Dark Shadows (Josette’s Theme)

I always forget this when I am asked about major influences on my life, writing, and career–but probably the biggest influence on me was the television soap Dark Shadows.

“My name is Victoria Winters…”

So began the first episode, with young heroine Victoria speaking over some rather spooky music, usually with a background scene of a light in the window at the great house of Collinwood in the fog, or waves crashing against the beach, or the family cemetery, or even the Old House.

Dark Shadows is probably the root or seed from which Bury Me in Shadows was grown from, now that I think about it more. A haunted old house, an even older house in ruins nearby in the woods that was the original family home, ghosts and secrets from the past–oh yes, the framework is absolutely there, and it never even occurred to me.

When my sister and I were kids, we moved to Chicago from Alabama. I was about two years old, give or take; I don’t remember moving up there nor do I remember ever living in Alabama; my sister was two years older. My parents both got jobs–the point of the move was for climbing the economic ladder; they both got really good jobs in factories while my dad finished his degree. But because they both worked (our friends and neighbors all felt sorry for us because our mom had to work; their moms all were housewives), we needed to be watched while they weren’t home. Our landlady recommended a woman down the street–a mother of six whose two youngest were in their last years of high school–and so we started spending our days with Mrs. Harris, who fed us breakfast and lunch, and Mom would pick us up on her way home from the bus stop. When we started school, we went there for breakfast and lunch but came home after school; school let out at 3:15 and Mom was usually home by 3:30. But it was Mrs. Harris–and my grandmother, who worked a night shift–who got me started watching soaps in the first place. One Life to Life and General Hospital sort of held my attention, but it was Dark Shadows I couldn’t wait for. I used to run home from school to try to catch the last five or ten minutes during school; it wasn’t a problem during the summer.

I loved Dark Shadows.

I was crushed when it was canceled.

I mean, look at that house!!!!

The show wasn’t canceled, although the ratings were starting to slide a bit in the later years. The truism that Dark Shadows‘ producers and writers discovered is one that practically every other continuing series having to deal with the supernatural and supernatural creatures has had to deal with: how do you keep topping yourself and raising the stakes? True Blood, Supernatural, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and countless others have all run headfirst into that wall. Once you’ve done time travel and vampires and witches and werewolves and Frankenstein and other dimensions, what is left to do? I admire them for pulling the plug rather than getting more and more desperate to get the ratings up and eventually damaging the legacy of the show.

The show was a phenomenon the likes of which had never really been seen before in daytime–and the lesson learned from its success (go for the young audience!) would soon lead to the creation of youth-oriented shows like All My Children and The Young and the Restless–and of course in the mid-1970’s soaps would be forever changed when General Hospital introduced the character of teenager Laura Webber, played by an actual teenager, Genie Francis–and daytime was never the same. But Dark Shadows managed something that other soaps hadn’t–they created teen idols. Jonathan Frid as Barnabas, David Selby as Quentin, and even David Hennessey as David Collins were often on the covers of teen magazines like Tiger Beat and 16. The show even licensed FAN FICTION–a series of books based on the characters from the show, but thanks to all the fun stuff with time travel and parallel dimensions, Dark Shadows was perfect for spin-off books that took place in other Dark Shadows universe; one could even say Dark Shadows was one of the first shows to make use of a multi-verse.

The books were cheap–as you can see in the picture above (a copy sent to me by a friend with whom I bonded over our mutual love of the show) they ran between fifty cents and seventy-five cents a copy; they all had that same gold bordered cover with an oval image of characters from the show, and they were all written by “Marilyn Ross”, which was a pen name for a very prolific Canadian author named  William Edward Daniel Ross; he wrote over three hundred novels during his career, and Marilyn Ross was the name he used for Gothics–and the Dark Shadows books. (He also wrote as Clarissa Ross, and I read some of those novels as well, including The Spectral Mist.) They also weren’t particularly well written, and while they did take place outside the show’s continuity, there were also moments in some of them that didn’t make sense; in one of them, in which Barnabas shows up at Collinwood in the 1910’s, the only son of the family dies in a tragic accident…but if he was the only son, where did the present day Collinses come from? (The earlier books were told from the perspective of Victoria Winters, and in some cases the gimmick was some member of the family was telling Victoria a story about the family history.)

That’s the kind of shit that drives me insane.

But I remember when one of the off-brand television channels in Chicago (not affiliated with a major network) started running repeats of Dark Shadows from the very beginning when we lived in the suburbs in the evenings while the networks ran the evening news–guess what I was watching instead? Yup, Dark Shadows. (I always found it interesting, too, that the young actress who played Victoria Winters originally–Alexandra von Moltke–eventually became infamous as Klaus von Bulow’s mistress Alexandra Isles, who was, in the prosecutor’s theory, the reason Klaus injected Sunny with enough insulin to induce the coma from which she never woke up. But I digress.

I always wanted to write a vampire story similar to that of Barnabas Collins; I have an entire idea for a rural Louisiana version called Bayou Shadows that I’ve tinkered with off and on since the early 1990’s…but then Charlaine Harris started the Sookie Stackhouse series, which was essentially the same thing. I still might write about Bayou Shadows–the town called that has popped up from time to time in my books about New Orleans and Louisiana; most recently in A Streetcar Named Murder, actually–and if people think I’m ripping off Charlaine, so be it.

I’ll know that I’m really ripping off Dark Shadows.

The show also spawned two feature films, Night of Dark Shadows and House of Dark Shadows, each featuring one of the show’s leading men, Jonathan Frid and David Selby, respectively; the first did far better than the second. The show was revived in prime time for a single season in the late 1980’s; I watched it and loved it, of course–even got Paul to watch when it became available on DVD and I rewatched. I wish that show had been given more of a chance, because it was really quite good, and I was curious to see where the story went from that first season. It also had an excellent cast, including Hammer Film star Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia Hoffman. I did watch the Tim Burton film from this century, which had some clever moments but wasn’t quite as good; it went for the silly parody thing The Brady Bunch movies of the 1990’s did, but it didn’t land. The actress who played villainess Angelique in the original series, Lara Parker, has also written some Dark Shadows novels (I have copies but haven’t read them; I really should). Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played the original Maggie Evans on the soap (and in the first film) also has written novels; she was at Long Beach Bouchercon, where I met her and got a signed copy of her book Down and Out in Beverly Heels. She was lovely and couldn’t have been nicer; I really should read that book someday.

I’ve had Dark Shadows on my mind lately because I bonded with Carol Goodman at Bouchercon over our mutual love of Dark Shadows, and the Scotty book still in draft form takes place mostly in a rural parish outside of New Orleans; not the same parish where Bayou Shadows is located, but the next one over.

Sometimes I think it would be fun to reboot the show again, retelling the original story, or picking up from where the television series ended, or even doing a new generation, some forty years later, with David Collins as an adult with children and so forth…Carol and I have joked about coming up with a concept and trying to sell it and be the showrunners…which would be a dream.

