Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me

Thursday morning, and my quest to readjust to, ahem, civilian life is getting there gradually. I no longer feel like my batteries need to be recharged–at least, not for the moment–and there is some semblance of order to my kitchen. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and once again there are dishes in the sink, but the situation is neither as dire nor extreme as it seemed the other day. I’ve still not finished catching up on my email, nor have I had the mental fortitude to get back to reading Circe (which is killing me), nor have I written a single word of fiction this week…but I will. I am almost to the end of my latest journal, which means I’ve been carrying around two with me this week–the almost-finished, and the new one–which means I need to make sure that ideas and story fragments inside of it must be marked or retyped or scanned or something, so as not to be forgotten.

I came up with the idea for a hilarious Nancy Drew type spoof one morning while hanging out with Dana Cameron; actually it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the easiest way to describe it, which I happily scribbled away about in my journal, and I also came up with an idea for a crime short story which I am interested in exploring at some point; I have the WIP to work through, and the rewrite of the Scotty manuscript as well. I need to buckle down, don’t I? But I think that this week of readjustment and recharging my brain is necessary. I am inspired and I want to work hard on my writing again, I just haven’t the energy or creative strength to do it this week.

I have to run errands this morning; I don’t have to be at work until later this afternoon.

I am just fascinating this morning, aren’t I?

I am also toying with the idea of writing a supernatural-style series; it’s been on my mind for a while, and while I was in St. Petersburg I thought of a way to make it work, and combine some of the short stories I’ve written about that area of Louisiana already (and yes, The Gates of Evangeline helped with that). I am also becoming more and more interested in the history of Louisiana, and the possibility of a historical series, maybe New Orleans in the pre-WW1 era, or the 1920’s. I can’t decide.

But even though I am not putting words down, I am thinking, and that kind of counts as working, doesn’t it?

And now back to the spice mines.

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Diamonds and Pearls

Monday after Bouchercon.

It’s always lovely to sleep in my own bed; I have trouble sleeping when I travel so usually I am completely exhausted when I get home, and this trip was no exception. The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg is absolutely stunning; as Paul and I said to each other as we walked into our room, “This place is too nice for the likes of us.”

Our room had two balconies.

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The reason the image is a little blurry and not as sharp is because my camera lens kept fogging up every time I walked out there.

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Seriously, stunningly beautiful hotel. Paul was out at the pool every day and now has a tan on a par with the one we came back from Acapulco with twelve years ago. And oh, what fun was Bouchercon this year! I was a busy little bee making honey almost from the get go. And for someone who, no matter what, will always  be a fanboy…the first night we went to the Guest of Honor dinner, where I sat with Lawrence Block and Ian Rankin at my table–too starstruck to speak to either, frankly–but a lovely meal was had and I listened to some great conversation.

The next day, Thursday, I did the Coat of Many Colors event at nine in the morning with a Bloody Mary, and it was an absolutely lovely event, and a lot of fun. It’s rather fun always, methinks, to celebrate diversity in our genre as well as reminding people of terrific writers and books that may not have gotten the attention they should have. That day was also the anthology launch for Florida Happens, which entailed all the contributors present signing. I sat next to Debra Lattanzi Shutika, who was utterly and completely charming (you’ll love her story “Frozen Iguana,” people), and then came the big adventure.

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My friend Wendy had shattered her iPhone screen, and Paul and I had rented a car….so I offered to take her to the Apple Store.

In Tampa.

On the other side of the bay.

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So something simple–oh, let’s go get your phone fixed and have noodles for lunch–turned into a four hour adventure that probably should have ended with us being banned from Tampa, malls, healthy smoothy shops, and Targets for the rest of our lives. That night we ended up going out for dinner and having a lot of laughs and a lot of drinks (why did nobody ever tell me about the wonder that is a bleu-cheese stuffed olive in a dirty martini before?) we staggered back to the hotel to have more drinks and then I poured myself into bed. The beds at the Vinoy, by the way, just might be the most comfortable beds of all time.

Friday was my big day. Yes, not only did I have to be on three panels but I also ran for the Bouchercon board. The first panel was the sex panel, called “Nooner”, moderated by the divine Helen Smith, and my other panelists were the amazing Catriona McPherson, Heather Graham, Hilary Davidson, and the always hilarious and entertaining Christa Faust. The panel was smart, funny, fun….and I learned a few things.

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After that was the Bouchercon general election, and yes, I did win a three-year term on the Bouchercon board (although I am not certain “win” is the right word, KIDDING), which was absolutely lovely, and then I had to dash off to my next panel. I was moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony award finalists panel, with the amazing James Ziskin, Eryk Pruitt, Thomas Pluck, Lori Rader-Day (who won the award on Saturday night), and the always amazing Nadine Nettman. This was so much fun, even though the entire time I was up there I had flop sweat and kept checking my phone to see how much time was left, and didn’t relax until I knew there was only fifteen minutes to go. (I always feel like I fail as a moderator; always.)

