(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!

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Magic

Friday evening, with the weekend looming large and lonely, as Paul is gone and the Lost Apartment is really weirdly quiet without him. He’s not very big nor is he loud, but when he’s gone the apartment just seems enormous and empty.

Funny how that works.

But the Lost Apartment is an utter and complete mess, and I am going to try to focus and get a lot of cleaning done today. I am tired and drained from the work week–despite only working five hours yesterday and merely four today–and so I think mindless cleaning is in order to reset my mind and creativity. Tomorrow I need to run get the mail and return a library book–a short voyage that should over-all take less than an hour; I was thinking about getting the car washed tomorrow but it’s supposed to rain all day so there’s no point in bothering with that (and I am sure the rain means a return of the hideous cold weather; yay!) and so I am going to try to get some writing/editing done–even if said editing is simply rereading manuscripts and making notes.

I also think I need to rework the first five chapters of Bury Me in Satin. They are just so…bare, and I am thinking up new things as I write that need to be threaded back into the beginning. I love when the story starts to emerge from the fog, and I think, oh yes, this makes sense, but I need to go back and put this stuff into earlier chapters because I can’t just spring it on people.

So, the last load of bed linens now agitates in the washer, and the second-to-last is spinning in the dryer. I have another load of laundry to do–how I am creating so much laundry with Paul gone?–and I need to unload the dishwasher. Scooter also is feeling particularly lonely and needy this evening as well–he has been ever since Paul left. It’s really sweet–although I know I am a mere substitute–because he curls up inside my arm every night in bed, purring, and stays there most of the night. (He usually does this with Paul, but you know what? It’s still sweet. Scooter is an incredibly sweet cat.)

All right, I’m going to do the floors.

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Take My Breath Away

Well, this has been a lovely week so far. As already noted, I signed a contract to publish my short story collection (wheee!), and I feel like that time off was truly spent productively. This entire year, actually, has been a wonderful experience over all, to be honest. It’s so lovely to actually be enjoying the writing I am doing, to enjoy the process of creating, and to remember all the reasons why I started doing it in the first place.

I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t enjoy writing before the break, because it was the crushing deadline treadmill that was beating me up. I never had the time to actually think about what I was doing or take the time to enjoy the effort of creation; and I think that is something every writer really needs to do, otherwise what is the point? And if you don’t stop, take a look around, and enjoy what you’re doing, it’s very easy to fall prey to the negativity.

And there’s a lot of negativity out there for authors. And once you let something insidious get inside your head, it’s like an infection, spreading and eating away at your self-confidence. Small things that you’d ordinarily brush aside as nothing suddenly assume much more importance, and take up a lot more space in your head than they ever would under normal circumstances. I’m glad I took the time away last year, even if it ended up being a miserable, difficult time for me, because it allowed me to take the time to rest and get my shit together and remember that it’s about enjoying what I do. My work isn’t going to please everyone who reads it. It isn’t. No one’s work will ever do that. But it feels good to be working again.

I wrote another chapter of Scotty yesterday, just over three thousand words, and yes, it’s sloppy and yes, it’s going to need some work and yes, it’s not perfect. But I wrote three thousand words, and I am one chapter closer to being finished with the first draft. All kinds of things are going on with Scotty and the boys, and trying to keep everything juggled and everything in balance isn’t going to be easy; I’m not even sure I know how I am going to get to the very end of this crazy plot. But I’m one chapter closer now than I was yesterday, and if I can write another chapter tomorrow that’s another chapter closer to being finished. I don’t think it will be finished in time to turn in for July 1, but you never know; stranger things have certainly happened in my career, but I am hopeful at this point that it will be finished sometime in mid to late July, if not early August.

And that makes me one happy Gregalicious.

Progress is progress.

I even worked on the WIP. One more chapter to go, and then I can give this first four chapters a strong polish and see where we are at.

Huzzah!

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There’ll Be Sad Songs To Make You Cry

Another Monday morning here at my desk in the Lost Apartment. I submitted a short story to a market yesterday, and today I am submitting my short story collection.

PROGRESS.