Out of Time

It’s today that I officially run out of time on this draft; tomorrow I need to get it emailed in. I think I’ll be okay; I wrote six thousand words yesterday and only have six thousand more to go before I can call it an official draft that I can send in with an email of apology and explanation. It’s fine, really, everything is fine. I am remarkably calm about everything these days. I’m not sure why that is, but I do like it, and am delighted that it appears to be becoming a theme for me in 2023. But I am very excited to get this draft finished and turned in–I think it’s eventually, with some work, going to be one of my better ones–but now I have the foundation and skeleton of the book finished; soon I will go in and do all the little touches and finishes that will turn it into something fun and readable for readers. But I still have more to write yet–there are two chapters left to write–and while I did get six thousand words down yesterday, I have to do another six in order to get it finished. Which is fine and do-able, of course. And it’s always nice to finish something right before a weekend away.

We watched more of The Recruit last night, which we are really getting into, so I am looking forward to seeing another episode tonight or maybe two? We shall have to see, of course. I was very tired after getting home and writing last night; last night’s sleep wasn’t as deep as my sleep has been lately, but that’s okay; I did sleep decently even if I did have to keep waking up. I have a lot to do tonight, as well–and I would like to get back to doing some reading. But once I have the manuscript finished, I can have my evenings after work free for a few days; I’m not planning on getting into the weeds on editing until I get back from Alabama. Hopefully that will give me the time to do some short story writing that needs finishing, as well. The kitchen is a mess, too–I really don’t like going away for the weekend with the house in a mess to come home to, but I don’t know if I’ll have the time to do anything about it in the meantime. And then of course it’s parade season again the next two weekends, and before you know it it’s Lent and it’s all over again for another year. The first quarter of the year in New Orleans is always a challenge…

Cindy Williams died yesterday–it took me a minute to remember that Penny Marshall had also passed away already–and of course, most of the commentary and posts defaulted to Laverne & Shirley, and why wouldn’t they? It was a highly rated–if sophomoric–comedy series for eight seasons on ABC, and it did make her both rich and famous. But the thing I always thought was kind of sad was that she was actually capable of a lot more than a slapstick lowbrow comedy on television (hey, she got rich from it, and it made a lot of people happy, too) because she’d given some really fine performances in very good films like American Graffiti and The Conversation (both of which I watched during my Cynical 70’s Film Festival; most people remember American Graffiti as a fun comedy about one Saturday night in 1962 in Modesto, California–but it was a lot darker and more serious than people generally remember. It also was set in 1962, not the 50’s, but it was in that weird aftermath period where the music was still very similar–the Beatles hadn’t crossed the sea yet–and until the Kennedy assassination, the early 1960’s seemed very much like a continuation of the 1950’s until everything changed. I always wondered what Cindy Williams may have made of herself as an actress in film had she not taken the Laverne & Shirley gig. And that Tuesday night ABC line-up was something: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, SOAP, and Hart to Hart.

Ah, my teen years.

I recently rejoined the Horror Writers’ Association; I am not really sure why, to be honest. They sent me a “we want you back” email and I was talking to That Bitch Ford and I thought, sure, why not? You’re not really a horror writer but you ARE a writer who has written some fiction that could be classified as that and you’re always looking for new places to submit short stories and….so I did. I’d forgotten why I’d initially let the membership go, and it barely took a month for me to be reminded. There was a contretemps on the official Facebook page for the group, and then it just kept spiraling out of control with all the nastiness, bigotry, and hatred. As an author, I would always like to be seen as an author first and treated with the common courtesy that any author should expect from their peers, particularly in a nonprofit organization that serves them. But, as I have been reminded all-too-many times since Murder in the Rue Dauphine was sent out into the world, there will always be those people–in publishing, bookselling, reviewing, etc.–who will always define me by my sexuality and denigrate both me and what I write because of it. As I often say on panels when it comes to genre, the adjective gay trumps anything that follows: mystery, horror, science fiction, romance, etc. I am also very aware that gatekeeping in publishing–while on the decline–has always been there to keep the “undesirables” out. Seeing someone whom I didn’t know–and have no desire to know now–erupting on the HWA page and spewing hate-filled rhetoric, and then doubling-down by appearing on a white supremacist/Nazi’s podcast for several hours…well, you put on the SS uniform, it’s kind of hard to deny your complicity in the Holocaust after the war. And watching it all go down over the last few days reminded me of why I left the organization in the first place–the overt and covert bigotry in the organization.

And for the record, when you’re talking about diversity and you say but it has to be about the writing! that’s a dogwhistle people like me have been hearing for decades. What you are saying is the reason our genre is not more diverse is because the non-white non-straight writers aren’t good enough.

Yeah, that was all I needed to hear to know where I stood with HWA, and so when it was time to renew the next time, I just let it go.

And I am also incredibly proud of myself because usually my response to situations like this one–this most recent blow-up, and that comment all those years ago–is to say okay I have to get involved so I can fix this. I am very happy that instead my thought is, oh yes, this is why I let it lapse and will do so again. I’ve been fighting this kind of shit for decades, and frankly, I’m tired. I just want to focus on me for a while and let everyone else fix all the things that need fixing.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow, when Pay-the-Bills Day rolls around again.

Sympathy for the Devil

Well, well, well. This morning I woke up to the announcement of this year’s Malice Domestic Agatha Award finalists, and mych to my pleasant surprise, our very own Gregalicious’ #shedeservedit is a finalist for Best Children’s/Young Adult novel. It was a very pleasant surprise, as I figured the Agatha short-list wasn’t in my future for A Streetcar Named Murder (which was only eligible for Best Novel, and there is WAY too much competition for that category to even consider the possibility) and honestly, I didn’t think #shedeservedit, my only other release for 2022, had a prayer of getting enough votes (if any at all), but hey. I put up a couple of “for your consideration” posts on social media, figuring it certainly wouldn’t hurt anything to at least try, and here we are. Wow. Thanks to everyone who voted for me. It’s very exciting to start out the year with what hopefully won’t be my last Lefty and Agatha nominations. The nominations are a very lovely pat on the back, and will make even nicer additions to my author bio and CV. Added to the two Anthony nominations last year for Bury Me in Shadows, and it would appear that I am having a rather lovely period in my career, am I not? Perhaps a Gregnaissance?

Okay, yeah, I hate when people do that and make up words. Forget I ever said that.

