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I know a ridiculous amount of ridiculously talented people.

On the one hand, it's incredibly lovely to know people whose work is so spectacular that you wish you'd written it. On the other hand, it's a bit daunting. When your friends write such amazing books, you kind of hope they don't read yours.

Take Alex Marwood, for example. Her stunning debut novel, The Wicked Girls, was astonishing and won an Edgar Award. She followed that up with the equally amazing, and completely different, The Killer Next Door, and won the Macavity Award. How do you follow up two remarkably amazing novels? I would probably never write another book and simply rest on my laurels, dining out on my fabulous first two award winning books.

If you're Alex Marwood, you somehow find another gear and kick it up yet another notch.

the darkest secret american cover

2004/Sunday/4:45 a.m./Seam

He waits while she pulls up her dress, then helps with the zip. In the grey dawn light she looks washed out, her blonde hair brassy rather than rich, her forehead shiny from too many preservative treatments. But still: better than the woman almost ten years her junior who's stormed off across the lawns ahead of them. Sean suddenly feels every decade of his five decades. I'm going to have the hangover from hell in a few hours, he thinks. And I bet Claire won't give me a hall pass just because it's my birthday.

"Shit," says Linda. "Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit."

Absently, he reaches out and kneads the muscles at the back of her neck. They're tense, like granite. He's sure they weren't like that when he had his hands there ten minutes ago. Claire spoils everything.

"It'll be okay," he says.

She rounds on him, her eyes narrowed, but still not a line to be seen on the shiny, shiny skin above. "How will it be okay, Sean? Go on. Tell me. What, you think she's going to keep this to herself? Think she's going to just meekly ignore this? She'll be on to her lawyers before they've even opened. You'd better check out your pre-nup, because you're going to need to be water-tight."

So begins the narrative of The Darkest Secret, following an email regarding the disappearance of three year old Coco Jackson from a posh seaside resort home, and several witness statements. The story of what happened to Coco flashes back and forth in time, between the weekend when Coco disappeared and the present, where the shocking sudden death of Coco's father--found handcuffed to a bedpost in a hotel room--has brought the case back to the attention of the media--and also the occasion of his funeral brings all the people who were there the weekend she disappeared back together again, years later, and old secrets and lies are dredged up again.

Coco's father, the wretched and vile narcissistic developer Sean Jackson, is as incapable of caring for and about his children as he is about being faithful to his wives. One of his daughters from his first marriage, Mila, is a point of view character in the present day; her reactions to long buried emotions and feelings for her now-dead father are even more complicated by her decision to take her half-sister Ruby, Coco's surviving twin, to the funeral weekend with her--where both she and Ruby will have to confront their father's widow--slightly older than Ruby but younger than Mila, as well as having to deal with Ruby's mother Claire--whose life was shattered by the guilt and blame for what happened to Coco as well as the end of her own marriage over the course of the weekend.

The book is an absolute tour-de-force, filled with shocks and surprises, as the timeline goes back and forth in time, as we learn what really happened that weekend as well as what is going on in the present, where Mila comes to terms with her own feelings, and how the events of her father's birthday weekend--and her half-sister's disappearance--have affected her own life and the decisions she has made.

This is a tour-de-force, and a master class in how to write a suspenseful thriller.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.
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Romance is one of the, if not the most, maligned genres in publishing. I honestly believe this is because it is seen as a genre primarily for women; books for women about women by women--kind of like how the cozy subgenre of crime fiction is so maligned. Romantic suspense is also maligned (hey--combine mystery AND romance); no one remembers or talks much about Phyllis A. Whitney or Victoria Holt anymore; Mary Stewart is remembered, but I don't really think she wrote romantic suspense, despite being lumped into that category with the other women. Maybe some of her books could be considered that, but some of them (Airs Above the Ground, for one example) could not, but she was a woman writing about female characters, there was some mystery imvolved, and there was usually a romantic relationship with a man, so there you have it.

Anyway, I digress.