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(Thanks to Catriona McPherson for not only keeping time, but for taking this terrific picture of us afterwords.)

Then came to the Rainbow Connection panel, moderated by Terri Bischoff, where I got to meet some new-to-me writers and it was a really great discussion. Absolutely great.

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Immediately after this, I ran and changed so Paul and I could be the plus-ones of our friends Wendy and Alison at the Harper Collins cocktail party. (And yes, we started drinking wine in Wendy and Alison’s room.) After ensuring I’ll never publish at Harper (but I got to meet Carol Goodman, a writer whose work I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time, and NOW I REALLY WANT TO BECAUSE SHE IS ABSOLUTELY LOVELY) I somehow invited myself along to a dinner, where I drank more wine, and then I went to a rooftop cocktail party I was invited to where I was surrounded by enormously talented and incredibly smart people whom I admire. I stumbled back into my room around three in the morning after drinking almost all the wine in Florida.

Saturday….I made a lot of bad decisions, thanks to the encouragement of some dear friends.

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Although…now I am questioning the use of the word friends.

I remember going to dinner, and drinking more there. (The dinner was terrific, and again, surrounded by incredibly smart and successful and talented people.) Then we returned to the hotel and things are kind of fuzzy after that.

But the trip home went incredibly smoothly so smoothly that I almost didn’t trust it. But a lovely time indeed it was, and I already miss it.

Next year in DALLAS.

(Apologies to whoever I stole these pictures from; I wind up never taking pictures at Bouchercon and having to lift them from Facebook and Twitter.)

Live and Learn

So, the governor declared a state of emergency last night for Tropical Storm Gordon, which may be a Category 1 when it comes ashore tonight. Right now it’s projected to pass through here around one in the morning, which means when it’s time to get up in the morning and head to the airport it might still be raining, but the storm should have passed long before. Our flight should be fine, barring any complications from airport damage or a power outage there. Fingers crossed! Paul and I discussed it at great length last night, and decided that in a worst case scenario–rebooking and an inability to get out of here until Friday–that we would just turn it into a stay-cation and bid adieu to Bouchercon for this year. It cannot be helped and while it would be an enormous disappointment, there’s no point in being sad, depressed or upset about it, since it’s completely outside of our control.

I did get some things done yesterday that I needed to get done; today’s plan is to take Scooter to the Kitty Camp where he will board until we return, finish packing, get some things done around here cleaning-wise, and get back to reading The Gates of Evangeline, by Hester Young, which I started last night and am enjoying tremendously. Lori Roy mentioned it recently in an article about top Southern Gothic novels, and I remembered that I had a copy; Lori is someone whose opinion about books I deeply respect (check out her most recent, The Disappearing, which is exceptional, but you can’t go wrong with any of her amazing novels) and she has again proven my faith in her taste to be correct. It’s gorgeously written and perfect Southern Gothic–which last night got me to thinking about Southern Gothic. I really think Southern Gothic, and Southern noir, is really what I should be writing; my best short stories (and therefore what I consider to be my best work) really are Southern Gothic; “Survivor’s Guilt” is a good example of that.

Something to ponder, at any rate.

I also finished reading Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie yesterday morning, so my Bouchercon homework is complete, one day ahead of time.

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When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gate of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. A rawboned middleweight, he was broad at the shoulders and hips, as if God had attempted to halt his growth and he’d thickened out of spite.

“Go one,” the guard said. Jay couldn’t remember his name, but he was all right, as far as CO’s went. “Ride’s waiting for you at the curb.”

Jay squinted at the road. The only vehicle waiting in the early summer heat was a black Suburban parked at the yellow curb. The wind played with his shock of black hair. He had spent twenty-five years locked inside a dank Shaolin prison dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.

Men who needed killing.

Mama Angeline raised him to understand that some folks just needed killing. There was nothing you could do for them.

And she’d been right.

And so begins the final Anthony nominee for Best Paperback Original. I was already acquainted with Jay–he appeared in Pluck’s short story contribution to Blood on the Bayou, “Gumbo Weather,” and was delighted to read about him again. The book reads like a classic old black and white film, as Jay tries to figure out what happened to his life and the people he cared about while he was locked up–as well as looking out for vengeance–and it reads like a cross between a Jim Thompson novel and perhaps a Lee Child; non-stop twists and turns and surprised, written in a style the compels you to keep reading.