It’s work at home Friday and I have data to enter. I also had to roll out of bed and head down to Quest Labs this morning for a blood draw for my bi-annual physical, so now I have a bruise on both arms since I had my PrEP labs drawn on Wednesday. I had a good day yesterday–I managed to get back into the book, but fell 500 words short of quota, so I need to do that today as well as today’s writing so I am back on schedule. I’ve been having some moments of doubts and imposter-syndrome lately, but that always happens at this stage in a book so I dismissed it and put it right back out of my head. I was very tired when I finished yesterday’s writing, and Paul went to the gym last evening, so I went down a Youtube wormhole of research (yes, yes, justify wasting your evening, Gregalicious) until Paul got back and we watched some of the US Figure Skating Championships, particularly the Rhythm Dance. (If someone would have told me back when I moved in with Paul in 1996 that my eventual favorite discipline in figure skating would be the ice dancing, I’d probably still be laughing…) I also was remarkably hungry yesterday, which really never happens. I was so hungry yesterday afternoon when I left the office that I actually came home and ate a piece of King cake, which kept me through the night, but it was still odd. I rarely ever get hungry–which is why I often will forget to eat, especially when I am on a trip (unless you go to New York with That Bitch Ford–I think I ate more that weekend in New York than I have on every trip I’ve taken in the last ten years combined)–so it bears noting when I actually realize that I am hungry. My weird relationship with food and my body is something I should probably write about sometime.

One of the problems I face when I think about writing personal essays (did you enjoy that segue, Constant Reader? I usually struggle with transitions) is, of course, Imposter Syndrome. Whenever I sit and think about writing a personal essay, I immediately start to doubt myself. What insights and perceptions and conclusions can you possibly draw about this that hasn’t already been said, probably better and more eloquently, by many others already? I can be pretty oblivious, too–something that is patently obvious to everyone else is something that startles me when I recognize it, mainly because I never think about it; it’s just something that already is, so I don’t think about it. Like one day when I was visiting my parents in Houston a news promo ran on the television calling Houston the “space city,” which was something I clearly was aware of since my parents lived two exits from NASA, and “Houston we have a problem.” But when I heard it that day, it connected in my head, oh, Houston the space city, that’s why the baseball team is the Astros and the basketball team is the Rockets. I said this out loud and my mother looked at me like I was insane (a look I am quite used to, so no worries on that score) and started laughing. I guess my obliviousness was amusing, but I just had literally never thought about it–they were the Rockets and the Astros, and that was that; didn’t matter why they were called that. But this is the kind of thing that makes me worried about trying to write personal essays–that, of course, and my faulty and failing memory, which is yet another reason why I don’t write a memoir…although I could write a really good one. But the problem–even if I trusted my memory–is that everyone remembers everything differently, so I could write about something the way I remember it but the other people involved could remember it completely another way. Who is right, and what is the truth? That hurdle is something I’m going to have to clear–after all, “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” is a terrific personal essay, and a piece of work of which I am particularly proud; so I know I can do it. I suppose the true fear is that I won’t strip naked and show myself to the world, and will color and/or distort things to make me not look quite as bad as I actually was in the moment. That’s one of the reasons why I love writing fiction; I can take personal experiences and twist them into something that can fit into a good story, or make them better in some ways.

And believe me, there was a lot of bad behavior in my past.

You learn to live with it.

Sigh. I do have a lot to get done over the course of this weekend–cannot forget the ALA event tomorrow morning–and of course, there’s a lot of writing to be done and the US Figure Skating Championships to watch. I’ll need to make groceries at some point, too, and I have prescriptions to pick up at CVS and of course, next weekend I am off to Alabama (yay!) for two of my favorite events of every year, Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu, which will take me to Birmingham and Wetumpka. Yay!

So, I am feeling a little more confidence this morning about my writing and everything in my life. I’m enjoying my day job and my new responsibilities, my writing career is doing okay, and I can’t really complain about too much. I’m going to return to the gym in April and start working on that part of my physical self. I am getting the hearings aids process started, and at some point I am going to need to have another eye exam later this spring. I have a lead on a dentist to get my teeth fixed so I can stop looking like a hillbilly, and start getting things figured out with a plan for my writing future.

And on that note, this data ain’t gonna enter itself. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Wild Horses

Thursday morning last day in the office for the week blog, and I am feeling kind of okay this morning. I slept really well last night (yay!) which is a relief because I was so tired and groggy last night I kept falling asleep in my chair. I also didn’t make the quota yesterday, which means a big push tonight to catch up. Paul was exhausted, too, from all his late nights working lately, so he was in and out of sleep all evening as well. Needless to say, Scooter was in heaven, as he could sleep in my lap, go upstairs and sleep with Paul, and then come downstairs and sleep in my lap again. But I feel very relaxed and rested this morning, and my brain isn’t groggy and goofy, which bodes well for the rest of my day. I have to do fasting labs tomorrow (joy), which means rolling out of bed, washing my face and brushing my teeth before venturing down to the lab to get the blood drawn–I’ll have my go cup of coffee waiting in the car for me, though. And of course, Saturday I have that event at the convention center in the morning.

So, naturally now that I am in the deep weeds with the book, I saw two calls for submissions for anthologies that I may have something on hand for; I am also trying to finish a story for another anthology that I should have finished already. It truly never ends around here, you know?

Last night as I was struggling to stay awake with a purring kitty asleep in my lap, I decided to check out Velma on HBO MAX. There was a lot of talk about this show when it first aired–the usual oh you’ve ruined my childhood nonsense–but I intended to check it out anyway because of course they decided to make Velma officially a lesbian (which we’ve always suspected anyway), and I do feel a kind of obligation to watch anything that may have some queer representation in it. There was a lot of outrage, but I tried to watch with an open mind as a long time fan of Scooby Doo Where Are You? and yes, my pretties, I watched it when it originally aired on Saturday mornings when I was a kid who loved mysteries. (Although I always preferred Jonny Quest.) The outrage about “ruining my childhood” always makes me tired–your childhood isn’t ruined, and your memories of something you loved as a child haven’t been affected; if anything you’re just disappointed because they changed something you loved rather than just feeding you the same old bullshit you’ve been eating all along. I thought an origin story for Mystery Inc. was a clever enough idea, and seeing how the gang all came to be what they were in the show we all loved as kids was interesting enough to make me curious to watch. I also am not someone who gets up in arms about adaptations changing things from the original book–it’s a different medium, hello, of course it’s never going to be the same, plus watching a film or television show is an entirely different thing from actually, you know, reading a book? As for the complaints, well, I don’t care that they made Velma south Asian. I don’t care that they made Daphne vapid and Freddy stupid. What I do mind is they did such a terrible job with such great raw material. The show isn’t funny, engaging, or entertaining in the least, which was very disappointing to me. There were a couple of clever moments of winking at the audience that I enjoyed, but overall? When I finished the first episode I had absolutely little to no desire to watch another. It was a great idea the producers simply didn’t deliver on.

And yes, that’s disappointing. I can live with changes to story and characters, and am more than happy to embrace new interpretations of the canon…but I do expect the characters and story to be engaging. I think they were maybe a little too focused on the subversion of the traditional Mystery Inc. characters and stories that they forgot the most important part of story-telling: the story. I don’t even need my characters to be likable–but I do have to be able to identify with them in some way.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader, and Ill chat at you again later.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

He’s a gas, gas, gas!