Last night, as I watched Thirteen Reasons Why (only three episodes left; it definitely has picked up since those slow initial episodes), I thought about and made notes on not only the WIP but some other short stories I am working on. It would be lovely to make notes on the Scotty book, but you know what? I am trying not to force creativity–which is why I’ve no contracts and no deadlines–and making notes on what pops into my head at the time. The changes I’ve decided to make to the WIP aren’t as simple as one might think–a lesson I am definitely learning; no changes to a manuscript, no matter how small they may seem, are ever simple–but it’s going to make the book/manuscript much stronger, and that’s always a good thing. I am also trying to strip the book of as much cliche as I can; which is not that easy when you’re writing about a high school. As I said before, the second chapter needs some serious restructuring as well as revision, but I am feeling a lot more confident about that now.

The Scotty book? Yes, I need to get back to that and the sooner the better. I have already decided that in order to move forward, I need to go back and revise the last chapter I wrote, which not only isn’t any good but is fucking terrible, even more terrible than my usual first draft of a chapter. It totally derails, and characters behave in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t; plus having them behave that way was completely lazy on my part because I didn’t want to deal with it. Which is beyond lazy on my part; it’s borderline shameful laziness. But at least I know it already–I knew it when I was writing it, and it shouldn’t be hard to go back and fix before I move forward onto Chapter 15. I still want to get this done before July 1; I think I can manage it.

I am also trying to take a long weekend this weekend; a couple of vacation days in addition to the Memorial Day holiday, with big plans to get a lot accomplished. I always have big plans, but even if I only manage some of it, that will be a huge step in the right direction. And huzzah for huge steps in the right direction!

I also took notes on some short stories that are in process, and I think one of them is particularly going to turn out to be really amazing.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.


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Glory of Love

Saturday morning and it’s chilly in the Lost Apartment; the sun is out and there’s condensation on the windows. Scooter is perched next to my keyboard, staring out the window, watching Kitty TV; I’m not sure what’s on, but he’s fascinated. It rained brutally yesterday with flash floods and so forth throughout the city. It had been a few weeks since it had rained, but there it was; a long overdue downpour. I managed to get home before it got too terribly bad, and spent the evening organizing and cleaning out files, rather than actually writing. I just didn’t feel like I was in a writing place, and so I decided to go with that but demanded of myself to complete this tedious chore that I hate doing so much.

Essentially, it meant cleaning out old files that no longer need accessibility–old book contracts, royalty statements, and even file folders of old short stories now published, etc.–out of the file cabinet and boxing them up to put in storage. This, naturally, has freed up space in the file cabinet for files to be moved into from the ACTIVE files. (Yes, I am aware how insane this all sounds; but I have two small file holders on the small bookcase next to  my desk, where I file new ideas, articles that might lead somewhere, and new stories that I have started or are not immediately working on; on my desk itself I have a metal file rack that contains the folders of what I am immediately working on. I know, I know, but it makes sense to me, and it works for me.) I also gathered all my non-fiction research on being queer in America, as well as my journal (materials for my memoirs, should I ever write them, or at least personal essays about being gay)  to collect in one place: a lovely box that is currently sitting on my kitchen counter, preparatory to going into the storage space. While doing all of this I ran across several of my old journals.

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These are some of my journals–I suspect some of them have been lost to time, through moves and so forth–but the oldest is from 1994; the most recent of these is from 2003. I started my blog in late 2004, and I suspect that’s approximately also when I stopped writing in these. It was an interesting experience, idly paging through these before placing them in the box; some of the earlier ones are from, of course, when I worked at the airport. That’s when I started carrying one with me at all times; I always had a pen, my journal, and whatever book I was reading at the time with me when I was at the airport, on an airplane traveling, etc. The ones from my time at the airport are all written in green ink; because we used green pens at the airport for everything. I wrote on my breaks, I wrote when I was in between flights at the gates, I wrote while I was waiting to board an airplane, I wrote while on airplanes. Later, I wrote between clients at the gym, or while waiting for it to be time for an aerobics class I was teaching; I wrote in coffee shops. There are scenes in these journals, that eventually made it into Murder in the Rue Dauphine or Bourbon Street Blues; there are the openings of short stories I’ve written, scrawled in long hand on these pages. I’ve even found things like when I first had the idea for the book that became Dark Tide many years later; places where I worked on developing characters or plots of themes for the book or story I was currently trying to work on and/or finish; there are also personal moments, moments of frustration or joy or happiness, all recorded in my neat, broadly looping handwriting. Starting to keep another one of these this year has been enormously helpful for me in many ways; it was lovely to reconnect with the bound journal format. (I actually need to buy a new one; I am hoping they have some at Tubby and Coo’s, where I am going this afternoon for Bryan Camp’s book-signing for his brilliant debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes)