Romance, despite being so easy to dismiss, is not easy to write. There's this odd sense of pretentiousness involved in writing, in which 'literary fiction' is the type of writing that all writers must aspire to, and that readers are required to read--and if they don't read it, they are sniffed at and dismissed. This hierarchy of literature is something that all genre writers and readers loathe; we all get a bit defensive, as though literary fiction is the only worthy fiction; and yet...I remember all these praise-worthy writers when I was a kid that no one even talks about today, and whom I seriously doubt are studied and read in Lit classes today. Contemporary criticism is often wrong; a critic is, after all, merely a reader with an opinion. Many of the nineteenth century writers we read and study today, after all, were not considered great during their own lifetimes; Charles Dickens was a popular fiction writer, to provide but one example. In the hierarchy of literature, romance is considered the lowest form of writing/reading. And yet...it's not that easy to write, you know? If I had a dollar for every time I heard some pretentious writer say something along the lines of "oh, I should just write a trashy romance and make some money"--now, whenever they do, I always reply, "You really should." There's this sense that a literary writer deigning to write in a genre is somehow lowering themselves for filthy lucre; and many of those literary writers are the first to dismiss their genre work--Isabel Allende recently wrote a crime thriller (which wasn't original, was highly derivative, and quite frankly, not very good) which she publicly laughed about, calling it "a joke."

If you don't respect a form of literature, you shouldn't try writing it.

There are many different types of romance novels, just as there are mystery/crime novels. And yes, there is a formula of sorts to a romance novel. The challenge of the writer is to create characters and setting and story within the constraints of that formula to create a book that will enthrall readers, make them care, make them turn the page, make them sorry when it ends. You think that's easy? Try it sometime.

I had nothing but the utmost admiration for romance writers.

I've tried writing it a couple of times, but given my dark tendency in fiction...my romance stories don't turn out quite the way I'd hoped. I did write a story for the anthology Fool for Love, edited by R. D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert, called "Everyone Says I'll Forget In Time":

The bed still seems empty every morning when I wake up.

It’s been almost two years since he died. We were together for almost fifteen years, and the disease took us by surprise. Then again, you never see things like that coming. I suppose on some level we knew we weren’t immortal, but it was something we never talked about, never planned for. Sure, we had powers of attorney paperwork and wills and all of that in place, but we never thought we would ever need them. We loved each other and had a wonderful life, and thought it would go on forever. But cancer doesn’t care about love when it starts rotting you from the inside out.

When it finally took him, my life didn’t end. I didn’t go into the grave with him, no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how much I just wanted to curl up and cry. I still had my horror novels for teenagers with deadlines looming, a cat to take care of, bills to pay, a life to somehow keep living. The world didn’t stop turning, even though I thought it should.

I had to get used to all the changes, the little ones that you don’t think about so they blind side you and make your eyes unexpectedly fill with tears and your lower lip quiver. I had to get used to cooking for one, shopping for one, and deal with those sudden moments in department stores when I’d see a shirt he’d love and pick it up, carry it to the cash register, and have credit card in hand before I’d remember, and somehow manage to hold myself together while smiling at the clerk and saying, “Um, I don’t think I want this after all,” before returning it to the display table and fleeing the store. I had to find ways to fill those hours that used to be our time together, flipping idly through the many channels on the television, looking for any distraction to take my mind somewhere else. I had to get used to sleeping alone, to not having something warm and cuddly next to me every night and every morning. There were no more pancakes on a tray with a glass of milk to surprise him awake in the mornings. I’d had to accept that I would never again see the sleepy smile of childish delight he always displayed when he smelled the maple syrup. He was so cute, just like a little boy on those mornings when I’d decide to give him his favorite treat.

I got through it all; I survived; I went on. I went through the closet and the dresser and took his clothes to Goodwill. I did all the things you’re supposed to do, and I got through it all.

But the bed still seems empty every morning when I wake up. The house seems quieter, no matter how loudly I play the stereo. The world seems different, somehow—the sun a little less bright, the sky a little less blue, the grass a little less green.

Everyone says I’ll forget in time.

See what I mean? That's a romance story. Heavy sigh.

But it's a good story, and I really am proud of it. It's about moving on, even though you might not think you're ready, even though the person who sparks your interest might not be the right one, or it may not even lead to anything.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here's a hottie.

rick lacava
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I didn't get as much done as I'd intended yesterday, so I really have to work my ass off today. A project is due tonight. Heavy heaving sigh. I don't know why I do this to myself every single time, but there you have it. It also means that I can't stop working, either, until I am finished. Ah, well, I can do it. I somehow always manage to.

We've been watching the final season of Damages, the one done by Netflix, and it really is quite extraordinary. It was a great show; Seasons 1 and 3 were spectacular, while 2 and 4 were just kind of meh. Season 2 could have been so much better; I mean, they had William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden in the cast, but the story just wasn't very good. Season 3, though, was a return to the utter amazing form of Season 1. Glenn Close and Rose Byrne are also terrific, as always. I am very curious to see where this season goes; it's built around a Julian Assange type, played by Ryan Philippe, who is aging like a fine wine.