Here we are on another gray weekend morning. It was supposed to rain off and on all day yesterday–it didn’t–but it turned out to be a pretty good day. I wrote about eight thousand words or so, give and take, and made groceries in the afternoon. I did take care of some chores around the Lost Apartment, too, and I spent some time yesterday morning with Other Horrors, which I should finish this morning as I only have three stories left. There have been a couple that puzzled me, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the collection for the most part. I’d be pressed to pick a favorite story, though. Reading it has again reminded me that I am not, no matter how much I wish I was, a horror writer. I just don’t have the imagination, I don’t think, to be a horror writer. I can write Gothic suspense–suspense stories with a touch of the supernatural in them, like Lake Thirteen and Bury Me in Shadows–but I just don’t have the kind of mind that goes to horror when I think about writing.

We also finished off That 90’s Show last night and started watching Mayfair Witches, an adaptation of Anne Rice’s Mayfair trilogy, beginning with my favorite of her novels, The Witching Hour. I am predisposed to like this, since I loved the book so much (the rest of the trilogy not so much), and of course I drove past the house they turned into the Mayfair house for filming on Prytania Street all the time. (They did not use the actual house at First and Chestnut; one thing I did have a problem with was the way they showed Dierdre’s porch, which was different on the actual house than how depicted on the show) There are two more episodes for us to get through tonight, which is cool. I slept extremely well last night again–it’s remarkable how well I’ve been sleeping since getting back from New York–and my psoriasis seems to be under control again for the first time in years. There are a few things I need from the grocery store, but I think I can safely put that off until tomorrow and can stop on the way home from work. This morning I did get up earlier than I wanted to–I am sleeping so well I could stay in bed all day without an issue, I think–but I eel good. My legs have finally stopped feeling sore and tired, thank God, and I think I can safely say that I have completely reacclimated to my day to day life again.

I’m still listening to the Hadestown score, but I also started listening to the Christine McVie-Lindsay Buckingham album the two recorded a few years ago, and it’s quite good. The harmonies! Although I can’t help but think two things while listening: first, I wish Lindsay Buckingham had produced one of her solo albums and second, the one thing missing is Stevie Nicks and this would have made an amazing Fleetwood Mac album, which I think was what it was originally intended to be but Stevie wasn’t available or something or another. It’s also sad to know there will never be another Fleetwood Mac album since Christine’s untimely passing last year (not with my favorite line-up, at any rate). I need to move her solo album from the 1980’s back into my rotation–it’s a great and always underrated record. It’s hard to imagine the band moving on without either Christine or Lindsay (whom they fired), and Stevie already has a band she tours with as a solo act…sigh. Fleetwood Mac was the soundtrack of my teens and twenties and it’s just very weird that it’s finally over after all these years for me. When I write about the 1970’s–which I probably will do either later this year or sometime next–it will indelibly have Fleetwood Mac music all over the score of my work.

When I finish this book, I have to spend February revising Mississippi River Mischief and should spend some time doing a massive copy edit of Jackson Square Jazz so I finally have all of the Scotty series for sale as ebooks at long last. Once I get that done, March will be spent revising the one I am writing now, and then finally come April I can get back to work on Chlorine at long last. I’d like to get a draft of it finished in April so I can write another first draft of something else in May (I already know what it is going to be) and then will probably spend the rest of the year writing short stories and novellas and revising everything to see what can happen with them. Next year I want to write yet another Scotty book and that’s when I am going to try to write my 1970’s Chicago suburb boys-are-disappearing novel, too. None of this is carved into stone tablets, either–things always come up along the way, new ideas or hey Greg want to write a book we’ll pay you xxx for it and I never ever say no to things like that. I’d also like to come up with a new short story collection at some time, or perhaps the three-in-one book novella collection; it’s hard to say. And I kind of want to try to write a romance. There’s always so much I want to write, isn’t there?

Heavy heaving sigh. I don’t think I’ll ever match the days when I used to write four or five novels per year, but I do think I am going to be able to get a lot more writing done now in the next few years. Next weekend I am doing a signing at the ALA event here in New Orleans at the Convention Center, and of course the next weekend I am off to Alabama, and then it’s Carnival. Utter madness!

And now I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will probably check in with you again later.

Honky Tonk Women

We don’t really hear that word used much anymore, do we–honky tonk? It was used a lot when I was a kid, mostly in country music songs, but it was also one of those words/phrases that for whatever reason grated on my when I was younger. Even now I think honky tonk just sounds silly phonetically; why this bugs me so much I will probably never know. (I think it was because it seemed coy to me when I was a kid; like it was a phrase that stood in for something you couldn’t say on television or in the movies or in a song, like making whoopie or making love when what you mean to say is fuck; I always hated that, even as a kid. Just say what you fucking mean. Seriously, y’all, the days of censorship was just incredibly stupid, and don’t even get me started on that staple of soap operas–making love. Gah.)

I am going to have to use “honky tonk” in a title sometime.

Well, last night was probably the best night of sleep of all time, bar none. I feel like I could have stayed in bed easily all day and just kept sleeping, and that was marvelous. I may not be completely awake yet–hello, coffee!–but I feel marvelously rested and relaxed this morning, and so I feel like I am going to be able to get a lot done today. I didn’t get quota yesterday–fell a thousand or so short, alas–which will have to be made up for over the course of the weekend if I am to get back on schedule. I am, oddly enough, not as stressed about this as I ordinarily would be, to be honest–I am feeling confident these days, which is a strange but lovely feeling, and one I don’t ever remember having before when it comes to writing.

No worries, I am sure it will pass soon.

I had a nice day yesterday. After work I had to run a couple of errands, and found Jordan Harper’s UK release The Last King of California, waiting for me at the post office from Book Depository (my go-to for UK publications), which I am kind of excited about. I want to finish reading the stories in Other Horrors this weekend, and then I think I’m going to read another cozy–I have some really terrific ones lying around here in the TBR stacks just waiting for me to pick up, and of course with the Lefty and Edgar nominations released this week my list of books to buy just continues to grow and grow and grow. I still haven’t read Harper’s Edgar winning debut, She Rides Shotgun, which everyone raves about; but it’s always so hard not only to keep up with what’s current because more and more are released every month and once you’re behind there’s no catching up. After getting home from my errands yesterday I did research for my current project (I love that watching Youtube videos counts as research for this, and I am having the best time with the research, and that is part of why I am enjoying writing this so much (I also love my main character).

