(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty

It’s Easter, and of course there are parades all over the city at all different times. New Orleans is a city that likes to celebrate, likes to have parades, and likes to dress up, whether in evening attire or costume. It’s one of the things I love about New Orleans; the absolute dedication to dressing up and how seriously it is taken here. For me, it’s just the final day of a three day weekend in which I have to run an errand at some point and most likely will spend the rest of the day writing while trying to get ahead of things for the week at the same time.

Multi-tasking, as it were.

I managed to write fifteen hundred new words on the WIP yesterday; replacing the 300 new words on the jump drive I forgot at the office and the story, chapter, and book are all the better for this work. It took longer than usual to get the words done, and I found myself staring at the screen and not typing for longer periods of time than usual when I am writing, but yet I still got them done and I am most pleased, not only with them but for the accomplishment.

The gears are a little rusty, but they do still work.

It does feel a rather long time since I’ve written anything new. It has felt like an eternity since the WIP  stalled out while I made excuses for not only not working on it but not even looking at it. I have been working on some other projects but there’s nothing serious there yet, just amorphous ideas and plots and characters and settings that are coming together into my head. But that’s also a part of me avoiding the WIP for some mysterious, self-destructive and self-defeating reason I have yet to get to the bottom of; perhaps someday I will understand how my mind and personality and ambition and insecurities all work together in some bizarre fashion to keep propelling me forward for some reason while also finding reasonable excuses not to move at all. I may never fully come to a complete understanding of myself; or at least one that cannot simply be reduced to needs medicating for the benefit of all.

But it felt good. It always feels good for me to write. It’s so undeniably a part of who I am I cannot imagine ever stopping permanently. The damage to my identity would be so overwhelming–but I also cannot ever imagine not creating. Even when I am not actually writing stories down, I am thinking of them; I am creating characters and settings and situations and titles and thinking about conversations and effects and damage and recovery. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to actually sit down and start putting words together into sentences and constructing paragraphs that become scenes. It is hard to get started; I always open up the document I am working on and look at it, see what’s come before and try to remember where it needs to go from where I am at. This is a revision so there’s something already there; I am adding things that I now know are necessary and removing things that I’ve decided aren’t actually going to go anywhere. And that makes this draft–which will be a combination of second and first drafts; the first ten chapters will be second drafts while everything else will be a first–much stronger.

I also want to work on short stories some, if not today, then the rest of this new week. I want to send some more stories out for submission, which means one last polish on the ones that are, at least I think, close to being ready–“This Thing of Darkness,” “And the Walls Came Down,” “The Snow Globe”–and some others that I would like to finish the first drafts of–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” and “Once a Tiger”–and others that are in various stages of the process. “Moves in the Field” probably needs another once over as well.

And on that note, this spice ain’t going to mine itself.

So Happy Easter!

4514_1005032704531_1786298822_6606_5477348_n

Broken Hearted Me

So, in my desire to have a productive morning yesterday and rush home to start setting things to rights after Termite Armageddon, I thought I had a reading at one and a panel at two thirty; at nine am I thought  I can rush home, get started and then Lyft back to the Monteleone.

Then, while taking a break at eleven and thinking I’ll jump in the shower in a minute I checked the program to see who I was reading with and…my reading was at 11:30.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I think this might be the second or third time in twenty years of doing this that I’ve missed something I was supposed to do, so there’s that. Three times in twenty years isn’t bad, yet at the same time…oy oy oy.

Well, the good news was–lemons into lemonade– I had time to go make groceries and still had plenty of time to get cleaned up and Lyft down there for two thirty.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Hopefully, the next time the Weekend o’Festivals rolls around, we won’t be having to deal with a TERMITE ARGAMEDDON, so it won’t be as insane of a weekend. But the Lost Apartment feels very strange to be Scooter-and-Paul-free. When I get back I am going to continue cleaning and organizing, knowing that I can’t possibly get everything done that I want to get done. I think I need to take another stay-cation and clean the fuck out of this apartment, including cleaning out the cabinets (I found a lot of expired food stuffs yesterday morning that went into the trash) and I also need to check myself on the food hoarding thing. I mean, some of this stuff expired in 2015.