It's gloomy out there this morning, and Paul is leaving on Tuesday night--which I just realized is like two days from now. Which, of course, means Scooter is going to be needy needy needy for days. I have noticed, though, that if I used Paul's computer upstairs in the bedroom, he isn't quite as needy as he is when I am working at my own desk downstairs. Maybe that's something I can manage while Paul is gone. And Southern Decadence is next weekend. I'll be bringing both phone and camera with me to work the table, so I can keep my tradition of photographing beautiful boys alive for yet another year.

I am also currently reading three things: Empire by Gore Vidal, Fire Will Freeze by Margaret Millar, and Crisis on Infinite Earths on my iPad; I do love the Comixology app. I highly recommend it.

I suspect I will get a lot of reading done while Paul is absent.

And on that note, I need to get back to the spice mines.

Here's today's hottie:

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Agatha Christie is without parallel.

I never name Christie when I am asked to name influences, and very few authors every do; but I simply take her influence as assumed. I don't trust any crime writer who has never read Christie, and those who smugly assert that her work hasn't influenced theirs is simply unaware. She literally did almost everything, whether it was unreliable narrators, thrillers, international intrigue, country home murders, small town murders, cozies, private eyes, Gothic noir, serial killers...you name a kind of crime novel, and a Christie aficionado will instantly name a short story, a novel, or a play she wrote that fits the bill. I first discovered her on the wire paperback racks at the Zayre's in Bolingbrook; the first book of hers I read was Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories; the first novel A Murder is Announced. I tore through all of her books as quickly as I could afford to buy them or check them out of the library; she was still alive and writing when I first started reading her. She died when I was a teenager, and I was bereft, but there was a terrific backlist for me to get through still. There are any number of her books that I would list as favorites, but one particular favorite is And Then There Were None.

and then there were none

Paul and I recently watched the BBC version, which was incredibly well done. I loved the novel, still do; rewatching the show made me pick up my battered old copy and reread it. It's wonderful, and frankly, the BBC film version is incredibly well done, and they didn't change the ending.

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Saturday, and lots of spice to mine.

But I can get it done, I know I can, and I am going to focus and even close my web browser after posting this. See, I mean business. Heavy heaving sigh. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home yesterday, so I wouldn’t have to go today, and so I don’t have to leave the house all weekend. I should go to the gym—my doctor has told me I need to work out more, and watch what I eat, the hateful BITCH—but I really want to work on the apartment. It’s under construction again, as I mentioned the other day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t clean around it, and there’s always laundry to do. I find cleaning a lovely, mind-clearing distraction from writing. The two kind of go hand-in-hand for me. And I always like to quote Agatha Christie: “My house is never so clean as when I am writing.”

I can’t remember why I wanted to do a collection of crime short stories as an editor, but when I suggested it to my publisher, they not only wanted me to do one, they wanted me to partner with my old friend/partner in crime J. M. Redmann to do a volume for guys and a volume for girls. And thus Men/Women of the Mean Streets were born; and much fun was had by all. Well, it was a lot of work, but we had a good time doing it and the two books turned out really well. I included a story of my own in the Men volume; “Spin Cycle.”

“Spin Cycle” was actually written originally as a one-act, twenty minute radio play for Southern Rep, working with WWNO; in a throw-back to the wonderful old radio thrillers before television. When I was asked—at the very last minute, as the person originally asked had to bail out—I said yes (the money was great) but had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’d never written a play before, let alone one for radio, and my fiction is, at the very least, highly visual. Writing something that had no setting or scene description, and wasn’t even actually meant to be seen was way out of my comfort zone. I also had no idea how to time such a thing; and it needed to be twenty minutes. I was told one page equaled one minute, and that was what I worked with. Then, when I had twenty pages, I read it out loud—and was horrified to see, that even reading really fast, I went well over twenty minutes—so things had to be cut. A lot had to be cut. But I was very pleased with how it turned out, and then it was staged and recorded live in front of an audience, which was incredibly nerve-wracking, yet went well. So, when we were doing Men of the Mean Streets, I was also doing a lot of editing as well as working on another novel or two of my own in addition to the day job, and finally I realized I was running out of time to write something original; so I decided to adapt “Spin Cycle” into a short story.

My alarm woke me from the dreamless sleep of the truly content.

