well, the best novels about gay men have always been written by straight women! Mary Renault and Patricia Nell Warren, to name two!

Ah, nothing like a nice straight white lady turning actual lesbians into straight ladies in order to prove their point. Um…yeah.

Or, my personal favorite, gay fiction largely began on the Internet, which erases decades of powerful writing by successful LGBTQ fiction writers, and their careers–not to mention all those Lambda Literary Awards given out, apparently, to “Internet writing” in the late 1980’s thru the mid 1990’s….

Needless to say, when I denounced the exclusion of their books but called out the homophobia…if you guessed they ignored the fact that I was on their side in general but instead focused on me calling out their comments as homophobic, you guessed correctly.

Seriously?

In 1998, Sarah Schulman published Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America. As a gay man of a certain age, reading (and reviewing) this book was an eye-opening experience. In that year, we were in approximately the seventeenth year or so of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States, but things were starting to change and look different. Medications were being developed and prescribed that lengthened life and reduced the impact of the HIV virus on immune systems; there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and it looked like an HIV/AIDS diagnosis might not be the death sentence it had been since its first discovery.

Schulman’s book opened with her being made aware of similarities between her novel People in Trouble and the hit Broadway musical Rent.

Here’s what happened: I was twenty-eight years old in 1987, the year I joined ACT UP (the just-born AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) and full throttle into a love affair with a married woman. An artist, she was very conflicted about sexuality with women and had contempt for the gay community in general. She practiced an art ideology that equated formal invention with radical content, something I contest passionately. My fantasy was that by exposing her to the realities of the AIDS crisis, she would drop her blinders about the functions of homophobia and simultaneously develop an understanding of the value of artwork based in experience. Needless to say, older now, I understand that my project was doomed from the start.

That year I completed my fourth novel, People in Trouble, about a love triangle composed of a married artist couple and the woman’s younger lesbian lover. The novel was set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and featured many scenes and feelings that came out of my actual experience. People in Trouble is about an East Village performance artist who is at the end of a relationship with a male artist and who, despite her own homophobia, falls in love with a lesbian. She creates a performance piece that targets a greedy landlord who is evicting people with AIDS. There is a subplot about an interracial gay male couple–one a queen, one an activist–in which ones dies of AIDS. A second subplot involves an activist group called Justice, who devise a credit card scam to feed homeless people. It was, as David Leavitt wrote in 1990, “the first work of fiction that portrays the enormous activist response the epidemic has generated.” And the book clearly showed how this response was firmly rooted in the gay and lesbian community, despite the neglect and inaction of dominant society.

Does the plot of her novel sound familiar?

The first part of Stagestruck, about Schulman trying to get someone, anyone, to acknowledge the great similarities between her book and Rent, was interesting to me, but what was even more interesting to me was the sudden realization she had, which led to the rest of her book, and her thesis: her book, which was well-received and sold well, basically told the same story as one of the behemoth Broadway musical successes of all time; the primary difference being her book centered the point of view of the lesbian in the love triangle while the musical centered the straight male POV. She then took this thesis; that gay and lesbian works can only be presented to a mass audience if told from a heterosexual point of view, and ran with it. She examined marketing of products, the how things are sold to gays and lesbians (and how those marketing techniques differed); film and television, using Philadelphia (the great HIV/AIDS movie, told from the point of view of the homophobic lawyer, whose experience with the dying gay man was used as an opportunity to grow as a person) as a prime example; the entire book absolutely fascinated me, and it changed forever my perceptions of what is now known as “own voices” in terms of film, books, plays, and television programs.

The other day, on a social media thread, initiated by a female writer about how tired she was of trying to convince straight white male crime writers that representation of other voices and characters wasn’t oppression, I blithely commented, I love to ask them to name a crime novel by a gay man with a gay main character. A very well-meaning straight woman posted a link to a review of one such book as comment in response to mine, adding, here’s a great one to recommend when you run out of the handful.