2015. Yeesh.

But, TERMITE ARMAGEDDON aside, it was a lovely weekend, as the Weekend o’Festivals tends to be. As always, I come away from it–despite everything–energized and excited to get back to writing again. I told a friend yesterday afternoon that I feel connected to myself again, in a way I hadn’t since the Great Data Disaster of 2018; I don’t know if it was being in the Quarter, or just being around writers and readers and people who love both, but it’s true. It kind of felt like a fog lifted, or I finally woke all the way up, if that makes sense? I have plenty to do this morning–I have to run to the office to get the stuff from our refrigerator that I stored there; I have to get Scooter; I need to get my brake tag and pick up some prescriptions and do another, minor grocery run and get the mail. I have some writing to do today for a website freelance project that is due today, and I would also like to work on the house some more and perhaps–perhaps–do some work on the WIP. I also bought some lovely books yesterday, but when I got home yesterday (I took the streetcar) I discovered my backpack had come open, and my copies of The Woman Who Fed the Dogs (Kirstien Hemmerechts), All Grown Up (Jami Attenburg) and King Zeno (Nathaniel Rich) had vanished at some point between the hotel and the Lost Apartment. Disappointing, but I can repurchase copies and hey, they get another royalty. But my copies of Frank Perez’ Southern Decadence in New Orleans, Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300, Constance Adler’s My Bayou: New Orleans Through The Eyes of a Lover, David Holly’s The Moon’s Deep Circle, Christopher Castellani’s Leading Men, and Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, all made it home safely, and I clearly have some fabulous reading in my future. I am very excited about this.

And I am very excited about getting back to both the Diversity Project and the Short Story Project.

I also feel well rested this morning, and like I can conquer the world. It’s been awhile, but it’s lovely to have a Gregalicious feeling again.

And now back to the spice mines.

IMG_0889

Who’s Johnny

Yesterday I spent a few hours rereading (skimming) the manuscript and I really need to stop being self-deprecating; as a whole, it actually holds together very well and there are some mistakes and loose ends that I did manage to catch; but overall, it’s a very solid, workable first draft and I am enormously pleased with it. I’ll probably do some more futzing with it tomorrow–time-lines and so forth–but I think with the notes I made and a very strong eye to line editing, I can have this finished by the end of the month after all.

HUZZAH INDEED!

I also went over the final edits for my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” and approved them for editor extraordinaire Josh Pachter, and send them off. Yet another huzzah! This pleases me to no end, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I was, as always, deeply concerned about the novel manuscript; I’m not certain when and where and how I developed this horrible mentality (an off-shoot of Imposter Syndrome or simply another deeply psychotic self-loathing version of it) that everything I write is terrible or garbage or whatever negative thing I can possibly think to say about it while in process; maybe it’s the familiarity and closeness to the story, knowing what I want it to be and what it’s not turning out to be on the page as I struggle through the first draft, but I’d hoped to avoid that with writing this book. This is why I went off deadline for the first time since 2001; so that I could take my time (other than my own personal deadlines) and not feel rushed to finish. My usual methodology for writing a manuscript evolved into writing on deadline and going back, when stuck, to the beginning and revising, with the end result that I usually wrote the last chapter or two the week (or days) before turning it in, and almost always after the original deadline. The end result of this was, to me, that the first two-thirds of my books were often rewritten, revised and polished repeatedly, while the final third maybe got a good going-over maybe once; which quite easily produced the mentality that my work fizzles out at the end rather than delivers.

Obviously, it never crossed my mind as a possibility that that final third of the book needed less work than the first two-thirds precisely because so much work went into the first two-thirds. When I reread my novels now, they seem seamless to me as they move from beginning to end; there’s no place where I can ever identify as definitely being, ah yes this is where I had to start rushing. In other words, it’s part of the self-loathing that comes from a lifetime of self-deprecation, the mentality that if it’s better if I point out my own flaws in a gently mocking, funny, amusing manner before someone else does it in a more cruel fashion.