I smacked my hand down on it—it was a reflex. I opened my eyes and sat up in my bed. I could smell brewing coffee from downstairs. I yawned and stretched—I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept so deeply, so peacefully. I reached for my glasses from the little table next to the bed and slipped them on. Everything swam into focus, and my heart started sinking the way it did every morning when I started coming to full consciousness.

Still in the goddamned carriage house, I thought, getting out of bed with a moan, and no commutation of the sentence in sight. Stupid fucking Katrina.

But there was silence outside, other than birds chirping in the crepe myrtles.

No hammering or sawing. No drilling.

I smiled.

I slipped on the rubber-soled shoes I had to wear upstairs. I avoided the carpet nails jutting up from the wooden floor on my way to the bathroom. The floor slanted at about a thirty-degree angle to the left. It used to disorient me but I’d gotten used to it in the nine months I’d been sentenced to live in this pit. I looked at the bags under my eyes while brushing my teeth and washing my face. No need to shave, I decided. I wasn’t going anywhere or seeing anyone today.

In fact, I’d finished a job and didn’t have to start the next for a few days.

I was at loose ends.

I pulled on purple LSU sweatpants and a matching hooded sweatshirt before heading downstairs to get some coffee.

I was on my second cup, surveying the stacks of boxes piled in practically every available space. It was the same routine every morning. Drink some coffee, look around and try to figure out if there were some way to make this fucking place more comfortable, more livable. I had yet to figure out a way, without renting a storage space and getting everything out.

And every morning I came to the conclusion there wasn’t a way.

I closed my eyes, and took deep, calming breaths.

Maybe I should just rent the storage unit and be done with it, I said to myself. You don’t know how long you’re going to be stuck in here before the work on the house is done. Imagine not having all these towering stacks of boxes collecting dust in here. Imagine not having this soul-deadening reminder everywhere you look—

A knock on the front door jolted me back into the present. I crossed the room and opened the door. “Yes?”

The tall black woman in a gray business suit standing there flashed a badge at me. “I'm Venus Casanova with the NOPD, I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. I was wondering if I could talk to you for a few moments?”

"Spin Cycle" was inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and how everyone who needed work on their houses done--from completely rebuilding them to simply just having some things repaired--were completely at the mercy of contractors, and how incredibly frustrating this could be. I also liked the idea of taking something that was, at best, a minor irritation and showing how that could build into something horrible. I liked how it turned out, but it could have been better.

The two noir anthologies did well enough--awards, reviews, and sales wise--that Bold Strokes wanted us to do horror next, and thus Night Shadows was born (and yes, I am aware of how similar that title is to Shadows of the Night). The story I wrote for Night Shadows, "Crazy in the Night," was another one of those stories I originally wrote in the 1980's. I think Stephen King was the horror writer who advised writing about your fears and your nightmares, and when I originally wrote this story, that's what I did.

Confession: I am afraid of the dark.

I always have been. I can remember when I was a kid and we'd be visiting my grandmother in Alabama, how dark it would be once the lights were out, how the dark seemed to press against the window screens when the lights were on, and the noises out there in the woods...well, they could have been anything. Even now, if Paul's not home, I don't turn out all the lights. I always leave one on downstairs and I always leave one of the bathroom lights on upstairs. I wouldn't say I am so much scared of the dark now as it makes me uncomfortable, but the dark and I do not have a close relationship. And that's the root of this story; and in it's original iteration, the opening line was Danny was afraid of the dark. The point of the story was always that the main character was moving into a new apartment, involved with a guy who not only wouldn't commit but would never sleep over at Danny's place--and the new place, well, there was something wrong with it.

Danny probably would have never moved from his apartment on Constantinople Street-- if it hadn’t been for that damned thunderstorm.

It wasn’t that it was such a great place—it was far too expensive for as small as it was, frankly, and he was well aware of that. But rents had gone through the roof after Katrina, and he needed a place to live. He could afford the rent, of course, that wasn’t the problem with it. He just felt like he was being gouged every month when he wrote the check to his landlady, whom he called ‘that greedy bitch’ to his co-workers and friends so often that no explanation was necessary. But he hated the hassle of moving—of getting services turned off and on, of packing and unpacking—and he hated the search for a new place most of all. So, every month on the first he simply gritted his teeth, wrote the check, and gave it to that greedy bitch with a phony smile plastered on his face.

