100 Happy Days: 73

This is going to be meta, I guess, but what made me happy today was getting up to date on several different projects of one type or another. They included updating my Tumblr account. I’d begun putting these #100happydays posts there with that hashtag, but I was, oh, about 43 behind. All caught up now!

This is always a touchy subject with me, because Aries are known as idea people and great starters but poor finishers. I’ve been disproving that theory for a couple of decades, but it’s still a criticism that stings because it contains a stupid grain of truth.

For example, tonight I talked to Marika on the phone and told her an idea I’ve been kicking around for a novel.

“WRITE IT!” she demanded.

“Oh…I had the idea…why don’t you write it?” I suggested.

Aries are also great delegators.

Marika declined.

100 Happy Days: 67

Today I was working on this for a different website. I don’t think about the books from 2001 to 2009 very often, but I realized as I was looking at the covers how many great memories I have–conversations that led to certain writing, collaborating with other writers, getting reactions from my first critical readers, going over galleys, holding each actual book for the first time, and just the sheer joy of creating.

Kind of makes me want to do it again.

Button Sunday

Is this good news? Who knows. I’ve had a novel (four, really, but I’m speaking only of this one) rumbling around in my brain for a long time. This morning I woke up and realized I could never get started because I killed the wrong person before the novel begins. Now that I’ve changed my mind about who’s dead, I suddenly have an entirely different novel–maybe one that I’ll actually write instead of just think about.

We’ll see.

Keeping up with the characters

Last week I went to Kimberly Frost’s signing for her new Tammy Jo Trask novel Slightly Spellbound at Murder By The Book. My exhaustion as the week ended manifested itself in my forgetting to take my camera. I never forget my camera! So all you get are these low quality cell phone photos. Kimberly looked amazing–I’m sure she’s found a way to tap into Tammy Jo’s magic and find the fountain of youth. And as always, her comments left me with writing-related things to ponder.

She’d worked on another series between the third and fourth books in the Southern Witch series, and the time gap meant that when she began writing Slightly Spellbound, she had to revisit the earlier novels to refresh her memory about some details. This was a relief to hear; I thought it was just me who forgot things about my novels. I’ll hear a name and wonder, Didn’t we write a character with that name? Was that a TJB book or a Coventry book? Or I’ll find myself suddenly remembering a conversation or situation from one of the novels and have trouble placing it.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Ricker Instagrammed a photo of his legs as he was taking a bath (see the stuff you’re missing if you don’t follow him on Instagram?) and I commented, “‘Nice gams,’ as a TJB character once said.” He was trying to remember what novel that was, and though I was pretty sure it was It Had to Be You, one thing I knew for certain was that Tim wrote it. Even if some of the characters or plots may not be immediately accessible to my brain, I’m confident that whatever passage you might point to from the five TJB novels or the two Cochrane/Lambert novels, I can instantly tell you its writer.

I haven’t reread any of the novels I’ve written/co-written in a long time, and it’s always a lovely surprise when someone reads them for the first time and gets in touch. I worry that email or comments will be consigned to spam folders and never be seen. In case that’s happened to you, then I’m offering a fervent thank you to anyone who ever wrote and didn’t get a response. It’s wonderful that these books still find and entertain new readers, and I–and my cowriters–appreciate every single one of you.

Lightning Strikes

I can’t think of any more appropriate time to feature a story about “retail hell” than the holiday season. I’ve worked it. Many of my friends still do. The frenzy transcends all borders and social stratifications. And to work retail caught between absurd customers and a bad boss? I’ve described that situation myself in a little novel called A Coventry Christmas. My writing partners took their opportunity to do the same in Someone Like You.

In the following excerpt from ‘Nathan Burgoine’s short story “Struck,” his character Chris, an assistant manager at a mall bookstore, has no idea that a stranger’s predictions and increasing hostility from a bad manager could possibly culminate in a whole new life for him–one that might even include romance.

“I’m going to fix your life!”

Chris balanced a dozen copies of the latest teen hardcover in his left arm. The customer who’d spoken had just walked by his boss Laurali, who was at the cash registers leafing through a magazine. Why customers avoided obviously free staff to ask questions of the employee with his hands full was one of the mysteries of working at Book It.

“Is that the title?” Chris asked.

“What?”

“I’m going to fix your life,” Chris repeated. The books were getting heavier by the moment. It was probably all the angst.

“No,” the customer said. “I am.”

“Pardon?” Chris tried not to stare at him.