It looks gray outside this morning, and I do have an errand that must be run today. Heavy sigh. It’s why I got up, after all–I was perfectly willing to stay in bed for even more time this morning–and my kitchen is a disaster and as always, there is laundry. Heavy heaving sigh. So I am going to go ahead and head into the spice mines this morning, Constant Reader. I may check in again later–but one never knows, does one? Have a lovely Friday, though, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

A Walk on the Wild Side

When I was a kid, my grandmother got me started watching the 3:30 afternoon movies on WGN (I think); most of them were classic old Hollywood movies (where my affections for Stanwyck, Crawford, Davis and Hepburn began) but essentially, they were usually older films or ones that had already been shown once or twice in prime time before being relegated to afternoon and late night. They were also edited for content and for “appropriate” viewing for kids–since we were all home to watch–and housewives. I remember watching A Walk on the Wild Side with Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda, but it didn’t make a lot of sense–primarily because it was a racy film and they’d shredded it to get it past television censors; every once in a while I think oh you should watch it again because you can probably get the unedited theatrical version through some service or another but never get around to it. A friend recently posted that he was going to watch it that evening, which led me down a rabbit hole which ended with me discovering that it was based on a novel (which I hadn’t known), and that the author was the same man who also wrote The Man with the Golden Arm, which was made into a rather good film with Frank Sinatra, Nelson Algren. Algren was one of those literary lions who was championed and respected by critics and literature professors–The Man with the Golden Arm won the very first National Book Award–but seems to be relatively forgotten today. My pompous and condescending Lit professors in college certainly never assigned us any Algren; so it made me rather curious. I had also forgotten that a significant part of the story is actually set in New Orleans–which was all it took for me to get a copy.

I finished reading it as my flight to New York was taxiing to the gate.

“He’s just a pore lonesome wife-left feller,” the more understanding said of Fitz Linkhorn, “losin’ his old lady is what crazied him.”

“That man in so contrary,” the less understanding said, “if you throwed him in the river he’d float upstream.

For what had embittered Fitz had no name. Yet he felt that every daybreak duped him into waking and every evening conned him into sleep. The feeling of having been cheated–of having been cheated–that was it. Nobody knew why nor by whom.

But only that all was lost. Lost long ago, in some colder country. Lost anew by the generations since. He kept trying to wind his fingers about this feeling, at times like an ancestral hunger; again like some secret wound. It was there, if a man could get it out into the light, as palpable as the blood in his veins. Someone just behind him kept turning him against himself till his very strength was a weakness. Weaker men, full of worldly follies, did better than Linkhorn in the world. He saw with every enviously slow-burning.

“I ain’t a-playin’ the whore to no man,” he would declare himself, though no one had so charged him.

Six-foot-one of slack-muscled shambler, he came of a shambling race. That gander-necked clan from which Calhoun and Jackson sprang. Jesse James’ and Jeff Davis’ people. Lincoln’s people. Forest solitaries spare and swart, left landless as ever in sandland and Hooverville now the time of the forests has passed.

Whites called them “white trash” and Negroes “po’buckra.” Since the first rock has risen about the moving waters there had been not a single prince in Fitzbrian’s branch of the Linkhorn clan.

Sigh, where to being with this?

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way–the book is very, very dated. There’s language and mentalities and attitudes–while probably common usage for the time it is set as well as the time it was written, we’ve progressed a lot since then–that do no hold up today and made me wince as I came across them–and not just about race, either; there’s a lot of misogyny and ableism pervading the manuscript. There’s also not really a story here, either; the book focuses on Ftiz Linkhorn’s son Dove, who becomes involved with a diner owner but then robs her and takes off riding freight trains to New Orleans. He encounters a young runaway–Kitty Pride–on the trains but they become separated, and he gets to New Orleans on his own and becomes one of the con artists who always seem to proliferate here, but the focus of the middle of the book turns away from Dove and to Dockery, who runs a bar and bordello on Perdido Street (where they moved after Storyville was shut down) and the story shifts to some of the hookers, the bordello owner, and Dove exists only on the periphery; Dove actually becomes a sex worker–it kind of glosses over that he gets paid to let people watch him deflower a virgin (who is actually another one of the bordello girls)–while he learns how to read and write, learning from one of the hookers with whom he is kind of involved with, which brings him into conflict with a former professional wrestler and circus worker who has lost his legs–and Dove gradually winds up going back to south Texas, back where he came from, no better off or worse than when he left.

The writing is very good–I marked some pages that had some insightful sentences that were beautifully constructed–but over all, this falls into the category of what I (snidely) refer to as “mid-twentieth century straight white man MFA style.” We don’t need a story with a beginning, middle and end; we don’t need to see character growth or development; Dove is precisely the same person he was when the book opened. There’s also no real depth to any of the characters; it’s written in an omniscient point of view, like someone is telling you the story but because it’s being narrated, we don’t really get to know any of the characters–who they are and what makes them tick and what makes them behave the way they do–and this is something I’ve always taken issue with when it comes to books about the poor and those who lived on the margins; Algren creates these fascinating characters but gives them no complexity or depth, because they are poor, we are led to believe, they are simple and stupid and incapable of growth and since those kinds of people aren’t really people–we don’t need to see any of their humanity, therefore we are unable to identify with any of the characters or even feel empathy for any of them; which we really should. Why write about these characters and this world and this life if we aren’t going to get any insight? For me, it felt like a peepshow; he’s holding back the curtain to give us a peek into the lives of desperate people but in more of a “point and moralize” way which I frankly didn’t like or enjoy. It felt like poverty porn to me (don’t even get me started on The Grapes of Wrath), and he didn’t even remark on the symbolism of these bordellos and bars being located on Perdido Street–perdido means lost in Spanish–and rather than feeling any sympathy or rooting for these characters, they just left me cold since we didn’t understand their motivations or who they were or had any insight into why they were doing the things they were doing.

I don’t regret reading the book–I never even thought about putting it aside and not finishing–so that’s something. I was just disappointed, I guess, by the lack of insight. I guess that’s why I enjoy genre fiction so much; characters are everything in genre fiction, and I want to know the characters I am reading about rather than just having the curtain pulled back and being a passive viewer at the window into their lives.

(And yes, Lou Reed did get the title for his classic song from the title of this book and film.)

Dandelion

I am soon to depart for the airport, where I am catching a flight to LaGuardia for a weekend in New York; I am flying back home on Sunday. It’s going to be a short but busy trip, where I will get to see all kinds of people i really like and run all over the island and do all sorts of things. I also need to carve out time to write while there as well–I have gotten really bad about writing when on trips over the years, but I really can’t go without writing the entire time. I made quota again yesterday–it was a little harder to get motivated and not quite as easy to get into a proper rhythm, but it was also a transitional chapter and my first goes at those are always stilted and awkward and people don’t really talk like that, do they? But I got through it, the transition was made, and the stage has been set. Now we move on to act 2, which is why it really cannot wait. Hopefully, if I am not too tired when I get to the hotel, I can spend a few hours working.