The forecast that day had been for rain, but between May and November the forecast every day was ‘hot, humid, chance of rain,’ but he took an umbrella with him when he left for work at the Monteleone Hotel that particular morning. He was so busy once he got to his office that he didn’t know it turned dark as night outside when the rain started around one in the afternoon. The loud crack of thunder did startle him, breaking through the intense level of concentration he’d focused on the conference contract he was putting together, trying to remember things from the phone conversation with the conference organizer and swearing at himself for not writing every request she’d made down.

He walked out to the hotel lobby and saw Royal Street filling with water, and the doorman had come inside. At least it’s not a tropical storm, he thought with a sigh of relief as he headed back to his office, because that would suck.

But the storm did manage to dump twelve inches of rain on New Orleans in slightly less than two hours, despite not being a tropical storm. That would be problematic in any city, but for New Orleans, built on a swamp below sea level and surrounded by water on every side, it was catastrophic. Despite the efforts of one of the best pumping systems in the world, the streets flooded. The residents of the city could only watch in helpless horror as the dirty brown rain water rose and rose. Cars attempting to make it through the bayous the streets quickly became were inundated with water and engines stalled. Lightning knocked out power in most of the Uptown part of the city, and the power flickered a few times at the Monteleone.

Around three in the afternoon the storm passed and the sun came back out as though nothing had ever happened. In less than half an hour, the pumping system kicked into high gear and the dirty water disappeared. The only evidence that it had ever been there were the stalled cars, the mud and dirt and debris on the sidewalks and in the gutters, and the unlucky ones in low-lying houses pushing dirty water out of their houses with mops.

As Danny drove home from work that night, past dead cars pushed out of the streets up into parks and neutral grounds, his relief that his small overpriced apartment was on the second floor grew—until he turned down Constantinople Street and saw the enormous live oak that had crashed into the front of the building.

He parked, and stared in horror. He could see clearly into his apartment from where he was standing. His hands shaking, he fished his cell phone out of his pants pocket and called his boyfriend. Matthew came right over, and spent a few hours with him in the wreckage, finding what was and wasn’t ruined—almost everything was.

Finally, Matthew shook his head as the light faded and said, “Come on, babe, let’s go over to my place. You can stay with me for now.”

For now.

Too emotional and upset to say anything else, Danny just nodded.

But it rankled, as it always did.

They’d been seeing each other exclusively for just over a year—but God forbid Matthew even just consider the frightening possibility of asking his newly homeless boyfriend to move in with him.

The book was a Lambda finalist, and also a Shirley Jackson award finalist. Two stories--Lee Thomas' and Victoria Brownworth's--made Ellen Datlow Honorable Mention list for Best Horror of the Year.

It was absolutely lovely.

And now I have spice to mine.

Here's today's hottie:

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I'll be spending this weekend in the spice mines, unfortunately, and Paul is leaving on Tuesday night to go visit his mom for eight days. Of course, next weekend is Labor Day which means I will be on condom duty on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. The absence of Paul will, of course, leave me horribly lonely (it'll be nice at first, but get old quickly), but I also have a lot of work I need to get done so not having him around will be enormously helpful in that regard. Ordinarily, I would take advantage of his absence to thoroughly clean the Lost Apartment, but alas, it is once again under construction. It has been two years, of course, so it was about time for something to have to be redone around here. Living room walls ripped out, kitchen floor to follow. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least we're better off than those poor flooded people up around Baton Rouge and Acadiana. Do donate if you can, Constant Reader--I know all too well what that feels like.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Many years ago, I tried to launch a pseudonym to write paranormal/horror under. Of course, I chose a name--Quentin Harrington--that sounded like a soap opera character, but I also kind of thought it fit in some ways, since my horror/paranormal stuff always has a Gothic air to it--probably because my primary horror influence has always been (much as I want it to be Stephen King) Dark Shadows. I do love horror--but whenever I write it, it always seems to come out as Gothic horror. This is fine, because I do love Gothic horror. But I've never really been successful selling horror stories; in fact, the only horror stories I've ever published are ones that I've published in my own anthologies. Okay, in fairness, I've never really tried since the 1980's to do so, but that doesn't make it any the less true.

In 2003 I got the chance to edit an anthology of queer horror for Haworth Press, Shadows of the Night, which was nominated for a Lambda award and was, actually, quite a good anthology. The idea, for me, was to ask gay and lesbian writers not known for writing horror to give it a shot, and the result was most pleasing. My story, as "Quentin Harrington", was called "The Troll in the Basement," and really was one of my revenge stories; haven't we all had a boss we thought was a monster in human form?