When. You. Run. Out. Of. The. Handful.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure whether I should be offended or not. She didn’t mean to be offensive, and props to her for actually knowing such a book to recommend. She clearly had no idea who I was or the kinds of books I write (and have been writing for nearly twenty years), nor how extensive my knowledge of the literature of my community actually is.

And yet…yeah.

The other day, there was some interesting threads going on Twitter because of a book announcement: a nice straight lady, with no doubt good intentions, announced the sale of her latest young adult manuscript, which is about teenagers in 1983 dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis.

There was some pushback.

First of all, there’s absolutely no reason why a straight woman cannot write a novel about the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1984. I want to be absolutely clear about that. But yes, like Philadelphia, a book about HIV/AIDS that centers the heterosexual point of view on the subject rather than the gay male one is kind of intrinsically offensive. Is that invalid to write about? No, it’s not. But, as Schulman said about Philadelphia, “making straight people the heroes of the HIV/AIDS crisis is a lie.” It wasn’t straight people who created ACT UP or the Gay Men’s Health Crisis or any of the HIV/AIDS organizations that sprang up in response to the epidemic, and the recent historical revisions like the mini-series The Reagans that try to paint Ronald and Nancy Reagan somehow as heroes of the AIDS crisis is a slap in the face to everyone who died during the 1980’s and the people who loved them. Don’t get me wrong: there have always been, and always will be, straight allies in the fight against HIV/AIDS; but the truth is the crisis became an epidemic because of deliberate societal and institutional neglect; or to quote the bigot on the powerful episode of Designing Women, one of the first prime time television series to address the crisis, “At least it’s killing all the right people.”

Because this is what people actually believed at the time.

The beleaguered author also went on to tweet: First off, I was actually in high school in ’83 and the fear affected everyone in different ways which is what this addresses. Second, I worked for a state government’s outreach office in the early ‘90’s bringing money in for prevention and support of AIDS programming 1/2 Third, I worked closely on this with a knowledgeable and generous AIDS activist. Also, there are currently NO YA books about this time in this context. I’m not taking space from a gay male author. Feel free to write one. Seriously. Teens today need to know what it was like.

Those responses, by the way, were written to a gay man who questioned her about her profiting on the experiences and suffering of gay men.

Now, let’s dissect this woman’s tweets, shall we?

  1. “I was actually in high school in 1983 and the fear affected everyone”: ‘I am going to write about the AIDS epidemic in 1983 and center straight people and their fears because that was the most important thing about HIV/AIDS in 1983.
  2. “I worked for a state’s outreach office in the early 90’s bringing money in for prevention and support of AIDS programming”: how very dare you question me, you ungrateful gay man after everything I’ve done for your community!
  3. “I worked closely on this with a knowledgeable and generous AIDS activist”: I have a gay friend. Please note she didn’t actually go so far as to name the activist; so yeah, this is the ever-popular dodge. Nor does she say this activist is a gay man.
  4. “There are currently NO YA books about this time in this context. I’m not taking space from a gay male author. Feel free to write one. Seriously. Teens today need to know what it was like.” Dripping with contempt and privilege here; so this is the one I really want to break down.

First of all, there are very few y/a books from mainstream presses written by gay men about gay teenagers.

I suppose it’s never occurred to Nice White Lady that maybe there are reasons why there aren’t any of these books; namely, for one, we lost almost two entire generations of writers to societal neglect and homophobia which led to the prolonging of this epidemic in the first place.

There is actually plenty of what is called “witness fiction” out there about HIV/AIDS and the 1980’s; in addition to Schulman’s People in Trouble, there are also Christopher Bram’s In Memory of Angel Clare; Felice Picano’s Like People in History; William J. Mann’s The Men from the Boys, simply to name a few—and that’s just in fiction. Paul Monette’s memoir  Borrowed Time is pretty brilliant, as well. It actually won the National Book Award.