This morning I need to finish packing up these boxes, and perhaps work on getting some of the other files moved; it is literally astonishing how much paper I have. One entire file cabinet drawer is filled with short stories and novels-in-progress that I stopped working on at some point, folders with ideas jotted down, characters and names and ideas for stories and books. All this effort, besides keeping me from actually writing anything, is an attempt to declutter my workspace as well as to make it more organized; I had an idea for a story for an anthology call I saw recently, and I knew I’d written a draft of an appropriate story (possibly) years ago–which meant it was probably in the file cabinet and I should probably drag it out to see if there was anything written in it that was usable. The need for this file made me see how desperately flawed and out of control my filing system had actually been allowed to become so as it thundered and lightning lit up the sky and the yard filled with rushing water I started working grimly on fixing this mess.

I did find the file, by the way.

I need to go to the grocery store at some point this morning as well; I could wait to do it tomorrow,  but between the cleaning and the filing and the going to the book signing I don’t see any window for actually writing, so rather than putting it off till the morrow I should probably do it today, since today is going to be shot on that score. Or maybe it won’t be; I may be able to get some things done today on the writing. My writing/editing goal for the weekend is to read “Burning Crosses” aloud and be finished with it; to finish revising Chapter Two of the WIP, and possibly read all fourteen chapters of the Scotty book and see where things sit with it, preparatory to getting back to work on it as well.

I also want to dive into Alex Segura’s Blackout, which is getting rave reviews everywhere.

We started watching the second season of Thirteen Reasons Why last night, and I have to say, I am not overly impressed with it. The first two episodes were terribly uneven–the third began to pick up steam again–but the device of having Hannah appearing as a sort of ghost to Clay isn’t working for me and is something that I hope is used either sparingly as the show moves on, or is eradicated completely. We don’t need Hannah appearing as Clay’s conscience, nor do we need her at all. It derails the show, frankly; them having conversations is, to quote youth culture of some time ago, kinda whack.

So far, we’re disappointed with it. but not so much so that we will stop watching.

That, however, could change.

And now, back to the spice mines.

The Boys of Summer

I finished watching Netflix’ amazing series Seven Seconds last night, and it is some of the best, smartest television I’ve ever seen; it takes on so many issues, and handles them so incredibly brilliantly. The acting and writing is razor sharp; the show is moving and heartbreaking and so incredibly complicated. What is has to say about race and justice and family is just…I will be processing this show for several days. It reminded me very much of American Crime in how it realistically and powerfully presented every side of an issue, and how flawed everyone is, and how it makes you question your own assumptions and thought processes and basically, everything you think and believe. American Crime was an exceptional show; I honestly believe that it was low-rated because it was too complex and real for viewers to handle. Seven Seconds is at that same level of expertise and complexity; it also makes me question what I do within my own work; the layers I don’t peel away, and how my own work might be too simple.

Jean Redmann always says–and I shamelessly steal this at every opportunity–that we become crime writers because we have a desire to find justice in a world where justice isn’t always served, and this, as members of a marginalized community who rarely find justice, makes us want to write stories in which victims find justice–we want to create art in which justice is always served and is an absolute and is available for everyone, accessible, even as we know that it is, in fact, not. I know that I was enormously disappointed by the end of season 2 of American Crime; but it was much more realistic with its ending than it would have been had it been emotionally satisfying. We want to see the bad guys get punished, we want the circle that opened with the commission of the crime to close, be wrapped up and packaged with a neat little bow; we want order to be restored.

But we live in a world, and a society, in which order is an illusion; we pretend, just like we like to pretend we have control over our lives. There’s a wonderful quote which I can’t recall exactly, but it goes something like man  plans and the gods laugh. I know, after the Time of Troubles, I focused on working out and my body; because that was something I had control over. Even now, as I write and plan what I want to do with my career as a writer, I ignore the obvious: I can’t control whether an editor wants to publish my story or whether an agent believes they can sell my manuscript; I can’t control whether someone will buy my books and like them. But thinking about those things is part of what destroyed my will last year; I have to not worry about that, not worry about whether people will get what I am doing or whether I am going to get one-star reviews or whether enough copies of the books will sell so my publisher will continue to invest in my career. I can only do the best that I can and focus on the work itself and push all of that other stuff to the back of my mind. Just like I can’t control whether I am going to be killed in a car accident on the way to the grocery store or any myriad number of other things.