He could hear him down there, moving around.

He could feel the coffee in his stomach turning to acid, rapidly dissolving the fat free blueberry muffin he had picked up on his way into the office. He tries to focus on the computer screen in front of him. The design image began to swim; a muscled hairless torso, lips pursed at the camera, perky nipples erect, bright yellow lycra stretched over the unmistakable bulge of an erection, blurring, becoming indistinct. He reaches for his cup of coffee, the scent of French roast mingling with French vanilla flavoring assailing his nostrils, turning acrid, nauseating rather than enticing. He puts the cup down and rubs his eyes. He eyes the telephone.

How long before the intercom buzzes?

He sighs and saves the document. The computer would probably freeze up soon anyway, losing an hour’s worth of work yet again, for the umpteenth time. He hears the voice inside his head, searing through him like a lightning bolt of pain, causing his fists to clench. “You always should save the document every time you make any change to it because the network will crash.” That smug, know it all tone, driving him insane, pushing him to the limits of his tolerance. The knowing smirk broadcasting I-told-you-so, the lips not curled back enough to reveal the sharp points of the teeth, the out of control eyebrows that looked more like a cat’s whiskers lifting over the watery blue eyes. He opens his right hand top desk drawer and dry swallows two more Extra Strength Tylenol. The headache was coming on, he could feel it behind his temples, the heart beating through the veins throbbing.

He switches over to his email program. Three new messages, none of them he wants to read, none of them he wants to respond to.

It's also one of the few times I wrote in the present tense.

The only other time I used the Quentin Harrington name was for a story, again, for another anthology I did for Haworth: Upon a Midnight Clear, which was Christmas themed. Again, it was a lovely anthology, one I was very pleased with, and I wrote a story called "The Snow Queen" for it.

"The Snow Queen" was based in part on my memory of the old Hans Christian Anderson story of "The Ice Queen," only given a gay twist. It also had one of my recurring themes in old work--unrequited love--and interestingly enough, I had it snow in New Orleans; which actually happened the year the book came out. Weird.

The first thing I noticed about him was he had that kind of blonde hair that rarely occurs in nature.

Oz wasn’t really crowded that night, but I think I would have noticed him anyway if the place had been packed with sweating shirtless muscle boys gyrating to the latest remix of an Amber song. The stage at the front of the dance floor had only two boys up there dancing. One of them looked to be about fifteen, his jeans hanging loosely off his hips revealing the waistband of black Calvin Klein boxer briefs, the flat stomach glistening in the lights reflecting off the glittterball spinning over the center of the dance floor. The other’s age was indeterminate, but he was pale, had brown hairs all over his jiggling pecs and he was hanging over the sides and front of his too-tight jeans. There were a few girls out there dancing, probably young sorority girls who thought they were endlessly hipper and cooler than their sisters because they went dancing in an actual gay bar. There were some gay guys out there, dancing and sweating like a normal night. One of them was the guy I’d had my eye on for a while, Mike Devlin, the sexiest, cutest, sweetest guy to ever flee the wilds of western Louisana for New Orleans.

Maybe that was why the guy caught my eye. I was watching Mike dance, his shirt tucked through his belt, shaking his pretty round butt from side to side, lost in the music the way he always danced. Somehow, I sensed something, some kind of change in the air in the bar, I’m not sure what it was. Whatever I felt, it caused me to turn to my right and look back at the corner of the bar where the video poker machines were. I saw him standing at the bar underneath a go-go boy wearing unfastened, loose jeans over no underwear. He was wearing a blue T-shirt and tight black jeans. His hair glowed in the black lit area he was standing in, along with some specks of dust and lint on the shirt. (Wearing a black shirt into Oz was a big no-no; everything showed.) I couldn’t see what he looked like since his face was in profile as he handed a bill to Jude the bartender. As Jude turned back to the register to make change, he turned towards me. In one of those weird moments of timing, a few brightly colored lights above the dance floor kicked on, and the blue one shone directly onto him back there in the corner. We stared at each other. He was very beautiful. Somehow I knew that his almond shaped eyes, almost an Asian cast, were that icy blue that looked like they were covered with a thin layer of ice.

He smiled at me, and I felt a chill go down my back.

He turned away from me to look at the dance floor, his drink in his hand.

He was watching Mike.

Both stories, rereading them after all this time, aren't that bad, actually.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here's today's hottie.

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