And yes, she is right on that score: none of the witness fiction is young adult. Imagine, just imagine, a gay male author trying to sell a young adult novel to a major publisher about HIV/AIDS and gay teens in the 1980s, the 1990’s, or even in the aughts.*

But let’s not forget: I was personally banned from speaking at a GSA in Virginia in 2005. Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind was tried for obscenity in Kansas in the early 1990’s.

So…yeah, I can’t imagine a y/a about HIV/AIDS from a period when the majority of people writing about it were gays and lesbians going out to auction in New York.

When I started writing fiction and getting published, of course HIV/AIDS was something I had to think about. Did I want to talk about it in my fictions? In my stories and my novels? I decided not to; fully knowing that some people might see, or consider, this to be an abdication of responsibility. But writing from my own experience, my own witness fiction, drawing from that emotional well, isn’t a place I ever wanted to go to in fiction. I decided not to because there was already plenty of fiction and non-fiction, beautifully rendered and written, that told the HIV/AIDS story. There was also a very strong sense in publishing that I recall in the early aughts that it was time for gay writers to move away from the HIV/AIDS narrative, that we had other stories to tell.

This woman’s book sold at auction, which kind of denies her statement that she “isn’t taking space from a gay male author.” Yes, dear, you actually are, because there aren’t many out gay men either writing books about HIV/AIDS or just telling gay stories that are going out to auction to every publisher in New York.

I don’t wish her ill. I hope her book is well-researched and well-written, and I hope she has written a great novel exploring the issues of HIV/AIDS in 1983 amongst teenagers. I don’t know whether I will read it or not—it’s very title seems a bit, well, distasteful to me—but I might; I cannot speak about something I’ve not read. I think it’s terrific she wants to bring this story, and that year, to life for modern teen audiences.

But if this book centers straight white people as the heroic center of the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1983; if the focus is the fears and worries of straight teenagers about HIV/AIDS; if this book doesn’t show realistically the overwhelmingly homophobic heterosexual response to not only the epidemic but to gay men in general; then it is not only an ahistoric and offensive lie, but a slap in the face to everyone currently living with the disease, to everyone who died, and to those of us who are still mourning the overwhelming losses we suffered.

*I am merely taking this woman at her word that there are no such books. I am not as widely read in queer fiction as I once was, and I certainly am not well versed in what’s out there for young adult fiction.

 

 

 

Party All The Time

Saturday morning. I need to read aloud some stories this morning–“Don’t Look Down,” “This Town,” and “Fireflies”–and I’d like to get some work done on either Scotty or the WIP this weekend. I need to clean this weekend; I got started lasted night, washing the bed linens and blankets, a pre-vacuuming downstairs, organizing books, putting away a load of dishes; I also spent a lot of time in my easy chair reading Lori Roy’s stunning new novel, The Disappearing, which is giving me all kinds of thoughts and things to think about. It’s really extraordinary; you should, by all means, preorder it.

I am also working on a much longer blog piece; about being a gay writer, “own voices,” “we need diverse books”, and various other hashtags and ‘movements’ that have occured over the years on social media. There was an instance lately where an encounter with an albeit well-meaning straight lady kind of took me aback; I wasn’t really sure how to react to what she said. Albeit was well-intended, it was still kind of a backhanded slap in the face.

I find myself thinking weirdly deep thoughts about being a gay writer these days; because no matter what I write and no matter what I do, no matter how hard I might try to run away from it, gay is so inextricably a part of me that I cannot wall it off; no matter what I think or do or write or say, that different point of view is always going to be there; it cannot be turned off. There was, back in the day, a lot of talk about a gay sensibility that queer writers brought to their work; I don’t know if that conversation is still being had. But then, this is all fodder for that other blog entry I want to write; I shouldn’t get that in-depth with it here.