As you can tell, the part of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette that had to do with self-deprecating humor resonated particularly strongly for me; this notion that I can head off humiliation at the hands of others if I voluntarily humiliate myself first, and that way I can be queer in public with a slightly higher degree of safety. I shall continue to reflect on this, think about it, blog about it more–but the truth is, self-deprecation is really not a good thing. Humility, the knowledge that your success is not only the result of hard work but also involved a healthy dose of what can only be described as sheer luck–whether that’s simply timing or whatever else it might be–is a completely different thing from self-humiliation. I know I’ve always been incredibly lucky with my career; most of it has benefited from being in the right place at the right time or making the right connection at the right time, but none of that would matter without the work. 

If I hadn’t done the work–if I hadn’t written the books or the stories or edited the anthologies, none of the timing would have amounted to anything. So I need to stop allowing myself to think that luck is the sole source of my writing career. Yes, luck did, and has, played a part in my career, but it wasn’t all luck. And there’s nothing, nothing, wrong with allowing myself to take a little credit for the work I’ve done.

It’s really kind of sad that it’s taken me this long to get here–and I’m still not completely here; my default is automatic self-deprecation, and I’ve got to stop that. It’s certainly not healthy, and it’s certainly not helpful in any way.

The final story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”:

“You really see some tragic drag in this place at four in the morning,” Dennis said, shaking his head. He said it a little too loudly, and I glanced over at the counter nervously. He rolled his eyes and smiled at me. “Don’t look so worried. She didn’t hear me.” He looked over at her with disgust on his face. “Besides, she’s so fucking wasted she doesn’t know what day it is.”

He plucked a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low out of the little caddy next to the ketchup and mustard bottles, and shook it a few times before dumping it into his red plastic cup of iced tea. He took a big swig before using a paper napkin to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead.

It wasn’t quite four in the morning, but I wasn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon. The digital jukebox was blasting a remix of Rihanna—“Only Girl in the World,” which weirdly enough seemed like the appropriate soundtrack for episode of The Real Housewives from Hell playing on the flat screen television mounted on the wall I was facing.

I wiped my own forehead with a napkin. It was hot in the Clover Grill and the air seemed thick and heavy with grease. Burgers were frying on the grill, and French fries were sizzling in the deep fryer. The smell was making me more than a little nauseous. I didn’t know how Dennis could possibly eat anything. I felt a wave of nausea coming on, so I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths till it passed. My lower back was aching, so I turned in my chair and put my back up against the wall. We were sitting at the table in the absolute back, and Dennis had his back to the front door. I put my feet up on the extra chair at our table and leaned forward a bit, trying to stretch the ache out of my back.

I took another big drink out of my red plastic cup of water and couldn’t help smiling to myself. I recognized the tragic looking drag queen sitting at the counter. I’d seen Floretta Flynn perform any number of times at various clubs in the Quarter. She was one of the better drag performers in the city, and was actually quite funny. She’d been hostess of the show we’d caught earlier in the evening at the Parade, while we were waiting for our dealer to show up. She’d clearly had too much to drink since then—Dennis swore drag queens were always smashed when they went on stage, but I couldn’t tell.  It was obvious now, though. She was seated at the counter on one of the revolving stools, leaning against a hot muscle boy who didn’t seem quite as wasted as she was. Her massive 1970’s country-singer wig was askew and her lipstick was smeared around her mouth. Her mascara was also smudged around her eyes, and it looked like she may have tried to wipe off some of the foundation and rouge on her cheeks. Her bright red sequined dress looked dirty, and she’d spilled something down the front of it.