My flight is already delayed, I see–so I don’t have to leave quite as early for the airport as I had originally thought, which is fine. Our Internet was spotty last night, going in and out, so we ended up not finishing watching the Golden Globes and I went to bed early. It seems to be working fine this morning, so I am not going to worry about it–I’m the one who always has to deal with it, the Cox bill is in my name, etc. etc. etc. It would suck for Paul to have no Internet for the weekend, but I am going to assume that last night was an aberration. Our cable box is also so old they can’t even service it anymore, so I need to go get a new one at some point; the Cox office is near my office, so I can run by there during lunch someday when I get back. Sigh, it’s always something.

I am taking A Walk on the Wild Side with me to read on the plane and at the airport, along with a rather short book by Harry M. Benshoff, Dark Shadows, which is a kind of academic breakdown of the original show that I am kind of looking forward to reading. Dark Shadows probably had a much bigger impact on me than almost anything else–my preference for Gothics, supernatural stories, murders–and I should probably do an entire entry about Dark Shadows and its influences and impact on me creatively. I am also trying to decide what other books to take on the trip with me–I need at least one more for the flight home–and am kind of torn as to what to read next. I’ve got some great cozies stacked up in the TBR pile, but I also have some books by other favorite authors and some other books that have gotten some high praise from either reviewers or friends on social media. Maybe someday I can get the TBR pile under control but it won’t be anytime soon, I can promise you that. I am really looking forward to reading more this year than I have in past ones.

I’m also looking forward to writing a lot more this year, too. I can’t believe what a roll I’ve been on since Christmas (or just before); I’ve written at least three thousand words a day on average ever since (some days I skipped, others I did from four to six thousand words), which is quite a bit, really–somewhere between forty-five and fifty thousand words, which is kind of impressive, I must say. It’s also not been wearing me out, or making me very tired. I think some of that has to do with the lessening of outside pressures and stressors–I’ve been sleeping very well (well, last night was kind of spotty) for the most part, feeling rested, and not letting things get to me the way they always seem to have been doing for the last three or four years. I really hate stress and anxiety, and I really need to make sure I continue to focus on reducing those thing. Staying off social media more has done a good job of that, too–nothing can quite raise the blood pressure the way reading something racist or homophobic or misogynist or transphobic from people who should know better, and I’ve started unfollowing and/or blocking people who are, for wont of a better word, assholes. And it actually feels good to hit unfollow or block, knowing you never have to interact with that person or read their shitty screeds ever again.

And it’s not required that I follow every crime writer on social media, either.

I went to a lot of events last year, and will be scaling back dramatically on that this year. Probably Bouchercon in San Diego is all I am going to do involving air travel, and yes, I’ve been offering my short stories and books up for Lefty and Agatha consideration, but I won’t be attending either event so even were I to score a nod, not being present doesn’t help your odds of winning. (For me, being present isn’t enough, either.) It’s weird to think that after this weekend’s trip I probably won’t be flying anywhere again until Labor Day weekend for Bouchercon, and I’m actually feeling kind of iffy about that, to be honest. I hate the thought of traveling over Labor Day weekend, but at least if I fly home on Sunday I’ll have Monday off to recalibrate and recenter and recover from the conference.

I just hope I can sleep this weekend. Let’s focus on getting through that first, shall we? LOL.

And on that note, I am going to bring this to a close and start packing. I made a list of everything I need for the trip, and I got the big black suitcase out last night so everything is in place and ready to go. I may check in with you tonight from the hotel–stranger things have happened–but one never knows. I was actually thinking the other day that I’ve gotten into a bit of a rut with this; I always write it in the morning with coffee and maybe, just maybe, sometime during the day I may write another entry, usually about a book I’ve just finished reading or something–and there’s really no reason for that other than habit. Maybe the blog entries that require a more awake brain, for logic and reasoning and making a rational argument either for or against something, can be worked on during the day or in the early evening or around my writing for the day. I have any number of entries I’ve started over the years–dealing with things like racism and homophobia and all the other, irrational bigotries and prejudices that run rampant in our modern world, and it would be nice to finish them all, get them out there into the world to be read by the two or three people who actually check in with me every day and read these meanderings of my mind.

19th Nervous Breakdown

Saturday morning and another lovely day in New Orleans–if a bit chilly–has dawned in the Lost Apartment. What a marvelous night’s sleep I had last night. The bed and blankets were so comfortable–not to mention the snoring kitty curled up between Paul and I–that I really didn’t want to get up, but I have far too much to do today to continue to laze in the bed simply because it felt good. So, it was out of the bed for one Gregalicious, and here I sit, swilling my morning coffee and clearing the cobwebs from my brain by trying to write a coherent blog post. (Good luck to me on that, am I right?) Yesterday was a work-at-home day, of data entry and doing quality assurance on testing logs, and yes, it is as tedious as it sounds. But after work I did some great thinking and work on the in-progress story, and am looking forward to getting some quality work done on it this morning/afternoon/however long it takes me to reach the day’s goal, and no matter if it kills me–which it just might do. I also have some errands to do today, but they shouldn’t take long.

Huzzah? Huzzah.

Last night we watched the final episode of Welcome to Chippendale’s, which really dragged on for far too long. There really wasn’t eight episodes of story here, and so it often seemed to drag and drag and drag. It’s a shame, the acting was top-notch and it was a great story, but unless you’re interested in viewing a couple of Emmy-worthy performances, watch the true crime documentary instead. It’s funny to remember how ubiquitous Chippendale’s seemed to be in the 1980’s–I certainly owned a few of their calendars, since they were the first real beefcake calendars produced–and I wished sometimes that I had a stronger memory, at least of the 1980’s, but it was such a dark and brutal decade for me I think I was happy to forget most of it. Paul is going to be gone most of the day today, so I have no excuse not to get a lot of writing and other things completed today. I do want to watch the adaptation of Louis Bayard’s The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix at some point this weekend, and of course we do need to finish watching Sherwood, too. I leave for New York on Wednesday, which is kind of fun–I am really looking forward to having some good Chinese food–and hopefully I’ll be able to get writing done on the road (which never happens, no matter how much I hope that it does).

But this time, it must.

I’m really enjoying all this writing I am doing lately, even though I am lazy and would rather not do anything at all. But it feels good to be pushing my brain and my creativity and trying to come up with fresh and new ways of saying things as well as fresh and new characters and interactions and stories. This first half of the year is going to be hectic and busy for me, but I am developing a plan that should help me get through till the spring. If I can stay motivated and stop being lazy, I should be able to get a lot accomplished before the dog days of summer are upon me. My writing goals for the year are very ambitious, of which I am well aware, but I think it’s better to try to do more and not quite get there than to plan less ambitiously and get even less done. I know I can’t get everything done that I want to get done in 2023 (I don’t think anyone could, to be honest), but I’d rather be overconfident than not, you know?