All I can do is make plans and try to control what variables I can. I can drive carefully and pay attention to what I am doing and remain alert to the other drivers and try to anticipate what they are going to do and be prepared for eventualities that I can foresee, while recognizing I cannot foresee everything.

As you can tell, Seven Seconds is a powerful viewing experience.

And Regina King is a goddess.

I think the reason the two stories I am currently failing at telling–“Once a Tiger” and “Don’t Look Down”–are failing because I don’t know the story I am trying to tell nor the characters I am writing about. In both cases, I worry that there’s no market for them; why write them if they have no future? But that’s again out of my control; that’s the kind of second-guessing that is fatal for an author. There are things that are within my control, after all, and my entire career has been guided by choices that I’ve made; I chose to write about gay characters, knowing that made break-out success next to impossible. I don’t regret those choices in any way; there’s no guarantee that writing something more mainstream would have brought greater success. And despite my tendency to overthink and self-deprecate, I am proud of all of my books. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Some are better than others; some have flaws that I wish I hadn’t missed in the process of writing them. It’s difficult to evaluate one’s own work, no matter how clear-eyed one can be; I tend to always be my own worst critic. And as I get older and my memory begins to fail me more, I don’t remember what I meant to do, what was my goal when I was writing some books–hell, many of them. It never occurred to me, as I was writing the Scotty books, that I was writing a series with what is now called a throuple at the heart of it; that Scotty’s personal story was how a non-monogamous, promiscuous gay man came to be in  a relationship with two men, and how that has changed his life. Now, as I write the eighth in the series, they have gotten older and wiser and even have a young “son”–and not in the sexual way; they all look on Taylor, Frank’s nephew, as their child; kind of like My Three Dads–and I don’t even think about how unusual that is to write about. The series has become about aging as a gay man; moving from being that hot guy everyone wants to have sex with to an older guy not quite as motivated to slut around anymore but to help and mentor a younger gay guy, to make his life and his journey easier. I have to push my worries about these changes in Scotty aside and remember it is the character that people relate to, not him being young and hot and beautiful and going out dancing or doing drugs or picking up strangers; but the fact that he is so unapologetically himself.

And that’s what I’ve forgotten over the last few Scotty books; maybe it’s there, but that sense of who Scotty is as a person is something I feel like I’ve forgotten over time; maybe it’s in my subconscious, but I have to remember that: I need to remember the core of who Scotty is.

Anyway, I should probably get back to the spice mines. I am thinking a lot today, obviously.

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Shout

It doesn’t seem like Thursday; this short post-Mardi Gras week has messed up my inner clock and pretty much everything else you can think of; Carnival messed up my sleep and workout schedules as well. I was going to go to the gym this morning, but I am worn out still and have little to no energy; so I am going to wait and get back on track this weekend.

I did manage to start writing a short story yesterday (2800 words of it) and finish a chapter of the new Scotty (1800 words) for a grand total of 4600 words written yesterday, which is pretty freaking awesome, and I am going to count that as a major win. The writing muscles were, frankly, rusty, but I’m hoping I was able to shake the rust out some. I’d say I managed to do just that; it was difficult at first, but then the words started coming so I took it and ran with it.

I was also commenting yesterday to a friend and fellow writer yesterday about how crazy this business is; we are so constantly beaten down by not only the industry but by readers and reviewers that even little things like an email I found yesterday–I am still digging out from under–rejecting a story I’d submitted but read You’re too good of a writer to get a standard form rejection letter; this story was too slow for us, but please send more of your work–can make your day.  Heavy sigh.

I also saw a lot of chatter on social media–before the mass shooting–about charity anthologies and writers needing to be paid for their work. I have some thoughts about that as well, but I’ve not had enough coffee yet this morning to coherently put them together; although I found it interesting that one of the people talking about not writing for free and needing to be paid said I hate writing, so…

Wow. That one caught me off guard. Maybe he/she was simply being flippant in the moment, but no matter how hard it is sometimes, how stressful, and how much I loathe doing it, I never really hate writing, and would never say that I do. I love writing. I have a love/hate relationship with the publishing industry, but the writing itself? I love doing it. I enjoy it. It gives me pleasure. I wouldn’t do it if I hated it because I don’t have to do it. I miss it when I’m not doing it; and not writing definitely affects my moods; not for the better. To each their own, I suppose.