This story was written for Jerry Wheeler’s Dirty Diner anthology; I’d written the beginning years earlier, based on the exact same conversation I had with a friend at the Clover Grill around four a.m. as we stopped to get something to eat on our way out of the Quarter. I originally saw this story, when it was conceived, as part of the ‘four-friends-in-the-quarter’ book The World is Full of Ex-Lovers; and it really ties in with some of my other stories about the same characters; though I’m not sure anyone else ever made the connection. This story has a theme that I’ve returned to over and over again in my fiction: finding validation after rejection.

That particular theme also calls for some further reflection, frankly.

And now back to the spice mines.

32116196_1843045152656386_5063644486387630080_n

She’s a Beauty

I always find the process other writers use fascinating; I remember back in the day when I used to read books about writing (never, ever read The Art of Fiction by Robert Gardner unless you’re actually reading it for its unintentional hilarity and incredible pomposity; stick with Stephen King’s On Writing, which actually imparts wisdom born of experience, and some damned good advice) and was interested in all the different components of writing, and how different the advice was; it wasn’t until I actually began to write seriously that I realized that the best thing you can get from another’s writer’s process is to simply try the various methods as a starting point; a way to find your own way into what works for you.

That’s what I tell workshops I teach; I’ve taught many over the years and I’ve also worked with/edited many writers at the start of their careers. What works for, say, Sue Grafton–which enormously productive and successful for her–might not work for you. I have been asked any number of times what my process is; but it’s really not that simple.

You see, just as I have creative ADD whenever I’m working on something, I don’t always use the same process. Kristi Belcamino, a friend and fellow writer, asked me yesterday in a comment about my process; so here it is.

I wrote the first Chanse novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, (working title: Tricks) without an outline. I knew what the crime was, I knew who the killer was, and I thought I knew how to get from Point A (Chanse being hired) to Point B (unmasking the killer). After writing an enormously lengthy first draft, I realized that I’d actually gotten it very wrong; I got to Point B all right, but around Chapter Ten the book went off course and veered crazily along like a drunk driver trying to drive in a straight line and failing miserably. Even the unmasking of the killer didn’t work; I had to basically throw out the second half of the book and start it over. Starting over the second half then meant that the first half didn’t really fit with the new second half, so I had to go back and redo the entire first half of the novel. It was a long, painful process, and I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way to do this.

So, when I started writing the second Chanse novel Murder in the Rue St. Ann (working title: Murder in the Rue Royal, changed because of the alliteration which annoyed my editor) I outlined the whole thing, from beginning to end. By doing this, I was able to see–hey, the story is getting derailed here–and could fix it before I wasted time writing a lot of material I wasn’t going to be able to use and would have to throw it and rewrite. I thought this was a much easier way to do it, frankly, and it made more sense. I was able to catch errors in the plot and fix them before I actually sat down to write the manuscript, if that makes sense. I did this, and it worked. But while this was the first novel I wrote after getting my first novel signed, it wasn’t my second novel to get published. That was Bourbon Street Blues, when I introduced a new character, Scotty Bradley.

Bourbon Street Blues was only intended to be a stand-alone, not the start of a series that has lasted now for fifteen years and eight novels (I am writing the eighth now). I pitched the idea to a different publisher instead of my original publisher, and got a two-book contract for a series. As I said, it was intended to be a stand alone, but I figured I’d deal with the series concept when it was time to do that. Having had some success with an outline, I tried something a little bit different this time. My outline for Rue St. Ann was basically a paragraph for each chapter breaking down what happens in the chapter; for Bourbon Street Blues I decided to make the outline a little more detailed; it also made sense to me that hey, if the book has to be this many words long, figure out how many chapters its going to take, divide that number by the word count, and then every chapter has to be that long, give or take. Making every chapter about the same length will also subconsciously give the reader a structure to the story without realizing what I’ve done.