I am having my first piece of king cake for 2023 with my coffee this morning and it is sublime. It’s kind of hard to believe that Carnival season has rolled around again, and now of course the first part of the year will fly by: New York next week, Alabama the first weekend of February, then Carnival, the one-two punch of Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners at the end of March, and then of course it’s practically summer again already, and then the next thing you know it’s football season again. This, for the record, is how your life ends up slipping through your fingers like mercury. Heavy sigh. But I am trying not to look forward to things, if that makes sense? I kind of want to just keep my head down, avoid drama for the most part, and focus on my writing for the year. It seems like writing always takes a back seat to everything else for me, which is ironic since it’s the thing I draw the most pleasure from and being a writer is such an integral part of my self-identity. I don’t see myself as a sexual health counselor, even though that’s my day job and has been for eighteen years. I don’t see myself as Mrs. Saints & Sinners/Tennessee Williams Festival, either–even though that’s been Paul’s job for the last twenty-two years. I see myself, despite all the other identities I take on in my everyday life, first and foremost as a writer; that is the core of my identity and who I am. And yet…it always seems as though my writing in always being shunted to the side or pushed back on the list of things to do because I have so many other things always going on in my life. Writing will be my priority now going forward, and while I still intend to work on volunteer stuff whenever I have time, that isn’t going to be a priority for me and it never should have been, either. I don’t know why the most important aspect of my life is always back-burnered for one reason or another, but it’s not going to be the case anymore. I am going to be even more zealous and jealous of my time and donating it only sparingly, and only when I have time.

I also need to start being realistic about everything I can and cannot do and stop thinking oh I can do everything in the world by all means ask me to do more things. I think it all comes from the fear of being disliked, that goes back to childhood–I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over those scars, truth be told–and I am very aware of the idiocy this implies: oh if I say no to this they won’t like me and won’t ask me again; I have always called this Homecoming Queen Syndrome–the desperate need for approval from other people, the need to be liked and well thought of, the fear of being made fun of, mocked, and disliked. I need to work harder on not giving a fuck, but it’s also part and parcel of being queer and trying to fit into a mainstream culture group, the crime writing community. It’s very strange and off-putting to know that people who’ve never met you, know nothing about you, and never will know you hate you in the abstract; that some people will never like you because they’re homophobic (honestly, when it comes to homophobia I prefer the Westboro Baptist Church version, where they will scream their hatred in your face; at least it’s more honest than people who will smile to your face while voting to strip you of your rights); and those same people will never, no matter what, ever read anything you write. It’s weird knowing that people will find your books on Amazon and one-star you without reading the actual book because you’re a queer and you had the audacity to write a book about queers where they are actually whole, happy people who aren’t suffering at all because of their same-sex attractions. The great irony of this is my own inconsistency; when I actually think about it, I do not give two shits what other people think of me, and haven’t for a long time. Unfortunately, I’ve been conditioned my entire life to care what other people think so I always fall back on that subconsciously; I’m always so flattered to be asked to do anything–which is the sneaky way that insecurity/need to be liked gaslights me into agreeing to do things I may not want to actually do or have the time to get done without something else, something that actually matters more to me, being pushed aside or not getting the full attention it needs and deserves.

A Gregalicious is still a work in progress, apparently–even at sixty-one.

And on that note, this work isn’t going to do itself now, is it? Off to the spice mines with me–and will talk to you later, Constant Reader. Have a fabulous Saturday.

Homeward Bound

So, when Ellen Byron was preparing to interview me for our live stream event from Murder by the Book, she sent me some questions to prepare myself with. They were good questions, actually, and I thought that taking time to answer them when I can think about the responses would be an excellent BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION post.

So, without further ado, here we go!

What inspired your book? Series premise and the specific story?

That’s an interesting story, actually. I had been toying with the idea of writing a cozy for a long time–I’ve always liked them–but never was sure I could do it; there were rules, after all, and I’m terrible about following rules, always have been. Several friends have been encouraging me for years to do it, but I always hesitated. It was (I thought) outside of my comfort zone, and while I would toy with ideas here and there, none ever came to anything. My partner’s office is near a costume shop, and he’d had to go in there one day for some reason or another, and as is his wont, he struck up a conversation with an employee about the costume business, how they made money, how they stayed open all year, etc etc etc. He’s very curious. Anyway, that night I mentioned to him that someone had yet again suggested I write a cozy, and he wasn’t sure what one was, so I gave him a thumbnail overview, and he said, “Oh, you should do a costume shop” and proceeded to tell me about his conversation with the shop employee. I agreed it was an interesting idea, and stowed it away in the back of my head for future reference, and would think about it now and then, come up with characters and a community for the main character to be a part of, and so on. But at the same time I kept thinking New Orleans wasn’t the right place for a cozy series–basically looking for ways to fail instead of reasons to succeed, which is the underlying theme of my life, really–and so it went. An editor I’ve worked with before was interested in the idea of my writing a cozy series, so I wrote up a proposal and sent it off. They liked it, but couldn’t sign it, and recommended I take it somewhere else, so I did. It evolved from a costume shop to an antique shop during the process of me signing a contract with Crooked Lane; they liked everything about my idea except for the shop itself, so I had to change that. I went down to Magazine Street and walked for a block, writing down every kind of shop I saw, and sent the list in–and we all came to an agreement about the series being structured around an antiques business. As for the story, well, I wanted to talk about and explore the gentrification of New Orleans that has been ongoing almost this entire century, and how real estate has just exploded around here. (It still staggers me that our rent was $450 when we first moved here; the lowest rent I’ve seen advertised in our neighborhood is around $1500 for less than thousand square feet. Our original apartment now rents for $2500 per month now, which is insane.) What happens to Valerie–the fear of a new tax assessment pricing her out of her house–actually happened to a friend of mine; and the prices just seem to keep going up all the time. You can’t even buy a condo in my neighborhood for less than $350, 000 now–the asking prices for houses in the neighborhood are completely insane. Every time I see a new listing in the neighborhood for half a million dollars or more I think, we really should have bought when we moved here–but home-ownership is New Orleans isn’t something Paul or I have ever been terribly interested in. Termites, tornados, hurricanes, floods, black mold–no thanks! But man, what a return on our investment had we bought in 1996!

We both write series set in New Orleans. Why do you find it so inspiring? Especially when you’ve lived in so many other places?

I’ve lived all over the country–we’re from Alabama, and I’ve lived in Chicago on the south side, the suburbs, Kansas, Fresno, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis and then New Orleans. New Orleans is the only place I’ve ever been to where I felt like I belonged, where I fit in; where I didn’t seem like the eccentric one. New Orleans embraces its eccentrics and doesn’t judge them, and I like that. I knew that first time I came here on my birthday in 1994 that if I moved here all my dreams would come true. And they have, which has been kind of lovely. And no writer could ever exhaust the inspiration New Orleans provides. I’ve written fifteen books set here and countless short stories at this point, and haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve never written about the music scene here, for one glaring example, or restaurants or the food industry or…you see what I mean? There’s not enough time in my life to write everything I want to about New Orleans.