I did finish reading William J. Mann’s Edgar Award-winning Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of; Hollywood, last night. Bill is one of my oldest friends in publishing of any kind; we’ve known each other well over twenty years, I would say. I interviewed him years ago for his first publication, the novel The Men from The Boys, and again later with the release of his first Hollywood history/biography, Wisecracker,  a biography of William Haines, the first openly gay movie star; who chose to give up his career when Louis B. Mayer told him he needed to give up his partner and marry a woman. He then went on to have a long career as an interior decorator; he was a close friend of Joan Crawford’s, who said of his long-time partnership, “it’s the only happy marriage in Hollywood.” Tinseltown tells the story of the murder of the director William Desmond Taylor in 1920, and how the big-wigs in Hollywood not only tried to cover up important details of the murder for their own reasons, but how the murder affected the lives of three Hollywood women: major star Mabel Normand (immortalized by Stevie Nicks in song on one of her most recent albums); up-and-coming star Mary Miles Minter; and fringe actress wannabe Patricia Palmer. It’s a well-crafted, well-researched reconstruction of what happened nearly a hundred years ago: it’s also an interesting overview of how Hollywood became what it was; how the Hays Production Code was born as well as the big studio systems; and how hoydenish religious groups have always made a lot of noise and tried to force their point of view down the throats of the rest of the country. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and highly recommend it.

tinseltown

I’ve always wanted to write a book or two set in old Hollywood; maybe not in the days of the silents, but perhaps one in the 1930’s and another in the 1950’s. The one about the 1950’s has more of a shape in my head; even a title (Chlorine), but there’s so much else I need to write.

But first I need to get my act together today and do all the things I need to get done today; I also need to probably come up with a schedule and list of goals. There are so many books I want to write, so many short stories I want to write, so many short stories I need to revise. There’s only so much time in every day.

And now, back to the spice mines.

PS So far, cutting the cable chord is going swimmingly. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Lay Your Hands on Me

I managed to get all the errands done yesterday, and didn’t feel exhausted until I was in the process of putting away all the groceries and things. I went to both the grocery store and Costco yesterday; I was rather impressed that I wasn’t worn out much sooner. I did get the bedding laundered as well. But I didn’t get any writing done; I am going to need to do that today.

There are a lot of things I am going to need to do today. Sigh.

I’ve been invited to contribute to an anthology; and I am not certain I have anything ready to send along. I do have this one incredibly disturbing story that I would like to make even more disturbing–that’s just how I roll–and I need to get back to work on the Scotty draft. I’d like to revise Chapter 11 a bit today, get it cleaned up more so it isn’t nearly as sloppy as it currently is, and I want to get these other two stories cleaned up as well. I need to spend some more time with “Don’t Look Down” than I have been; I need to get inside the characters more, understand who they are better, and then I think the story will wind up being a lot more strong. The same goes with the Chanse story; the story is really about his relationship with his brother and that’s not strong enough in the story as it sounds right now. That is also, I think, the problem with the Scotty book. I need to spend some time today with it as well, figuring out motivations and so forth.

Ah, being a writer. Always such a challenge.

We finished watching Collateral last night, and I was rather pleased with it; it was written by David Hare, the playwright, and you could tell it was written by someone good. Carey Mulligan was terrific, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys complex, multi-layered crime dramas. I think tonight we may watch Justice League, to just to see if it really is as terrible as everyone seemed to think; I didn’t hate either Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman, so I am not going into it as a hater.

I’m also still reading Tinseltown, which I am greatly enjoying. I don’t know a lot about the early days of Hollywood; the early 1920’s and late 19-teens, other than what I know from reading biographies of David O. Selznick, whose father was a producer and tried to build up a studio at the same time Adolph Zukor was building Paramount, and before the big merger that created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). So all this is new information to me, and William J. Mann is a terrific historian and researcher. (I am more familiar with later periods of Hollywood, but hardly an expert.) I’ve always wanted to write about Hollywood’s past; I have an idea for a noir novel to be set in the late 1940’s, but my lack of familiarity with the nuts and bolts of Hollywood in that period makes it difficult–or rather, makes my already vast insecurity about writing about another period even stronger. Although I’ve already written one short story about that time–an ambiguous setting of the early 1950’s–I don’t know. Maybe I should try it as a short story first, see if I can get the sense of the period?