Over the weekend, between parades, I read a shit ton of short stories for The Short Story Project. It really is amazing how many anthologies and single-author collections I have here on hand.

For example, I have Flannery O’Connor’s National Book Award winner The Complete Stories. I read the first story in the book, “The Geranium,” Monday afternoon, I think it was.

Old Dudley folded into the chair he was gradually molding to his own shape and looked out the window fifteen feet away into another window framed by blackened red brick. He was waiting for the geranium. They put it out every morning about ten and they took it in at five-thirty. Mrs. Carson back home had a geranium in her window. There were plenty of geraniums at home, better-looking geraniums. Ours are sho-nuff geraniums, Old Dudley thought, not any er this pale pink business with green, paper bows. The geranium they would put in the window reminded him of the Grisby boy at home who had polio and had to be wheeled out every morning and left in the sun to blink. Lutisha could have taken that geranium and stuck it in the ground and had something worth looking at in a few weeks. Those people across the alley had no business with one. They set it out and let the hot sun bake it all day and they put it so near the ledge the wind could almost knock it over. They had no business with it, no business with it. It shouldn’t have been there. Old Dudley felt his throat knotting up. Lutish could root anything. Rabie too. His throat was drawn taut. He laid his head back and tried to clear his mind. There wasn’t much he could think of to think about that didn’t do his throat that way.

Many authors whom I respect often speak reverently of Flannery O’Connor. Many years ago, I read A Good Man Is Hard to Find and wasn’t overly impressed with it, to be honest. I bought this collection after reading a list of great Southern Gothic classics. I honestly think back when I first tried to O’Connor I was not in the kind of place where I could appreciate her work–similar to reading Carson McCullers and not getting the big deal and recently reading Reflections in a Golden Eye and getting it–because “The Geranium” is a really great story; and a very Southern one, at that, about family responsibility. The story is basically about old Dudley, whose family has now judged him too old to live by himself or to take care of himself, even in a boarding house, so he has to move in with one of his children. The daughter who takes him in lives in New York, and she doesn’t take him in out of love and wanting to help out; it’s done out of responsibility and a desire to show her siblings that she’s a better daughter than they are. That responsibility clearly chafes at her (Southern child martyr syndrome; I’ve seen it in my own family), and he is very unhappy to be there as well. He focuses on two things–the geranium across the alley in the window, and the fact that a man of color has moved into the apartment next door. The daughter and her family think nothing of it; he, as a Southern man, is horrified by it (he doesn’t say ‘man of color,’ either, FYI) and the two obsessions juxtapose against each other. It’s more an in-depth character study than anything else; one that you can’t stop thinking about after it’s over, and it’s kind of awful and true and sad all at the same time.

I definitely wasn’t in a place to appreciate O’Connor when I tried before.

I then went back to Alive in Shape and Color, Lawrence Block’s second anthology of stories inspired by paintings, and read Michael Connelly’s “The Third Panel.”

Detective Nicholas Zelinsky was with the first body when the captain called for him to come outside the house. He stepped out and pulled the breathing mask down under his chin. Captain Dale Henry was under the canopy tent, trying to protect himself from the desert sun.  He gestured toward the horizon, and Zelinsky saw the black helicopter coming in low under the sun and over the open scrubland. It banked and he could see FBI in white letters on the side door. The craft circled the house as if looking for a place to land in tight circumstances. But the house stood alone in a grid-work of dirt streets where the planned housing development was never built after the big bust a decade earlier. They were in the middle of nowhere seven miles out of Lancaster, which in turn was seventy miles out of LA.

“I thought you said they were driving out,” Zelinsky called above the sound of the chopper.

Michael Connelly is one of the most successful and prolific crime writers of our time. I read his first Bosch novel several years ago and absolutely loved it; but as much as I loved it the thought of even trying to get caught up on his canon is overwhelming–so many books! It would almost be like a year-long project, a la the Short Story Project, to read the entire Connelly oeuvre. But this story–which is quite short, actually–is taut and suspenseful and well-written; a team of detectives and crime scene techs are investigating a meth-lab murder when the FBI agents show up, with a rolled up copy of a Heironymous Bosch painting, and reveals that there’s a group going around killing ‘sinners’ in ways based from images from the painting. Very clever, and the twist at the end is also really well done.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, actor and physique model Gordon Scott:

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Human Nature

I slept well again last night–which keeps the streak of good sleep alive at five nights and counting. I don’t have to work today, which is lovely; I am hopefully having lunch with a friend and running a couple of errands before coming home to clean, edit, revise, and hopefully do some writing.