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

This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

I watched the Auburn-Washington game yesterday while I cleaned the downstairs. I did a lot of chores and errands yesterday; and also did some reorganizing and cleaning so the living room doesn’t look quite so…book hoarder-ish. 

I’m getting better about it. I’ve realized that the true value, for me, of the ebook is that if I read a book I really like and think I’ll want to hang on to for one reason or another, I can donate the hardcopy and buy the ebook; if I’m patient enough and pay enough attention to email alerts and so forth, I can usually get it at a much discounted price. I don’t feel quite so bad about buying ebooks at low sale prices as I would had I not paid full price already for a print version. So, I’m really buying the book twice.

(I also find myself taking advantages of sales on ebooks by a particular author whose books I loved and would love to revisit sometime. I have the entire canon of Mary Stewart on my iPad, and a shit ton of Phyllis Whitneys. I’m also occasionally finding books by Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, which is lovely; I’ve also managed to get some of Susan Howatch’s lengthy family sagas, like Penmarric, The Wheel of Fortune, and Cashelmara. There are many treasures to be found through e-retailers.)

And I also find that, once I’ve let go of the hard copy, I’m not usually all that anxious to buy the e-version. Most of the books I want to keep is because I think it might be something I’d want to write about in a broader, nonfiction sense; like a book about the Gothic romances of the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, what they were inspired by, and how they were books about women’s fears; yes, there was romance involved, but they were also about the dark side of romance. Or a lengthy essay or study about how gay men are portrayed in crime novels written by authors who aren’t gay men, like the rampant homophobia in James Ellroy’s Clandestine or the male/male relationship in James M. Cain’s Serenade or any number of gay male portrayals over the decades of American crime fiction. Then there are, of course, the nonfiction tomes, about periods of history that interest me that I hold onto because I may need them as research for a book or story idea that I have.

I also keep copies of books by my friends, and whenever a friend has an ebook sale I will always grab a copy if I can.

I still haven’t really shifted from reading hard copies to reading electronically, but I am slowly but surely getting there. Anthologies are really helpful in that way; short stories are, of course, self-contained and by definition can usually be completed in one sitting.

I also finished reading James Ziskin’s wonderful Cast the First Stone, and am now eighty percent of the way finished with my Bouchercon homework.

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Monday, February 5, 1962

Sitting at the head of runway 31R at Idlewild, the jet hummed patiently, its four turbines spinning, almost whining. The captain’s voice crackled over the public-address system to inform us that we were next in line for takeoff. I’d noticed him earlier leaning against the doorframe of the cockpit, greeting passengers as we boarded the plane. He’d given me a thorough once-over–a hungry leer I know all too well–and I averted my gaze like the good girl that I’m not.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he’d said, compelling me to look him in the eye. He winked and flashed me a bright smile. “I hope to give you a comfortable ride.”

I surely blushed.

Now, just moments after the handsome pilot had assured us of our imminent departure, the engines roared to life, and the aircraft lurched forward from its standstill. Juddering at first as it began to move, the plane rumbled down the runway, gathering speed as it barreled toward takeoff. I craned my neck to see better through the window,  holding my breath as I gripped the armrest of my seat and grinned like a fool. I sensed the man seated next to me was rolling his eyes, but I didn’t care. Of course I’d flown before–a regional flight from LaGuardia to Albany on Mohawk Airlines, and a couple of quick hops in a single-engine Cessna with a man who was trying to impress me with his derring-do. Alas, his derring-didn’t. But this was my first-ever flight on a jet plane.

This is a terrific start to a terrific novel. The fifth book in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Ellie Stone series, it is, alas, the first Ellie Stone I’ve read. I met the author at a Bouchercon some time back (I don’t recall which one) and of course, I’ve been aware of the awards and the acclaim, and have been accumulating the books in his series for my TBR pile, but just haven’t gotten to them yet, much to my chagrin. So while I am not a fan of reading books out of order in a series (a crime I committed earlier in my Bouchercon homework with Nadine Nettman’s wine series), I certainly didn’t have the time to go back and read the first four.

Now, of course, I am going to have to–and what a delightful prospect this is.

Ellie is a delight, for one thing. The book/series is set in 1962/early 1960’s; and Ellie is a report for the New Holland Republic, not taken terribly seriously by the men she works with or for (with the sole exception her direct editor), even though she is the best reporter and the best writer on her paper. (It kind of reminds me of Mad Men in that way.) The opening is terrific; Ziskin captures that excitement of your first jet flight in a time period where it wasn’t terribly common to fly beautifully, and using that experience to not only showcase how adventurous Ellie is but to introduce her to the new reader as well as give some of her background. She is flying out to Los Angeles to interview a local boy who’s gone out to Hollywood to be a movie star, and has recently been cast as the second male lead in one of those ubiquitous beach movies the 60’s were known for, Twistin’ at the Beach. But he hasn’t shown up for his first day of shooting on the Paramount lot, placing his job in jeopardy, and soon the producer has been murdered…and the deeper Ellie gets into her story and her search for Tony Eberle soon has her digging through the seaming, tawdrier side of the Hollywood dream and system. Saying much more would be giving away spoilers, but Ziskin’s depiction of the secretive side of Hollywood, what studios were willing to do back in the day to protect bankable stars, and what that meant to those on the seamier side of the business is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, and sympathetically written.