I don’t know.

I’m also saddened to say that I’ve now finished reading both of Lawrence Block’s art-inspired anthologies, In Sunlight or in Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is putting together another, which is great. So, for today’s edition of the Short Story Project, I am sad to say this is the last story from a Block anthology: “A Woman in the Sun,” by Justin Scott, from In Sunlight or In Shadow.

Could she change his mind? Four steps to the open window, lean out and call, “Don’t.”

Or walk to the window and call, “Go ahead, do it.Good luck.”

Or stand here and do nothing.

He had left her his last cigarette. She had talked him into leaving the gun and he had kept his word. It was still on the night table, wrapped in one of her stockings. She had the time of the cigarette to make up her mind. More time, if she didn’t smoke it. Let it smoulder.

This is an interesting story; in that it leaves more questions unanswered than it actually answers. We never know the characters’ names, nor do we really know what has brough them to this point. All we do learn, as the story progresses, is that both are at the end of their ropes and done, basically; they are both ready to die. The only question is whether she will stop him or will she join him, and this rather uninvolved, distant approach makes the story even more poignant and sad; there’s a very strong sense of melancholy that runs throughout this story, and the reader soon realizes you don’t have to know the whys and hows and whats of their pasts–all you need to know and feel is their now.

Powerful.

I then started reading through Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music, and the next story up was”Me Untamed” by David Liss.

She covered the black eye with makeup, but I could still see it was there, something alien and unaccountable. Like a vandal’s scrawl across a museum painting, the dull outline of her bruise was an outrage. Carla smiled and greeted everyone good morning, defying us to say a word, to let our eyes linger too long. It was, I supposed, how she protected herself.

Jim Baron, the senior partner in the practice, met my gaze and flicked his head toward Carla as she walked past with a stack of case folders under her arm. Carla was getting ready, as we did every Tuesday and Thursday, for surgeries–no office visits on those days, just procedures. The practice felt a bit like a gastrointestinal assembly line, and sometimes I hated how we moved patients in and out, hardly taking the time to look at them, but Jim cracked the whip. It was volume, volume, volume as far as he was concerned. We were there to heal, not to socialize, and the more healing, the better.

The point of view is that of a divorced, shy, quiet Milquetoasty doctor,  who is kind of in love with Carla, or maybe he is not. She’s married to a thug of a guy, a man’s man, who works out and so forth, the kind of man a Milquetoast would hate. And he decides to do something about Carla’s abuse…decides to make himself into the kind of man he’s always wanted to be, the kind of man that he thinks Carla would like and love. This is a terrific story, with a terrific twist at the end that lifts it up even higher in terms of craft. Well done, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Freedom

Thursday. I don’t have to go in until later today, which is nice; it gives me the morning to slowly wake up and get going. I didn’t sleep well last night for some reason so I am going to be really tired this evening; which is fine, I suppose. Maybe I’ll sleep well tonight, who knows? Paul came home just as I was getting ready to go to bed, which was nice. Normality, such as it is, has returned to the Lost Apartment. I started reading William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood. It won the Edgar several years ago for Best Fact Crime, and I’ve been wanting to read it for years. I’ve know Bill for years–I was also there at the Edgars the night he won–and have always enjoyed his work.

I started writing that short story “Burning Crosses” yesterday, and am trying really hard to not allow fear to stop me from working on it. I think it could be a really good story, but…it’s also potentially a dangerous one to try to tell. but I can’t let fear of reaction stop me from working on something. That’s just not a good thing, you know?