The difference between this and what I’d done with the Chanse books was I started writing this longer, more detailed outline with no idea of how it was going to end, or what was going to happen. But it worked, and successive drafts was just filling in more details, etc. so that I then had a finished draft and then went back over it to tighten language, deepen character, etc. This free-wheeling style of writing seemed to work for Scotty; it was kind of who he was as a person, and so all future Scotty books were done this way; a short first draft, each successive draft making the book longer and then a final polish. Sometimes I get stuck when I’m writing Scotty and don’t know where to go next; then I go back and revise the earlier chapters and get an idea of how to go from there. Sometimes I have to outline the next five chapters, and as I struggle with that outline the answers come to me. (I am also terrified this is going to not work someday.)

So, when I start with the Chanse books I know how I am going to end the book, and have to fill in, with an outline, how to get from Point A to Point B. With Scotty I write a short first draft that’s kind of an extensive outline to get me through when I have no idea what the story is going to be or how it’s going to end. I find with Scotty I go back and revise earlier chapters a lot before it’s finished, so I am always worried later chapters don’t get as much attention as the earlier ones.

My stand-alones–the y/s and so forth–are kind of a combination; it depends on the book. If I know how it starts and I know how it ends, I do an outline to get me from beginning to end. If I don’t know how it ends, and simply have the opening premise, I do a long outline, let it come to me as I do it, and then go back and see if it works, fix what doesn’t (or at least try to), and do it over and over. I usually end up doing three drafts total, maybe four; and then do a quick polish of the final draft before turning it in.

The current WIP, that I keep talking about? I didn’t know how it was going to end, and just started writing. I knew the characters, I knew what the premise was, and basically, I was adapting a story I came up with years ago, using the characters and so forth I’d already created, only using it with a different story and a different theme. I still like the original idea I had, and I may be able to eventually turn that into telling the story I’d originally wanted to tell..but I really like this story I am telling now. I wrote the first draft in less than six weeks, total; I started writing two years ago in June and finished it in early July. I let a friend whose opinion I deeply respect read it, and she gave me some amazing notes. I went through and made some changes–the original draft was over a hundred thousand words, without a final chapter–and then I printed the whole thing out and did the line edit I’ve been bitching about for so long. But in doing all of this, I figured out how to tell the story I wanted, how to get the message I want across, and now know what changes have to be made to the manuscript for this final draft. But when I was writing the first draft, I had a goal to meet every day: three thousand words every day. Sometimes I met it, sometimes I went over it, sometimes I didn’t come close. But writing the book was very organic; it literally came to  me as I wrote it. And this weekend I am going to spend some time reading this leaner draft and figuring out where to put the things I need to add to it, and then write the final chapter. The goal was to start submitting it to agents on October 1; I think I’m going to make it.

Incidentally, this current Scotty? I started outlining the next five chapters…but by the time I finished the second chapter of this outline I knew what Chapter Six needed, and so I started writing it.

Sigh. Does that make sense?

I also try to write something every day–my goal for every day is to write 2500 words minimum, on something. On good days I can get that done in two hours; on bad days it can take me, off and on, all day; on the worst days I don’t do anything. But it’s something I try to maintain; whether it’s the manuscript I am working on, or a short story in progress, an essay; I try to write something every day. I have about ten short stories in progress right now, and ideas for many many more. I don’t use the same process with short stories; they are much harder for me because often I know the set-up and have the idea for the beginning, and sometimes when I don’t know the ending it comes to me while I am writing it and I am able to finish a first draft. Other times I get stuck and it gets put aside for awhile. Sometimes I come back to them, sometimes I never do. Right now, I have the following short stories in progress: “The Gates of Guinee,” “Fireflies,” “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” “The Brady Kid,” “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “For All Tomorrow’s Lies,” “This Thing of Darkness,” “Circumstance,” “The Weight of a Feather,” “The Terrortorium,” “Quiet Desperation,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Passin’ Time,” “Closing Time,” “The White Knuckler,” “The Ditch,” and “The Weeping Nun.” I hope to finish them all someday; maybe some of them will never be finished. I also have several other book ideas I want to write at some point; one is a horror novel with no title, and I have some (what I think) are terrific ideas for some. I also have an idea for another Scotty book.

Damn, just thinking about all this made me really tired.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

21751584_10212982889823550_4735446225636510593_n