The Lost Apartment is also a mess, so part of my day will be taken up with cleaning. It really is tragic how messy this apartment can become over the course of a week, and I haven’t done the floors in forever. The windows are also pretty nasty; this lovely cool weather we are enjoying will be most helpful in that regard, since I know I won’t be drenched in sweat the moment I go outside. I need to make a grocery list, and I also want to read some more of Anna Dressed in Blood, which started kind of slow but is starting to pick up a little. I also want to start rereading The Haunting of Hill House this weekend, which means I need to finish reading Anna.

I got caught up on Riverdale last night, and I have to say the first two episodes of this season are pretty damned dark. There were three murders in the second episode of this season (SPOILER), and now that they’ve recast Reggie, he’s front and center–and a drug dealer. Wow, didn’t see that coming. The young cast continues to get better, and are incredibly appealing, and apparently the ratings are really up, which is terrific. Now we need to get caught up on The Exorcist, and maybe give the reboot of Dynasty a whirl. I’m not sure how I feel about Dynasty being rebooted; I guess they decided, since the Dallas sequel never really caught fire, to just start over with the tale of the Carringtons and the Colbys, which I guess I can understand…but I also don’t want them to follow the original storylines, either. From everything I’ve read so far, they aren’t doing that…and it looks like Steven’s homosexuality isn’t going to be so “is-he-or-isn’t-he” as it was back in the 80’s, when it was hugely controversial (and the show completely ignored HIV/AIDS) to have a gay character in the first place.

A story I’d sent out for submission was rejected yesterday, which I was expecting. My short story game isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, and while I love this story, it doesn’t really fit in well with the theme of crime, you know? I also wasn’t pleased with how it ended, which means that the ending wasn’t set up properly, so I am going to let it sit for a while before rereading it and figuring out how to tweak that ending to make it work properly. It clearly didn’t work the way it’s currently written. But it’s a story I want to tell…and even last night, as I mourned in the usual way I do when rejected (even when I’m pretty sure the submission will be rejected) it did occur to me that I might know a way to make it better already. So I need to make that note and shove it into the folder.

Onward and upward, as they say.

And here’s a hunk to slide you into the weekend:

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Born This Way

Monday and we survived Weekend One of Carnival Parades. *whew*. I am exhausted, though, which is never a good thing for a Monday morning of a new work week. Heavy heaving sigh.

Now I know what ‘bone tired’ means. And speaking of ‘bone tired’….

As Constant Reader knows, I taught a session on writing LGBTQ characters at the SinC into Great Writing workshop at Bouchercon this past September in New Orleans. It was an amazing experience, and it was enormously flattering to be asked to do so in the first place. I was also asked to write something for the Sisters newsletter, pretty much given carte blanche to write whatever I wanted to, and since I had an essay about being a gay writer on the backburner (I’ve been toying with it for almost a year) which I was calling “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” I said sure. As I was wrapping up deadlines and looking ahead to the glory days of NOT HAVING ANY DEADLINES, I started writing the essay again, whittling away things from the original unfinished draft that no longer fit my thesis and…I got about halfway through and stopped.

The reason why I stopped? Because it is next to impossible to write about the challenges of being a gay crime writer writing about gay characters without sounding like the biggest whiner in the world, and I don’t want to be that guy.

Then, a question posted on a list-serve I belong to for crime writers triggered some answers that were so horrific, so thoughtless, and so ignorant that I suddenly knew how to write the essay–or at least how to address it with a starting place.

One of the current ‘boiling points’, if you will, in our current society is the question of ‘cultural appropriation’ as well as ‘cultural insensitivity’, and how these questions apply in a broader sense with the American guarantee of First Amendment rights under the Constitution (without getting into the reality–which most people either don’t understand, or chose to ignore– that ‘freedom of speech’ is actually only guaranteed as a protection from persecution and prosecution from the state; not from other people, and certainly not from consequences. The example I always use is, “Well, when I worked at the ticket counter I couldn’t tell a passenger to go fuck himself, could I, without getting fired?”) Recently–I don’t remember where I saw this, but it was on Facebook; I don’t know if it was from an industry publication or a newspaper or something–I read a piece about the major publishers hiring what were called ‘sensitivity readers’ to read manuscripts dealing with characters who were out of the author’s experience to make sure the characters weren’t offensive. I am of two minds about this, and I can certainly understand why people would find this alarming/concerning; how much control/power would these ‘sensitivity readers’ have over the author’s work? Not to mention the fact that no one can speak for an entire community; what one gay man finds offensive the next three you ask may not.