51AFYZxNRhL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_

“Everyone in Venice is acting,” Count Girolamo Marcello told me. “Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythim–the rhythm of the lagoon, the rhythm of the water, the tides, the waves…”

I had been walking along Calle della Mandola when I ran into Count Marcello. He was a member of an old Venetian family and was considered an authority on the history, the social structure, and especially the subtleties of Venice. As we were both heading in the same direction, I joined him.

“The rhythm in Venice is like breathing,” he said. “High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all attuned to the rhythm of the wheel. That is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide, and the tide changes every six hours.”

Count Marcello inhaled deeply. “How do you see a bridge?”

“Pardon me?” I asked. “A bridge?”

“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle–as just another set of steps tp climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over a bridge. We cross from one reality…to another reality. From one street….to another street. From one setting…to another setting.”

I love Venice. We spent a mere twenty-four hours there on our trip to Italy several years ago, taking the train from the magnificent station in Florence through the Italian countryside north and then across the lagoon to the Venetian station. I walked ahead of Paul through that Italian station, unable to wait to catch my first glimpse of the city from the top of the stairs rising from the piazza and vaporetto station on the Grand Canal.

DSCN6269

I was enchanted from that first glimpse.

I’d always wanted to visit Venice–ever since reading Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant story “Don’t Look Now” and seeing the film version, which is incredible–and also Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven. Seeing Venice, even if was only for twenty-four hours, was wonderful. We were also incredibly lucky because Venice wasn’t crowded; apparently that’s become a huge problem (goo.gl/ePMQjT). It was even a problem when Berendt was writing The City of Falling Angels.

The title comes from a sign Berendt saw one day while strolling around Venice, near an old church that was crumbling and in need of restoration: BEWARE OF FALLING ANGELS. Apparently, the statues of angels on the sides of the church and along the rooftop had become loose with the rotting of the masonry, and one had fallen, almost hitting a pedestrian. The book reminded me so much of Venice, and why the city had enchanted me during my all-too-brief visit. I want to write about Venice; I’ve been toying with a story for years, and as I am just now starting to write my Panzano story, maybe I will soon write the Venice story.

Anyway, Berendt is best-known, of course, for his book about Savannah: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I read decades ago when it was new. I enjoyed it; it was an examination of the quirks and curiosities of the city, built around the lens of a murder committed by a member of Savannah society. The City of Falling Angels is the same type of book, only viewed around the lens, not of a murder, but the burning of the Fenice Opera House. It did turn out to be a crime; two men were convicted of arson, but Berendt uses the fire, the investigations, and the subsequent trial, to view Venice; and along the way he takes a look at the quirks, eccentricities, and curiosities of a place that, like Savannah, is quaint and historic and beautiful–yet also very small. A lot of the things he talks about in the book–the concerns of locals that Venice is no longer for the Venetians, that the city is losing its neighborhoods to tourism; that poorer and middle class Venetians are being pushed out in the name of tourism–are concerns that we locals now have about New Orleans, so that made the book even more interesting to me. When we were there, we stayed overnight at a wonderful little family run hotel just off the Rialto Bridge and on one of the side canals; the Hotel San Salvador. We, too, had a lengthy conversation with two of the young women working there–members of the ownership family–who told us the same thing: Venice is no longer for the Venetians. Their family can no longer afford to live in the city, despite owning a hotel there; they live on the mainland and commute into the city. Most of the city’s apartments are being bought up by foreigners who then rent them out to visitors, so it is also affecting business for establishments like the Hotel San Salvador. I loved the hotel, it was charming and quaint and cozy; I loved the second floor lounge overlooking the canal below, and the family who owned and operated it were so nice, friendly, and charming. If and when we return, we will undoubtedly stay there again.