I can’t wait to read more about Ellie Stone.

And now I have moved on to Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the last part of my homework. LSU plays tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I want to go to the gym, do some more cleaning, and do some more writing today.

So it’s back to the spice mines with me.

Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

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November Rain

So, I submitted two stories this week. Pretty cool, huh? One was “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” which was commissioned for an anthology (hope they like it!) and the other was “The Problem with Autofill,” which has already been rejected twice and this might be it’s final gasp. I also revised it again, and catching the mistakes and making some other things more clear in this version kind of also made me think, oh, well, there’s why it was rejected. I like the story a lot–I like both stories, honestly–and so we will see. I don’t know this new market I submitted it to, but nothing ventured and all that. And this morning that new market emailed me that they received the story.

If that wasn’t a breath of fresh air, I don’t know what is.

After today and tomorrow my vacation for Bouchercon begins, even though we don’t leave until Wednesday morning. Monday is, of course, a holiday, so I didn’t see any point in working on Tuesday and then being off again the next day. This way, I can also ease into my vacation, clean the house thoroughly, run errands, pack, and get everything in order the way it should be in order before we leave for St. Petersburg. I am looking forward to Bouchercon, but am also really looking forward to having the time away from work to recharge. My confidence in my writing–which is always an ebb and flow kind of thing–has been kind of low lately, so it will be lovely to be around other writers and readers for a lengthy weekend so I can reconnect with my writer self. I can’t believe August just flew past the way it did, and I got so very little done. Heavy heaving sigh. I am going to take the Scotty manuscript with me to St. Petersburg–yes, pretending that I’ll have the time to look at it and/or work on it–but there’s always the plane.

I also haven’t had the energy to read, either, and I am running out of time to get the books I need to read for my Bouchercon moderating panel finished. AIEEEEEEE!

Again, you see why I need to take all this time away from the office.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Life is a Highway

Good Lord, it’s almost Southern Decadence, and college football is back this weekend! GEAUX TIGERS!

The US Open is also going on, which means I won’t be watching the series finale of Sharp Objects for a while as well as getting behind on Castle Rock. Ah, well, that’s fine, on this day next week we’ll be arriving in lovely St. Petersburg for this year’s edition of Bouchercon. I am going to be a very busy Gregalicious in St. Petersburg this year. I am doing the Coat of Many Colors event on Thursday morning; the anthology signing later that same day; and then three panels on Friday: the nooner sex panel at noon; moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony panel at 3, and then appearing on the rainbow (?) panel at 4.

I really need to prepare. But I am still reading James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and am hoping to get that finished so I have time to read Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before next week.

Also, instead of working on the things I should be working on, I started writing a new short story last night, “The Blues before Dawn”:

A saxophone player lived across the street from me, on the third floor of a fading and dilapidated building painted a fading coral. Every night, without fail, after the band he played with was finished, he’d come home and crack open a cold beer. He’d take his brightly colored silk shirt off and climb out onto his rusty, sagging balcony. Wearing just his trousers and white suspenders stretched over his muscular torso, he’d straddle a chair and play his sax as he wound down for the evening. I usually got home around the time he launched into the second tune of his late-night concert, something low and sensual and sexy that made me think of warm skin, teeth nibbling on my earlobe, and the caress of firm muscle pressed close against my own body. I would get a beer from my own refrigerator and strip naked in the sticky heat of the early morning, the ceiling fan blades whistling as they spun over my head, listening to the mournful notes coming from his broken-hearted saxophone. I sat in my window on the fourth floor across the street with the lights off, sweat shining on my skin as I watched and listened, as the sinewy muscle in his shoulders and arms and chest clenching and relaxing as he played in the fading darkness of the night, the sun still an hour from rising but the light of the moon dying as a new day struggled to be born. I fell asleep many a sunrise lulled to sleep despite the heat and humidity by the purity of the notes he played.

So I got about a thousand words into this before coming to a halt. It turns out, as I wrote, to be about a gay prostitute in the 1920’s in Storyville; I don’t even know if that was such a thing, so should probably do some research on that, don’t you think? But I do find myself turning to New Orleans history more and more; I suspect a visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection will be in order at some point in my near future.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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