Tell us about your protagonist. Where did the inspiration for her come from?

My sister never had any interest in going to college or having any kind of career other than being a wife and mother. She was a straight A student and had numerous scholarship offers, but had little to no interest. I used to always think she had wasted her potential, but gradually came to the realization that she has the life she always wanted when she was growing up, and has never missed having a career outside of the home–so rather than feeling bad about her lost potential, I should have been happy that her dreams came true. I started thinking about that more, and thought that would make a great starting place–a woman like my sister who wasn’t really very interested in college but went because it was expected of her…only to fall in love, get married, and drop out when she had twins. I really like the idea of a woman who’s not yet thirty, who wasn’t really sure what she wanted from life and then sidetracked to wife-and-mother, but with her kids now off to college and her husband having died…what do you do for the rest of your life when you’re a widow at thirty-eight and your kids have left for college? And the more I thought about her, the more I liked her and wanted to write about her.

Why did you choose the Irish Channel as the neighborhood?

My Scotty series is set in the French Quarter, and the Chanse series was set in the lower Garden District (where I’ve always lived and always default to it for that very reason), so I wanted to do something different this time out. Before I moved here, I had friends who lived in the Channel and I loved their house and I loved their neighborhood. I had already started writing a novella set in their old house, and I thought, why not use that same house for this series? The Channel did used to be considered a bad part of town, too, when we first moved here (so was the lower Garden District, which we didn’t know), and so I thought the gentrification issue would work better there than in my neighborhood. That part of the Channel is one I used to spend a lot of time in. As my character mentions in the book, I used to hang out at the Rue de la Course coffee shop at the corner of Magazine and Harmony–it was where I would meet friends for coffee. I’m still bitter it closed.

Similarities in our series: both widows, both have family mysteries, both live in the Irish Channel, you have jokes about potholes, I have a plot point about them. Let’s talk about NOLA’s potholes.

Oh, the potholes! Ironically, an active one ate one of my car tires a few weeks ago. Usually, if I am going someplace and have to turn around, there’s usually room for me to make a U-turn or I can turned into a driveway and turn around. This particular day the bar on the corner had reopened after being sold, closed, and renovated for a few months. So, there were cars everywhere, including blocking the driveways, and I thought, fine, I’ll just go around the block, which I hadn’t done in years. Because I hadn’t done that i years, I forgot there’s a massive pothole right when you make the turn so you have to jog left to avoid it. I hit the pothole, hard, and when I did, I thought oh that’s not good and as I continued driving I noticed the car was pulling to the left–which was the tire that hit the pothole. Sure enough, it was flat. It had a nail in it, and I happened to hit the pothole perfectly so that the nail dragged, tearing a hole in the tire. So, yes, New Orleans is a city of potholes–all different shapes, sizes, and depths. When the streets flood the water hides the potholes, and if they are really deep…the one on our street (which is reforming after being filled in and paved over for like the fiftieth time) ate a pick-up truck when that end of the street flooded a few years ago, so our street was blocked until the water went down and a tow truck could get in.

You have a Nolier than thou joke – I have OhNo!LA, an app that’s a runner in the book.

I wish I could claim credit for that joke, but I stole it from Bill Loefhelm, another New Orleans crime writer when we were on a panel together talking about writing about New Orleans and the need to get things right. He responded to a question about accuracy by saying something like “Yes, you really don’t want to set off the Nolier-Than-Thou people” and it still makes me laugh whenever I think about it because it’s so true! In all honesty, I am one of those people–nothing is more infuriating to me than reading something set in New Orleans that doesn’t get it right–but I’ve loosened up some as I’ve gotten older. I was even wondering if that was still a thing while I was writing this book…but since it’s come out I’ve seen any number of locals posting reviews and comments about “how (he) got New Orleans right” so it is still a thing. (And I’m glad and grateful people think I get ir right.)

How would you say your past experiences and jobs in life inform your writing?

I always say that life is material, as is every experience you’ve had. I’ve had so many jobs over the years and have been fired so many times I can’t keep track of them all anymore. But I also had a huge variety of jobs–fast food to retail to food service to banking to insurance to an airline to being a personal trainer to managing a health club to being a magazine editor to my present job working in an STI clinic as a sexual health counselor. Whenever I am creating a character and need a job for them, I inevitably fall back on one of my experiences. The main character in The Orion Mask worked at an airport–I’ve written a lot of characters who work for airlines–and so I try to get away from my own experiences once I catch myself doing it again. I have always had jobs that required interaction with other humans, so I’ve gotten to observe a lot of human behavior. I’ve written about high school students in Kansas (where I went to high school). I’ve written about fraternities because I was in one (hard as it is to believe now). I played football in high school, I’ve written about football players in high school. The only places I’ve lived that I’ve not written about are Chicago, Houston, and Tampa (I have written about Florida, but just the panhandle, where I spent of time as a kid).

I read a blog post where you talked about your relationship with the city. How has it morphed over the years and where does it stand now? It sounded like doing promotion and writing about the city reignited your love for it. What’s your writing process? You write in different genres. Is the process different?

As sad as it is to admit, it’s very easy when you live here to start taking New Orleans for granted. As I said before, I usually am so focused on what I am doing–work, writing, errands, chores, etc.–that I don’t pay much attention to my surroundings as I should (I think we are all guilty of this to some degree). About a year before the pandemic, my day job moved. I had worked in our office on Frenchmen Street for well over ten years–right across the street from Mona’s, in that block between Decatur and Chartres, so I was a block outside the Quarter five days a week, and we also used to do a lot of testing in the French Quarter gay bars and passing out condoms during Carnival, Southern Decadence, and Halloween. So I used to spend a lot of time in and around the Quarter. It was lovely–I could go to the Walgreens or the Rouse’s on Royal and there was a bank branch on Chartres Street, too, by the Supreme Court building. Anytime I didn’t have anything in the house to pack for lunch I could just walk into the Quarter and get something not only amazing but inexpensive. I used to walk past where Scotty lives all the time. After we moved into our new building in the 7th Ward, I don’t go into the Quarter much anymore. So I was starting to feel a bit disconnected from New Orleans already before the pandemic shut everything down. But I realized when I started doing promo for this book that I am not disconnected from New Orleans. I’ve just lived here so long that I don’t take as much note of the unusual or the weird as I used to–it’s become normalized to me. I’ve acclimated. It’s still just as weird and wild and crazy here as it always has been, it just doesn’t strike me as weird and wild and crazy the way it used to. I need to take more walks and spend more time exploring the city and checking things out. I don’t know if all the hidden places I used to take friends to eat in the Quarter are still there, either. Maybe after Mardi Gras…