I’ve met John Berendt exactly once; he was very nice, and I liked him. I like his books, too. My character, Jerry Channing, who appears in both The Orion Mask and Garden District Gothic, and whom I’ve considered spinning off into his own series, is based on him only in that he writes the same kinds of books and articles Berendt does; kind of a cross between Berendt and Dominick Dunne. (I still might spin Jerry off; a lot of my short stories, which have first-person narrators who are never identified, are told in what I imagine Jerry’s voice to be) In fact, Jerry’s biggest success is a book called Garden District Gothic (very meta of me), which is about the quirks and curiosities and eccentricities of New Orleans, viewed through the lens of a society murder in the Garden District. The Scotty novel that bears the same title is an investigation into that case twenty-five years later, in fact (again, very meta of me).

16903185_10210905674210634_792277906514866377_o

Anyway,  I highly recommend The City of Falling Angels. I think I enjoyed it a lot more because I’d been to Venice, but it definitely made me want to go back. It’s very well-written, and a lot of fun to read.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

I Just Called To Say I Love You

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was rather lovely; we had our deep dish pizza and a lovely visit with our friend Lisa; then Paul and I watched three movies on Netflix: Fourth Man Out, Closet Monster, and Handsome Devil. We also watched another episode of a Hulu original series, Future Man; which we had given one more episode to get better. And the fourth episode definitely delivered. We laughed a lot all the way through it; and it finally started delivering on its premise.

The three movies were all gay films, which we generally don’t watch very often. I know I should be supportive of gay films, but so often they’re aren’t very good–or at least that used to be the case. When a major studio makes one (Philadelphia, In and Out, To Wong Foo, etc.) they’re awful; indies always mean well but don’t have the budget to really do them well or cast good actors, so we stopped watching them a long time ago. Every so often, a film like Beautiful Thing or Latter Days will come along, but still, fairly rare. My incredibly cynical self is very pleased to say that the three films we watched yesterday were enjoyable in varying degrees, which also makes me tend to think that perhaps we should watch more gay cinema. And really, isn’t mainstream film always a crapshoot, too?

Fourth Man Out was the first movie we watched; its about a group of four guys who’ve been best friends since they were kids and then one of them comes out to the others. It was a comedy, so the coming out was handled in a comedic fashion; the friends were a little taken aback, and then there was some awkwardness about what you can or can’t say around your gay friend which was sweet and kind of cute. The gay character was a mechanic, so there was a sense to me of ‘see, a gay guy can be just a regular guy’ about the movie which was well-intentioned but…the really charming part of the movie was watching the friends try to help him navigate the gay dating world, and there was a really charming scene where they take him to his first gay bar. And the ‘meeting someone from on-line’ trope was treated as comedy (and who hasn’t met someone whose picture wasn’t them?) and there were some moments that I thought might have been in questionable taste–but overall the film was charming. The lead, gay Adam, was played by Evan Todd, who’s very good-looking:

tumblr_o9jmg5lCng1urvepco3_1280

His best friend, Chris–and their relationship/chemistry was quite charming, was played by the impossibly good-looking Parker Young:

mgid_uma_image_logotv

Another one of the guys was played by Glee’s Chord Overstreet, almost recognizable in a heavy beard. But the movie’s true charm was the relationship between Adam and Chris; how they learn from each other and grow and finally find their perfect matches because of their friendship.

Closet Monster starred Connor Jessup from American Crime, who is an appealing and talented young actor I would pretty much watch in anything.

la-et-vn-emmy-contenders-chat-connor-jessup-20160510

This movie was apparently very popular on the indie art film festival circuit and won lots of awards; for me, it was the weakest of the three and were it not for Connor Jessup, we would have probably stopped watching. As a little boy, around the time his parents broke up in a very nasty and volatile break-up, young Oscar witnessed a violent hate crime against a gay teenager–and that, plus the divorce, have been deeply internalized and traumatized him as he comes of age as a gay teenager with an interest in horror movies and a desire to become a make-up artist for horror films. He’s applied to the best school for this in New York, and cannot wait to get away from this awful town he lives in. He’s desperately unhappy–who can’t relate to that–with big dreams, and is developing a crush on another boy he works with at a Home Depot type store. Wilder, played by Aliocha Schneider, is coolly confident in himself and tries to draw Oscar out of his own shell, with some success.