So, yes, I do have a bit of a problem with the concept of sensitivity readers. However, if I were writing a character from a culture not my own; say, a New Orleanian of Vietnamese descent, wouldn’t I want to talk to a New Orleanian or two of Vietnamese descent? Wouldn’t I want my character to be as authentic and realistic as I can possibly make him or her? I’ve talked to cops, private eyes, and FBI agents to make my characters are grounded in reality as I can. So, why wouldn’t a heterosexual writer creating a gay character want to get some insight from a gay person? And so on, and so on, and so on. I don’t see a problem here, but again, that is the work that should be done before the manuscript is turned into the editor and publisher, and I’m not sure how comfortable I would be with that for myself.

Of course, there are those who, because of this, have pulled out the ‘censorship’ battleflag, thoroughly missing the point. The First Amendment does not guarantee anyone a publishing contract, nor does it guarantee a platform; if it does I’d like to be booked on both The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert when my next book comes out, thank you very much. Oh, wait, it doesn’t mean that, after all?

Blimey.

Which is my roundabout way of getting to the latest provocateur, Milo. People were rightly outraged when the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster gave him a book deal; people were rightly outraged when he started getting invitations to speak at colleges and universities; people were outraged when he got invited to go on Real Time with Bill Maher (whom I also have problems with, but we’re talking about Milo now). As loathsome as the things he says are, I will defend his right to say them against any attempt by the state to silence him. Simon & Schuster is a business; they have a right to give a book deal to anyone they think will make them money (although I seriously doubt this book will make them any money; I see it going onto the remainder table pretty damned quickly, and not even being released in paperback; unless, of course, conservative clubs and organizations buy it in bulk at a deep discount as giveaways for fundraising drives and so forth–which is often how people like Ann Coulter wind up on the bestseller lists), and likewise, college/university groups have a right to invite anyone they want to come speak to them…but rescinding those invitations (and promise of payments and expenses) when said invitations blow up in their faces is not censorship as defined by the law and the Constitution. The same law that gives Milo the right to say what he does also applies to those who oppose the things he says.

That’s um, kind of how our country works.

Being utterly uninterested in anything he has to say (I’ve never enjoyed listening to transphobia or racism), I didn’t watch Real Time with Bill Maher, only watching the clips of Larry Wilmore telling him to go fuck himself, which I will also admit to enjoying immensely. (Of course, now that clips of him talking approvingly of sex between children and adults have turned up–and really, who didn’t think something like this was going to come up; it was just a matter of time–he won’t be getting invited to speak anywhere anymore, and I suspect S&S will be cancelling their book contract.) But Milo–like Ann Coulter before him–fascinates me. (And for the record, I use ‘fascinate’ with the old meaning of like how a snake fascinates its prey; I do think he is kind of dangerous, and snake-like.) I always wonder how people like him come to be. I wrote eighty pages of a Paige novel in which the victim was a Coulter-like character, attempting to peel back the layers and see what could create someone like her/him (that manuscript is in a drawer, as no one had the slightest interest in publishing it). Coulter apparently sees herself as a comedian/performance artist; I sadly know people who know her, and they state she doesn’t really believe what she says but it makes her money; I suspect Milo is kind of similar to her in that regard, yet at the same time…

Take, for example, his appearance on Bill Maher. Milo is precisely the kind of gay stereotype that triggers homophobic reactions from the right, and even from some gay men: he isn’t particularly masculine, and wore enormous faux pearls around his neck on the show, which he played with as he spoke (damn it, I am going to have to watch); he is an effeminate gay man (think a conservative Jack from Will & Grace, or Emmett from Queer as Folk: the kind of gay man that ‘straight-acting’ gay men loathe and despise). The loathing of homophobes for effeminate gay men (and, let’s be honest, a number of GAY MEN as well) has everything to do with the culture of masculinity and the fear of ‘not being a man’; which, really, is where homophobia and sexism and transphobia comes from.

I just saw on Twitter that Milo may lose his job at Breitbart over the pedophilia comments; I am not holding my breath, nor will I hold my breath about losing the contract with S&S. He has, always, positioned himself as a spokesperson for the First Amendment; all of this should give him more material to work with, and of course, I am sure it’s the fault of the ‘politically correct’ who ‘want to silence him.’