The customer was trim, blond and had eyes an impossible shade of blue—Chris could see the contacts. He was tanned and sporting a skintight blue shirt the precise shade of his contacts, as well as a deep frown.

“Oh!” the customer said. “You think I’m looking for a book!” He laughed, as if he’d just gotten the joke.

This is a bookstore, Chris wanted to say. Instead, aware that Laurali was now looking at him—Chris could feel her “disappointed” stare burning a hole in the back of his head—he said, “How may I help you?”

“No, no,” the blond repeated, chuckling now. His teeth were so bleached they dazzled. “I’m here to help you, uh…” His eyes glanced down to Chris’s name tag. “Chris.”

Was he being scouted? For a brief instant, Chris allowed himself the fantasy. This blond was going to swoop in, hire him to be the manager at a beautiful gallery somewhere incredibly warm all year round—it would have to be, given the blond’s tan—and…and…uh. Maybe a beach?

Oh my god. I’ve lost the ability even to fantasize about a better life.

“Okay,” Chris said, coming back to reality. More likely the blond was about to offer him a personal connection to Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ would take the damned teen books out of his arms, Chris would consider it.

“I’m Lightning Todd.”

“Okay,” Chris said, wary. Maybe this was a joke? Lightning Todd? Oh god. He’s a stripogram. I’m going to get fired.

Lightning Todd frowned again. “Don’t you know who I am?”

“Lightning Todd?” Chris said gamely. The back of his head had to be smoking by now. He could hear Laurali sighing theatrically at the cash desk.

The blond nodded. “The one and only. So, here’s the thing. I’ve tuned in on you, which, as you know, is totally awesome.”

“Totally.” Chris shifted the books from his left arm to his right. Tolstoy didn’t weigh this much. Shouldn’t classics weigh more than teenaged hormones? “Listen, I’m really flattered, but I’m at work right now.” He offered his best smile.

“What?” Lightning Todd frowned again. It didn’t seem to take much to confuse him. “Oh!” His eyes widened. “Oh my god, no! I’m not hitting on you. You’re old!”

Chris’s teeth clenched. “I’m thirty-six.”

“Really?” Lightning Todd peered at him. “I wouldn’t have said more than thirty-two. Well done.”

“Thank you.” Chris felt his face reddening. “Listen, I need to get these dealt with.” He lifted the hardcovers slightly. “So if there’s nothing I can help you with…”

Lightning Todd shook his head. “You’re not open to it right now. But listen, after the coffee issue and the zipper thing, I’ll come back, and we’ll chat again, okay,” Lightning Todd paused and glanced again at Chris’s nametag, “Chris?”

“Sure.” The coffee issue and the zipper thing?

Lightning Todd nodded and walked past him. Chris could have sworn he heard the blond mutter “Thirty-six!” under his breath with something like disgust. When Chris got to the cash registers, Laurali was scowling at him.

“Friend of yours?” she asked. Chris reminded himself that she was only a temporary problem. Laurali was covering Tracey’s maternity leave. Tracey was the greatest boss Chris had ever had. Laurali, Chris was sure, had been sent by his own personal devil to make his life as miserable as possible. She had the worst sense of “business casual” Chris had ever encountered—today her blouse was leopard print—and she wore faux glasses that didn’t have a prescription because—her words—“people equate glasses with management.”

“No,” Chris said, putting down the books. His arms felt light and rubbery. “Customer.”

“He couldn’t have been a customer,” Laurali said. Her voice was singsong upbeat. That meant trouble.

“He wasn’t a friend,” Chris repeated. Laurali hated it when the staff had friends drop by. Unless they were hers.

“But if he was a customer, you didn’t convert him from a browser to a buyer.” Laurali looked over her glasses—and down her nose—at him. She held up a finger. “Remember the mantra: Conversion is King! You may be only an assistant manager, but if you don’t model the behavior, how will the rest of the staff buy into it?”

“We’re the only two people on shift.” And you’ve been reading that gossip magazine all morning.

Laurali shook her head. “This is the attitude problem I was talking about at our last rap session.”

“I need to put these on the display,” Chris responded before he said something else that he’d regret.

Or enjoy.

He grabbed the books and turned sharply, slamming into the customer who’d appeared with ninja stealth behind him. The coffee the woman was carrying went all down Chris’s front, covering his vest, shirt and half the hardcovers.

“I’m so sorry,” Laurali said. She sounded positively cheerful. “He’s such a klutz.”

You can read the rest of ‘Nathan’s short story “Struck” in Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, on sale January 14, 2014.

Excerpt reprinted with permission from Cleis Press. All rights reserved.