MV5BMTgxNTcwNTI1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTczOTQyNjE@._V1_UY317_CR10,0,214,317_AL_

The point of the movie is ultimately that Oscar needs to stop spinning his wheels and move in a positive direction in his life; and it does eventually get there after a bizarre costume party where he has his first sexual experience with a stranger and comes to terms with his feelings for his mother; his relationship with his father remains unresolved. But it was an arty film; Oscar’s hamster speaks to him in Isabella Rossellini’s voice–he got the hamster originally the day his mother left his father so it symbolizes the last time he was happy; and there’s a lot of moments where the director slaps the viewer in the face with his symbolism and hidden depths. There are some gorgeous shots, particularly at the end, but there are also some serious plot holes. But as I said, Connor Jessup is a very talented and appealing young actor, and he carries the entire movie.

The last film we watched, Handsome Devil, was by far and away the best of the three. Set in an Irish boarding school obsessed with its rugby team, it’s from the point of view of young Ned, who is bullied by his schoolmates in no small part because he doesn’t care about rugby and doesn’t fit in; he is played charmingly by Fionn O’Shea. He comes back to school against his will–his father and stepmother live in Dubai and for some reason he can’t live with them there; it’s kind of implied that he’s an inconvenience for them. He’s delighted when he gets to school to find out he’s got a single room and won’t be sharing. There’s also a really funny sequence where he talks about his English teacher; he simply turns in the lyrics to old songs for papers and get’s A’s; the song that is handed back to him with an A written on it to illustrate this voice over is Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Walk Side,” which is hilarious if you know the words.

Handsome-Devil2-1024x512

But he winds up with a roommate after all, Connor. Connor can’t go back to his old school–he was kicked out for ‘fighting’–AND it turns out Connor is a great rugby player; the long-missing piece for the school’s team which will make them champions. Ned reacts by moving all of their furniture to the center of the room, kind of forming a Berlin wall. They also have a new English teacher this term, Mr. Sherry, who is played by Sherlock’s Andrew Scott. Mr. Sherry, and his class, reminded me of Dead Poets’ Society, and I don’t think that was accidental. But Ned and Connor slowly become friends–Connor is Ned’s first friend, really–and of course there’s the requisite homophobia (they all treat Ned like he’s gay, but we never really know for sure) and obstacles for the boys to face before the film’s end. This movie is really charming, and is about friendship, and has some absolutely lovely moments. O’Shea is fantastic as Ned, and you can’t help but root for him as he learns who he is and what being a friend really means; Nicholas Galitzine plays Connor and does a fine job with a less complex part; but the chemistry between the two boys is terrific. I highly recommend this movie.

MV5BMjI4ZmRkMTYtNTFmOC00NDFjLWFhYjEtMTJhYjg4ODc5NjQyL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY5NTM2NjY@._V1_UY317_CR20,0,214,317_AL_

It was also highly educational to watch these films, and it also made me realize that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to gay-themed films; I should probably watch more of them in the future–and I think I’m going to. Watching these movies reminded me of the kinds of novels Kensington used to publish after the turn of the century; particularly the novels of Timothy James Beck. I miss those novels, and Kensington did a great job of finding and publishing fun gay-themed novels in those days. I was one of Kensington’s authors; Kensington was where the first three Scotty books were published, and pulling together the Scotty Bible has also put me in mind of those days again. Kensington first published Rob Byrnes,  and also those wonderful novels by Michael Thomas Ford. Kensington was also home to William J. Mann’s fiction, from The Biograph Girl to The Men from the Boys, All-American Boy, and several others; Kensington also published Andrew Beierle’s The Winter of Our Discotheque, which remains to this day one of my favorite gay novels.

Sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.