So, I doubt he will go gently into that good night, and he will undoubtedly continue to fascinate me the way cobras fascinate their prey before they kill and eat them.

I always am curious at to what made these types of people what they are.

Careless Whisper

So, I’ve decided to give Short Story Month another go. The idea is to read a short story every day, and then write a blog entry about it; or at least include a discussion of said story in that day’s blog entry. I really do love short stories, and I am not completely certain why I have so many mental blocks, both about writing and reading them. Go figure. I think the thing about reading of them comes from having edited so many anthologies; although having edited over two hundred (at least) novels hasn’t affected my ability to read them. Hmmm, interesting.

Today is the final day of my three day weekend, and I have a lot to get done today–and this week. Saturday I am on a panel at Comic Con here in New Orleans, which is exciting; and our friend Michael is having a gallery show opening later that evening. So, my Saturday is pretty much spoken for this week, but due to long days at the office the next two days I only have to work a half-day this Thursday so I can do all the errands–grocery, etc–that day before going into the office.

Last night I started reading George Pelecanos’ The Way Home and really got into it more; he’s quite a good writer, and I am curious to see how the rest of the book plays out. We also finally got the Showtime app on our Apple TV to work again (I had to delete and download it again) so we could get going on Ray Donovan again, which is also an interesting show. I am quite enjoying it but am not hooked, if that makes any sense? Paul is going into the office today, and I have to go to the grocery store–direct result of sleeping in Saturday morning, damn it; obviously I would have rather slept in this morning–but at least it looks like the incessant rain has finally let up.

The first short story of this month is an Edgar Award winner from 2013; Karin Slaughter’s “The Unremarkable Heart,” which I have revisited for this occasion. It was originally published in MWA’s anthology Vengeance (I wrote a story for this, but I don’t remember which one; obviously I have not checked off ‘getting a story into an MWA anthology’ off my bucket list–I failed again this year but didn’t think it was going to get accepted this time around, didn’t have much hope as it felt rather forced), and went on to win the Edgar. I was at the ceremony, and obtained a copy of Vengeance specifically so I could rest this story. I did read the entire book on my flight home–airport and so forth–but Karin’s story was quite remarkable; it reminded me very much of Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier: it was that good.

June Connor knew that she was going to die today.

The thought seemed like the sort of pathetic declaration that a ninth-grader would use to begin a short-story assignment–one that would have immediately elicited a groan and a failing grade from June–but it was true. Today was the die she was going to die.

The doctors, who had been so wrong about so many things, were right about this at least: She would know when it was time. This morning when June woke, she was conscious not just of the pain, the smell of her spent body, the odor of sweat and various fluids that had saturated the bed during the night, but of the fact that it was time to go. The knowledge came to her as an accepted truth. The sun would rise. The Earth would turn. She would die today.

June had at first been startled by the revelation, then had lain in the bed considering the implications. No more pain. No more sickness. No more headaches, seizures, fatigue, confusion, anger.

No more Richard.

That opening is like a punch in the mouth. Grim and unrelenting, Slaughter sets up her unsuspecting reader like a master: here we have a woman who, at long last, after a debilitating illness, is finally going to die and she knows it. As she reflects, in her deathbed, about finally being finished with the messy business of dying, she adds one more thing that she is finished with: Richard.

As the story unfolds–I won’t spoil it, the unfolding is part of the mastery of the story-telling–the sense of horror continues to grow as June reflects back on the horror of her own life, the tragedies she has seen and lived through, how she somehow managed to survive things that would break lesser people. It continues to insidiously unfold, as Slaughter keeps playing out her cards carefully, taking each trick from her mark like a punch to the solar-plexus, each new revelation an even bigger, more horrific shock than the last…until she gets to the very end, and the reader faces the biggest horror of them all. I remember reading this story on the plane and when I reached the final sentence of the story, I gasped and dropped the book.

I’ve not read anything else by Karin Slaughter; I know she is enormously popular and successful, and I have copies of several of her books which are in the TBR pile. But I am a fan, simply based on the brilliance and utter horror of this short story. The Edgar was well deserved; this story has resonated with me in the years since I read it and I’ve never once forgotten how horrific and smart and well-written it is.

If you’re a fan of short stories, you really need to read this one.

And now, back to the spice mines, and here is your Monday morning hunk: