The Power of Goodbye

At 3:00 pm, Saturday, January 14th eastern time, I officially (and symbolically) turned over my gavel as Executive Vice President of the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America.

It’s going to take some getting used to, methinks.

As you get older, your perspective changes on things when you look back. I’ve never been one to look back at my past–I’ve always tried to focus on the present and the future–but once I hit sixty, it was inevitable. January 20th this month is the twenty-first anniversary of the release of my first novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and with the closing of this chapter–my service to MWA–it’s hard not to look back and remember.

When I was first published, my mystery writer friends kept urging me to pursue mainstream markets and join mainstream organizations. A lot has happened since 2002: Lawrence v. Texas still hadn’t been decided so my sex life was still a crime; “don’t ask don’t tell” was still in place; and it’s not like you could get married to your same-sex partner when our sexuality was criminalized. That was a completely different world and society and culture than the one we currently live in. For one thing, for a gay mystery author, there were queer newspapers and magazines and bookstores. It was entirely possible to make a living and a career for one’s self outside of the mainstream–and this situation developed because of the mainstream’s rejection of most things queer. There had been some queer publishing booms, but I came in at the tail end of the last one–as all the New York publishers had started canceling queer imprints and slowly but surely removing queer writers from their lists. I decided that I would try to arrange signings and appearances at mystery bookstores as well as queer ones, and that was a lesson in homophobia I’ve never forgotten. One mainstream bookstore actually hung up on me after nastily cutting me off to say we don’t carry those kinds of books in our store–some variation of which I heard from all of them except one (which is why Murder by the Book in Houston will always hold a place in my heart). A friend bought me a membership in an organization as a gift (I won’t name it) but it was made abundantly clear to me that mainstream spaces weren’t welcoming or safe for a fledgling queer writer, so I didn’t bother joining any others or going to any mystery conferences–my concerns were always poo-poohed by straight mystery writer friends, which now, in reflection, was a kind of gaslighting, but I was inevitably always proven right (it’s always nice to be told you’re “nobody”). But when I emerged from the haze of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the wreckage it made of my life, publishing had significantly changed, as had the rest of the world. The queer stores were closing, and our newspapers and magazines were shuttering–as were some of our publishers. I took a look around and thought, what am I going to do now?

I took a deep breath and joined Mystery Writers of America. Within a year I was asked to run for my chapter board, and then was asked to run for chapter president, which would also give me a seat on the national board. I remember going to New York for my first board orientation, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel–I always loved staying there; it made me feel like an author the way I only really feel when I am in New York, to be honest–and walking into the room where the meeting was being held. I had already met MWA staffer Margery Flax (at the time administrative director, now Executive Director), who had made me feel not only welcomed but like I belonged, which was something I had only rarely ever felt outside of queer publishing. I remember being awestruck that I was in the same (proverbial) room where it happened; the same board meeting that giants of our genre had attended in the past. I was stunned when a beautiful woman asked me if the seat next to me was taken and I was like oh my god, that’s Harley Jane Kozak! (I knew her from my long addiction to daytime, but also from other films she’d done.) I sat there quietly, overwhelmed, absorbing it all, and that night at dinner I had the thrill of sitting next to Jess Lourey, and as we talked over dinner we became friends–something that has lasted to this day; I will always love Jessie–and over the next four years I slowly found my voice and began taking on more and more responsibilities. It became a huge part of my life, and I kept working, as is my wont, to try to achieve equity for everyone in MWA, specifically with the goal to make queer writers feel welcomed and a part of the organization as a vital part of our community. I made a lot of friends that I cherish to this day, and it felt very weird when my time there was finally up and I stepped away. Being involved with MWA, and making friends in the organization (which led to making even more friends in the genre) was what got me to start attending our genre conferences, getting involved and being more active in the community, and becoming better known than I was before.

It would have been easy to give up after the collapse of queer media and outlets. Mystery Writers of America gave me hope that my career could and would continue, and that the best part was yet to come.

So one can only imagine my surprise when four years after I left the board I was asked to return and serve as Executive Vice President (basically, chairman of the board). I was thrilled, flattered, and honored, particularly for being the first openly gay one in the history of the organization. What better way, I thought, to let queer writers know they were welcome than by being in a leadership position? There was admittedly some hubris involved in saying yes–the making history thing, for one, as well as thinking I could handle all that responsibility while maintaining a full time job and a full time writing career. I will never regret saying yes; the only regrets I have are the mistakes I made (there were plenty) and not having as much time to devote to the office as was needed so I could get everything done that I wanted to get done while I served. But I am not going to focus on the regrets, ever; instead I shall take pride in the things we were able to accomplish.

And now, it’s over. I could have served five years total, but bowed out after three. Were we still living in the same world we were in when I was initially approached in the fall of 2019, I probably would have stayed for the full five. But we’re not living in that same world–the pandemic that shut down the world within two months of my taking office overwhelmed every aspect of my life, from day job to running errands to my writing and publishing career to helping to oversee the operations of the organization. (I like to joke about how I was not only the first gay EVP in history but also the first EVP to cancel the Edgar banquet) Navigating an organization through the unknown waters of a pandemic and a changing world, where there was no previous experience to draw from was challenging, especially since I had to worry about my day job, adjust to working from home on some days and helping with the COVID testing at our office, exposing me to something that could quite possibly kill either Paul or myself every day I was there. The years between 2020 and now are all kind of blurry to me now; sort of the way everything from the Katrina evacuation through about 2009 is either a blank or blurry.

It’s going to take some getting used to, and it’s going to take a while before it sinks in that it’s no longer my responsibility.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences–both good and bad–for anything. Even though sometimes it was stressful and disruptive, and there were times when I got incredibly frustrated because I was very short on time and in the middle of a book that I needed to focus on, it’s going to be weird for me for awhile. It was very weird checking my emails this morning and seeing that there were none with (MWA) in the header line. I worked with some great people and made some friends–at least I like to think so, their mileage might vary–that I would have never made had I not served. I learned a lot about myself, and strangely enough I also think serving somehow has made me a better writer somehow; I know the work I am producing now is vastly superior to the work I did before I served. I know I have a stronger sense of the genre after my total of seven years of service.

The hardest part, I think, is going to be remembering that I no longer have anything other than an opinion and that I am now just one of the many members.

Thanks to everyone I served with, the membership, and the community. I no longer feel like an outsider looking in at the community, and maybe, just maybe, I made a small difference.

I can live with that.

You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Christmas Eve! It’s warmer today than yesterday by a full six whole degrees; it’s 32 degrees instead of 26, as it was yesterday. The The apartment is over all toasty and warm–but the kitchen and upstairs bathroom are not. They are a bearable degree of cold, but I do have the space heater going this morning in here as I type this and swill coffee and wake-up gradually. I slept magnificently last night, and feel very rested and relaxed this morning, which is quite marvelous. I hit my word count somehow yesterday–three thousand words–and hope to do the same today. Today has a higher goal–I’m feeling rather ambitious this morning–and Paul has his trainer this afternoon and is working on a grant proposal, so I should have the solitude I need to bang out the count I need to achieve today. I picked up the mail and ran some other errands yesterday–including taking Paul to Michaels on Claiborne to pick up a gift for me. You’d think by now I’d know he’s going to flout the “no gift” rule every year, because he has and yet every year I think he’s going to stick to it. I think it’s part of that failing memory thing I have going. Anyway, he had the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune/Advocate from the morning after the 2020 National Championship game framed and mounted; it’s a full page shot of Joe Burrow running downfield holding up both hands with his forefingers extended, with the headline PERFECT. It’s mounted on gold paper and the frame is purple, and I absolutely love it. Paul always won Christmas when we used to get plan on getting each other gifts, primarily because he pays attention to things I say and takes notes all year to plan for Christmas; I’ll never forget that marvelous year he got us tickets to see the Monte Carlo Ballet Company’s Romeo and Juliet, which I absolutely loved–all because I’d casually mentioned once that I loved ballet and wanted to write about it one day, despite knowing next to nothing about it. (Aside: I keep thinking I want to write a Sherlock Holmes story built around a Nijinsky performance in New Orleans; someday perhaps.)

We also watched, and greatly enjoyed, Glass Onion last night. I actually liked it better than Knives Out, in all honesty, and I love that this is turning into a film series. It reminds me so much of Agatha Christie at her best, and is there a better compliment to give a mystery film than a Christie comparison? I think not. I think Daniel Craig (whom I’ve loved since he emerged from the surf in that square cut swimsuit in Casino Royale, and quickly became one of my favorite James Bonds) is simply fantastic. The Southern accent grated a bit on me at first in Knives Out, but by the end of the movie it didn’t bother me anymore and it didn’t even make me recoil the first time I heard it last night. I think I’d like to write something along the lines of these films sometime–the big cast of suspects, the great detective unraveling the case–because I’ve always wanted to do an Agatha Christie style/classic vintage mystery type house party murder mystery. (Note to self: reread The Affair of the Blood-stained Egg Cosy)

But mother of God, it was cold yesterday when we were out in it. As I said to Paul–the entire world was out shopping yesterday because of course it was; we had to park a very long way from Michaels–“I can hang with this cold for a couple of days, but months of it would make me homicidal.” My grocery pick-up order ended up being canceled; they were unable to get it together for the time I’d selected, and the message was up to two hours minimum delay. At first I was a bit stunned, but then realized everyone and their mom is ordering groceries for pick-up today, and I bet the orders are a lot larger than usual. So I stopped by Rouses, they had a turkey breast in the freezer section, so I picked it up and carried it to the small order register, canceled my pick-up order (all I really needed with the turkey breast; everything else could wait) and then when I got home, put in another order for pick-up on Monday, since I have the day off.

Picking up the mail also ended up with a great gift to the Lost Apartment from the President: there was a stack of envelopes in the mailbox from the IRS for Paul, thirty in all. Turns out his student loans had all been forgiven, retroactively to 2017; the stack of envelopes were refund checks for every payment he’s made since then. So, yes, only more proof that our votes for President Biden and Democrats down the line was the right choices (and always have been for queer people). So keep your “how fucking dare you forgive student loan debt” shit to your fucking selves, you selfish assholes. This did, and will continue, to make a significant difference in our lives going forward; and can I just say, I can’t remember the last time any government policy had such an impact on us directly? Obviously, the Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell Supreme Court decisions had a macro impact on us, but this is an intimate micro effect that made us both very happy yesterday. And what lovely timing, too–right before Christmas. Let’s go, Brandon indeed.

I get a text from Entergy this morning warning of potential brownouts because of high demand for energy with the cold weather; I would imagine this is because the cold is effecting everywhere, so there’s nowhere Entergy can borrow power from if the supply runs low. That’s kind of scary, really, because people could literally freeze to death down here; imagine that! How weird would it be for someone to freeze to death down in southeastern Louisiana? It does make me a bit concerned about the homeless population here–we have a considerable one–so I hope they all found shelter and a place to stay warm.

And I think as soon as I finish this I am going to get the turkey started in the slow cooker, and curl up in my easy chair with my coffee, a blanket, and Dashing Through the Snowbirds by Donna Andrews. I think my new Christmas tradition every year will be just that; I’ll read Donna’s Christmas mystery for Christmas every year.

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

Winter is here, and not the usual New Orleans winter, either. The floor here in the Lost Apartment is very, very cold; and the kitchen of course feels colder than the living room (it used to be the back porch at one time before being enclosed into a kitchen/laundry room. I didn’t sleep very well on Wednesday night, and started flagging at the office yesterday in the late afternoon. The cold didn’t help–but at least it was still pleasant. I had forgotten a few things at Rouses on Wednesday night, and while I was considering not leaving the house today, I decided it was a better idea to order things to be picked up today rather than stop on my way home when I was already tired. Work on the book was a bit of a slog yesterday–which is not a good thing at all–but I got some of the work done, and hope to get more done today. It’s a holiday, so I don’t have to do any dayjob stuff, which is lovely–I also have Monday off, which is also lovely. It’s twenty-six degrees here right now (just checked) but the sun is out and it doesn’t look terribly windy or anything out there. I was terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday–as the day went on I flagged even more. When Paul got home we watched some more Three Pines. I am not really sure if I am sold on the show or not; it’s solidly done, the acting is good and the writing is okay, but there just seems to be something missing for me. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just not hitting me the way I think it should. And ordering the groceries for today was smart–turns out Paul needs to run an errand today anyway, so there I go–I was going to have to leave the house anyway so stopping on the way home wouldn’t have made any difference as to me not leaving the house today.

I slept marvelously last night, though. Scooter woke me up this morning at five thirty-ish, hungry–he doesn’t care about what day it is–but I went back to bed and was able to sleep nicely for another few hours, which was marvelous, really. I felt very rested this morning, and like I might be able to power through all the writing I need to do today. The groceries aren’t scheduled for pick-up until around one, so I figure I can get a lot done this morning while I swill my coffee. There’s a load of laundry in the dryer and a load in the dishwasher, so yay for that chore, and I usually launder the bed linens on Fridays, so I could get a jump start on that as well. Yay for ambition!

And ugh, just looking around the kitchen–yes, I should spend some time this morning cleaning up in here. Yikes. I’ve really become a slipshod housekeeper. Maybe in the spring I could take a week off from work and just work on projects around the house. Hmmm. That’s actually not a bad idea. I’m not going to be traveling much in the future–I was thinking about it yesterday, as reports of delays and cancelled flights kept popping up everywhere and friends who actually were traveling were posting complaints about delayed flights and lost luggage and delays and I was like, ugh, I’ve really begun to hate traveling. I like being there once I get there, but I hate the process. I traveled a lot this past year, I guess to make up for the pandemic years where I went nowhere other than Kentucky? But the whole airport/airplane/other passengers process, parking at the airport and getting a cab on arrival, etc…I am getting to the point where just thinking about it makes my blood pressure rise and my head hurt and my anxiety to climb. I am going to New York in a few weeks (note to self: book airport shuttle service for LaGuardia), and after that I am probably not going to travel again other than Bouchercon in the late summer/fall, in San Diego. I’ll probably also have to go to Kentucky at some point as well. Heavy heaving sigh.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am looking forward to these peaceful four days. It’s weird, isn’t it, how it simply being a holiday somehow makes a difference? I’m not precisely sure why that is, but somehow it has. I think it’s knowing that even if I wanted to go run an errand or something I wouldn’t be able to? I don’t know, maybe it’s one of the many quirks in my brain, but there you have it.

It’s funny, when I pulled up the draft for today’s post and saw the picture I’d selected already for it (I do that in advance) I realized it’s really a perfect illustration for my story “The Snow Globe.”

I mean, if you’ve read it you’d know what I mean. If you want to read it and buy the anthology it’s from, you can buy it here, and wouldn’t it make a great Twelfth Night gift for someone you love?

And as a little Christmas gift, here’s the story’s opening yet again.

Santa, Dylan thought, certainly has a great six-pack.

He smiled as he leaned against the bar, watching the so-called Santa with a slight smile. He definitely wasn’t your average department store Santa, that was for sure.

The guy’s body was thickly muscled and perfectly proportioned. His biceps and shoulders were thick, every muscle cord and fiber etched and carved beneath his smooth, tanned skin. The cleavage his big chest was deep, his nipples like purplish quarters. It didn’t seem possible for his waist to be so small, and the crevices between his abdominal muscles were deep enough for a finger to fit between up to the first knuckle. His legs were powerful and strong, ropy bulging veins pushing against the silky skin.

Like a traditional Santa, his face was hidden behind the obligatory long white wig and the thick white beard and mustache—but that was his only bow to tradition. Rather than a red suit with white trim and a big black belt, he simply wore a tiny bikini of crushed red velvet with glittery red sequins trimmed around the waist and legs with green faux fur.  Large brass rings exposing pale skin connected the front to the back. His red boots sparkled with red sequins and glitter, trimmed at the top with green velvet. Slung over his right shoulder was a red velvet bag, also trimmed with green faux fur. Every movement he made as he talked to a group of young twinks with poofy hair and obscenely slim hips caused muscles to bulge and flex somewhere.

Dylan knew he was staring but didn’t care.

Underneath the Tree

Ah, Sunday. Sundae would be better, of course–who doesn’t love a sundae?

It’s below fifty this morning in New Orleans, so the predictions of colder weather coming our way in the forecast were clearly correct. It’s so nice having a heater that actually works. We didn’t turn it on upstairs, so when I got out of bed I felt a bit cold, but then I came downstairs where it is nice and comfortable. Maybe I can handle the cold weather with a working heater in the house. Who knew?

I worked a lot on the book yesterday and made a lot of progress with chores and things around the house. I’m hoping to get a big push today as well, and the only other thing I have to really do is go make groceries–I am debating as to whether or not that can wait until tomorrow on the way home from work but I am leaning towards going today and getting it over with. I also did some more refrigerator research–trying to find what I want in the price range we want that will also fit into the refrigerator space in the kitchen is proving to be more of a challenge than one would have expected. I think I found one that will barely fit into the space–it’s a matter of fractions of an inch–but we are also wondering if we can simply have the cabinet above the refrigerator removed to allow more room. Decisions, decisions–but there’s no rush, I suppose, other than my obsession now that we’ve decided to make the plunge and get a new one.

We started watching Smiley on Netflix last night, another Spanish language show with queer characters–it’s kind of a romantic comedy; there’s a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a straight couple, all loosely connected (the pretty young gay bartender works with one of the lesbian couple at her bar; the older gay guy works with the straight guy at an architectural firm) and kind of charming. The premise is that both Alex (the bartender) and Bruno are single and about ready to give up on romance and love. Alex has a string of one night stands with guys who ghost him; Bruno has no luck with dating apps–getting some really nasty responses when he reaches out. For some reason, Alex decides to use the bar phone to call his last ghosting date, all furious and hurt and angry–but misdials and leaves the message on Bruno’s phone instead. Bruno finally decides to call back–just to let Alex know the person he meant the message for never got it–and they start talking and decide to meet. It doesn’t go well, and they end up arguing–and end up back at Alex’s having the best sex either of them have ever had, but misunderstandings continue to get in the way. The lesbians are also at a crossroads in their relationship, and decide to work through the issues rather than breaking up, and the straight couple is also having some trouble. It’s cute, it’s funny, and the actors are all pretty appealing–and of course, it’s nice seeing an “opposites-attract” gay rom-com happening on my television screen. And the young man who plays Alex is really pretty. He was also in Merli, another Spanish show we started watching but gave up on; his name is Carlos Cuevas. The guy who plays Bruno is also far too handsome to be the troll we’re supposed to believe these gay boys think he is–he’s handsome, he’s successful, he’s intelligent–Miki Esparbé; or maybe it’s because he’s older, I don’t know. But I’m interested to see how this plays out.

Christmas is next weekend, which doesn’t seem quite real to me yet. Part of this is because I am so focused on trying to get the book finished as well as trying to stay on top of everything else I am doing that days seems to slip through my fingers and the next thing you know, Christmas is next weekend. This whole year has been like this, frankly–the last few, if I am being completely honest, and in that same spirit, really everything from March 2020 on has been a confusing blur and I don’t remember when or where things happened. It’s also hard for me to grasp that 2010 was almost thirteen years ago, and trying to remember that entire decade isn’t easy. I guess this is what happens when you get older? Ah, well, it’s something I may never get used to but simply have to accept as reality, you know?

This week at work should also be interesting–the week before Christmas, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a weird time around the office. We never have a lot of appointments, and we also have a lot of no-shows, which can be a pain. Paul and I haven’t watched anything even remotely Christmassy; although the Ted Lasso Christmas Special might be a fun thing to revisit.

It’s also weird as the year comes to a close as I start reflecting back on the year, and what is different going into this new year as opposed to going into the last new year. The fact that I have trouble remembering what happened throughout the year is also not any help to me at all, frankly, and neither is the fact that I always have to stop and think was that 2020 or 2021? There are also a lot of draft posts accumulated here; things I wanted to write about when I was more awake and not caffeine-deprived, so that I didn’t misspeak or say something that out of proper context could be problematic. I never talked about my reread of Interview with the Vampire or my thoughts about the new show, which I greatly enjoyed and thought was very well done, for example. (And Mayfair Witches will be debuting in the new year, which I am really looking forward to watching.)

The blog has always been my way of waking up and warming up my brain and my writing muscles, which is why it is always so scattershot and all over the place. I’m not exactly sure when it went from a daily writing exercise to a “daily writing exercise while I wake up in the morning”, but that happened at some point in the last eighteen years; my livejournal began in December of 2004, and I’ve been plugging away either there or here ever since. How much has changed since then? It snowed that December, I remember that, and we were living in the carriage house with Skittle. I know we’d put up a tree, and we were kind of looking forward to 2005 being an easier year after everything that happened in 2004. Little did I realize the evangelical Christians of Virginia were waiting in the wings, as well as a little hurricane that would be named Katrina. I had only published four novels, and only two short stories that weren’t erotica. (I just remembered that when we lived in the carriage house I had to do the laundry at a laundromat–I don’t miss that at all, even if it did get it all over with much more quickly than here at home.)

But the blog was also supposed to be a place where I could write personal essays about subjects that matter a lot to me; things I want to write about but no one will pay me to write about, you know? I started getting more cautious about writing about touchy subjects around 2008, when I went full-time at NO/AIDS (I no longer work for NO/AIDS either; as much as I appreciate the way HIV/AIDS treatment and so forth has changed, I do kind of miss the days when we were a struggling queer health non-profit), despite being reassured by NO/AIDS management that I didn’t need to worry about anything I did or said as long as I wasn’t on the clock–I still didn’t want to do or say anything here that some hater could latch onto and make trouble for the agency with. So, I started censoring myself a little bit, and the more I became involved with other non-profit volunteer work the less I felt comfortable writing about sensitive or touchy subjects, especially as the country became more and more polarized. I’m very careful never to talk about my volunteer work or my day job on here as anything other than my volunteer work or my day job. I’ve compartmentalized my life–the way I always have, back to when I was closeted to one large segment of my life and not to a much smaller part–so much so, in fact, that I’m not certain that I can stop doing it. I think one of my goals for 2023 will be to not compartmentalize as much, and to maybe spend more time finishing those personal essays that I’ve started here and never finished.

But of course, there’s also a time issue. Isn’t there always?

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines and try to get going on everything I need to get done today. Have a lovely and comfortable Sunday wherever you are, Constant Reader. I will chat with you again soon, promise.

What a Shame

One of the great joys of being a voracious reader is discovering a new-to-me talent: a terrific writer capable of creating relatable characters; telling great stories using wonderfully constructed, lyrical prose; and illuminating experiences and lives that are vastly different from my own, using fiction as a method to not only entertain but educate.

Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of reading Wanda M. Morris’ impressible debut, All Her Little Secrets, which I raved about in a blog entry. Of course, that was her book from last year, so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of this year’s Wanda M. Morris novel, Anywhere You Run, and it does not disappoint in any way other than coming to an end.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Wanda earlier this year at Left Coast Crime, and she is as lovely a person as she is as a writer.

All four men passed around a bottle of Jim Beam as they peeled up State Route 19, giddy with excitement about what they’d do once they hog-tied those coons and got them to a tree. The engine revved as they hit the crest of the road, doing 80 mph. Getting pulled over was the least of their concerns because Olen’s cousin, Sheriff Bickford, was riding shotgun. Bickford had gotten a tip and rounded up the other three to head from Jackson over to Meridian and then north to Neshoba County.

Olen, sitting there in the back seat, threw back a swig and passed the bottle on, assuring the others they were doing God’s work. “The last thing anybody needs is for them to start votin’. Bad enough the goddamn government wants us to let ’em eat in our restaurants and sit beside us on a bus. If the Lord has meant for whites to mix with coloreds, he woulda’ made the coloreds a hell of a lot smarter. Either we stay all white or we die amongst ’em.”

A couple of the other men nodded in silent agreement.

Anywhere You Run is, in some ways, a kind of prequel to All Her Little Secrets, in that it gives us the backstory on some of the characters in the first novel. Set in the turbulent 1960’s, during the Civil Rights struggle in the old Confederate states and the resistance to racial equality from the Southern bigots, this may be one of the first novels I’ve ever read to show that time from the perspective of a woman of color? (There was a woman of color point-of-view character in William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, but I’d need to revisit that book to make a comparison, but I know the visceral sense of being othered, of knowing there is no justice for you in this world and society, wasn’t as strong in the Huie novel as it is in this one.) I’m not going to go out on a limb and claim that as fact, but it is likely–and being Southern, and seeing the South of the time through this lens (remember, I was alive then, too, but my perspective was greatly different), was sobering. Morris brings the time to life with a vivid, powerful brush that makes it very clear what it was like to be a second-class citizen in a system designed to keep you there.

The story focuses on two sisters from Jackson, Mississippi–Violet and Marigold. Their parents are dead, as is their older sister, Rose; the two sisters are very different and on different paths, but they love each other very deeply and have a strong sisterly bond. Marigold has been working at a Civil Rights office in Jackson while having an affair with a married lawyer, come south for the summer to work on voting rights, and finds herself pregnant. SHe’s been seeing a man she doesn’t love, Roger Bonny, and decides to marry him and move north with him to Cleveland, leaving the Jim Crow South far behind her. Violet also wants out of Jackson and the book opens with her running–but for different reasons and in an entirely different situation. Violet was raped by a white man, and knowing there was no justice possible for a woman of color under these circumstances, kills him. She’s also been dating a white man, Dewey Leonard, who claims to be in love with her–and wants to run away with her and marry her in Boston. Violet doesn’t love Dewey, but she sees him as her ticket out of town. As the two of them flee, they are stopped by a cop once they’ve crossed the Alabama state line, and the fact Dewey has to act like she’s in his employ to save them both only convinces her that her plan to run away from Dewey the first chance she gets is the right one. She avails herself of the first opportunity that presents itself–ironically, at the same Birmingham Greyhound station where the freedom riders were attacked by a mob and police dogs–and catches a bus to a nowhere little town in rural Georgia–Chillicothe, which is very important in All Her Little Secrets.

But Dewey isn’t ready to let go of Violet, and hires a white-trash no account to track her down for him. He loves her and wants her back–but probably would be willing to let her go except for the wallet, which contains something that puts both Violet and Marigold’s lives in grave danger.

This is an exceptionally good novel, tightly plotted and highly evocative of the period Morris is writing about. It couldn’t have been easy, researching this painful past that we as a nation should be incredibly ashamed of; no writer is powerful or talented enough to truly bring the totality of the horror that was life for people of color in this country, particularly in the South, to life. But Morris does it beautifully; by focusing on how individual lives were affected and impacted, the implications of how truly horrible this time was on a macro level can easily be extrapolated. There are also slurs, accurate to the time and the characters using them, which are jarring to come across in the present day in the printed word.

But I’ve also heard those words used…not in a very long time, but seeing them in print I can hear them again vividly in my head, dripping with venom and hatred and contempt.

This book is fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and I urge you, Constant Reader, to start reading Wanda M. Morris.

Tell Me

Friday and a work-at-home day, except for the morning department meeting I have to attend in person, which means I didn’t get to just roll out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, throw on some sweats, and get a cup of coffee just before nine…no, I have to be there at nine. I’ll run a couple of errands on my way home, which spares me from having to leave the house on Saturday; I may order groceries for pick-up on Sunday, but I don’t need to decide that right now.

This week wore me down and wore me out. I didn’t sleep terrific all week long to begin with, then of course it was one thing after another to have to deal with. But it’s Friday and I am relatively unscathed, methinks; I slept really well last night and think that could again be the case tonight. I was completely worn out when I got home from work last night, so I collapsed into my easy chair and watched a lengthy James Somerton video on Youtube called “What Ever Happened to Good Taste?”, which was about camp classic films, beginning with All About Eve before cycling through Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Mommie Dearest, and the drag queen road movies of the early 90s, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. (I must confess to being enormously disappointed that Showgirls didn’t make the documentary; it is, after all, an all-time classic.) Paul got home shortly after I finished watching (it was two hours long) and we watched another episode of Welcome to Chippendales, which could have been just a movie and not a series I think; there’s a lot of padding out of the story to stretch it out into a mini-series. I have a lot to do this weekend; one of my tasks for today is of course a to-do list for the weekend. I need to get caught up on the book, I need to get caught up on a lot of things, and I want to finish reading Wanda Morris’ marvelous latest work. Perhaps after I get home from the meeting at the office this morning and get through my work-at-home chores today, I can spend some time with Wanda’s book and finish it. I am going to run some errands on my way home from work today, too–hoping that I won’t have to leave the house much this weekend so I can get things done.

My arm continues to get better every day, so I think it is something that didn’t necessarily require the emergency room costs or a forced-onto-the-schedule doctor’s appointment. It means I won’t be able to start back to the gym this weekend as I’d planned–I like to start going again before the new year when everyone’s resolutions crowd the place to within an inch of its life come January–but I cannot lift weights with this arm, which pretty much eliminates every upper body exercise. I could, I suppose, go a couple of times a week and simply focus on legs–but the weight plates would be a problem, too, you see. So, that’s going to have to go back on hold until my arm feels better.

I was very surprised and pleased yesterday to see that a couple of Instagram users did “reels” talking about A Streetcar Named Murder, and I have to confess this week–shitty as it was personally–has been a really terrific week for me professionally. It certainly was a good one for my writer’s ego, for sure. The outpouring of support and appreciation for my book from the cozy reading and writing community has been quite nice, rather unexpected, and I am enormously appreciative and grateful for it all. In some ways, it’s kind of validating; over the past few months I’ve really come to understand that I have an enormous chip on my shoulder when it comes to my own writing, and have tried unpacking that a bit. (I’ve spent quite a bit of time since turning sixty in the wake of a global pandemic unpacking my behaviors and the events that occurred that shaped those behaviors.) How different would my life have been had I gotten support and encouragement when I was younger? Had people taken my ambitions and desire to write seriously rather than dismissively? I honestly don’t know, can never know, will never know–the great pleasure of human life is you can never do anything more than speculate about how differently a shift in something, even a very small minor one, can alter the course of a life and a career.

The other night, before my Murder by the Book event with the marvelous John McDougall and my very dear Ellen Byron, John asked me “Now that I’ve read your book, Greg, I have to ask–why did it take you so long to write a cozy? Why haven’t you been doing this all along?” and my answer was “I really don’t know.” It absolutely gave me pause, and has lived rent-free in my brain ever since Tuesday. Why did it take me so long to write a cozy? I still don’t have an answer that makes any kind of sense. Let me see, I’ve always read them, always appreciated them, and have always done my best to fight the stigma attached to them by some elitists who need to feel better about themselves by looking down on a subset of other writers. I hate that, particularly because I know how it feels to not be taken seriously or be respected by your peers (there’s that enormous chip on my shoulder again).

But despite all the difficulties encountered during the time of its writing, I really enjoyed writing A Streetcar Named Murder. Sure, it was hard, and sure, I had to make myself do it (like always), but when I finally held the finished copies in my hands, I was incredibly proud of it. I have always said that I want to always be challenged by what I am writing, that I don’t ever want to fall into a familiar pattern of writing that feels like painting by the numbers (which is why I ended the Chanse series), which is incredibly easy to do. Writing a cozy presented me with a challenge, and yes, it was hard and yes, it was outside of my comfort zone. But I created likable, believable characters and an interesting story, with new situations and paradigm/life shifts that all played out throughout the course of the story. Now that it’s out in the world, it is an interesting question as to why I never tried to write one before, or even why I believed that I couldn’t write one in the first place.

And in some ways, it’s almost like starting my career over again. I am finding a new audience. I didn’t center queer characters and stories. I just wrote about New Orleans again but from an entirely different perspective, and it was enjoyable.

And I am proud of the book, and of myself. It feels weird to say that, but at the same time it also feels good to say it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

I Wanna Be Your Man

Apparently Utah stomped USC last night in the Pac-12 championship game, which throws the college football playoffs into a bit of chaos. At this point I am rooting for chaos, frankly. Since LSU is out of it, I want everyone in the Top 4 to lose today (with apologies to all of their fans) simply because I do want this to be as insane as the entire season has been so far. This has been easily the craziest college football season since 2007, which has made it a lot less predictable and a lot more fun to watch. Do I think LSU has a chance to beat Georgia today? Probably not, but…the last time LSU went to the championship game with three or more losses, they played a one-loss Tennessee team that was ranked second in the country and heading to the national championship game. No one gave LSU a chance–but somehow they won, 31-20, without their starting quarterback or their star running back, going on to trounce Big 10 champion Illinois in the Sugar Bowl. So there’s precedent for it happening again, but as I said, I find it highly unlikely.

I slept late this morning–all the way until eight thirty, a miracle–and it was sound. I got up once during the night to go to the bathroom and immediately went right back to a deep, restful sleep that felt absolutely marvelous. I feel very rested this morning, and feel like if all goes well this could be a highly productive day. I do have to get the mail and probably stop at Fresh Market for a few things, and I also need to order groceries for pick-up tomorrow morning, but other than that I plan on being here, parked in front of my computer, for most of the day. I don’t care much about today’s football games other than who wins, and I can follow that on Twitter (as I did the USC-Utah game last night), so I should be able to get writing work done today as well as some necessary and needed cleaning and filing and organizing.

Last night, Paul and I watched Bros, and I feel like I kind of owe Billy Eichner an apology for not going to see it in the theater. I’ve never much cared for Eichner, in all honesty–the mean-spirited bitchy persona he’s always personified as his schtick is one that I’ve never connected with, and so my reaction to the trailers and press about the movie was always, why would I pay this much money to go see him be an asshole for two hours? And yes, the character he plays is very similar to the comic persona he’s developed over his career–the difference is Bros fleshes him out as the character Bobby (Bobby/Billy; see what I mean?) and makes him three-dimensional and yes, dare I say it? Relatable and likable. Luke McFarlane is also incredibly likable as Aaron, his love interest–and of course the fact that he’s beautiful makes him, I suppose, that much more relatable. Both are emotionally unavailable and have no desire to deal with the drama dating entails, but as they spend more time with each other and keep challenging each other to be better versions of themselves, it actually is a charming, sometimes funny, and all too human romantic comedy–the kind we gays have been begging Hollywood to make for decades. I don’t know if publicly admonishing the audience for not turning up to the theater opening weekend was perhaps the smartest public relations move or not, but I really enjoyed the movie. A lot. It was very smart, had a lot of things to say about being gay or queer in this modern age of hookup apps and computer dating, and I actually felt like I was watching two real gay men fumbling their way towards an actual relationship–and rooting for them to get there. It was a very pleasant surprise, and is one of the best gay romance movies I’ve ever seen.

So, I’ll say it again: I’m sorry, Billy, for not seeing it in the theater on opening weekend. I don’t see many movies in the theater–I think the last one I did see was either Aquaman or Wonder Woman 84, and I probably should have supported Bros. My apologies. There are also some incredibly real moments in the movie that I could actually relate to–the soliloquy on the beach on Provincetown about how being so unmistakably gay as Bobby was altered and changed the trajectory of his life, going so far as to destroy his dreams and force him to reevaluate and come up with new ones. That resonated with me–my experience with the college writing professor is never far from my mind–and it also made me think about how many other gays or queers have had that same experience with an authority figure?

It’s a good movie when it makes you think and reevaluate your own life, you know? So well done, Mr. Eichner, and again, I’m sorry. I enjoyed your movie, think it’s one of the best gay films I’ve ever seen, and you were right to chastise us for not supporting it during it’s theatrical run.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been thinking over this past year that I actually may want to write a gay romance. I’ve been toying with the idea for at least that long, and I know writing a cozy has something to do with that. I also have an idea, I just am not sure how to execute it–but I am going to put it on the list for potential 2023 projects.

And on that note, I am going to get cleaned up and get my day started. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Behind the Mask

Saturday here in the Lost Apartment and Paul is coming home tonight. Huzzah! Also a big day in college football down here in the South, with Georgia-Tennessee this afternoon and LSU-Alabama tonight (and the good news for Florida and Texas A&M fans is one of them has to win the game, so one team’s losing slide will temporarily stop). I have things to do this morning, lots of things to do and many miles to walk before I sleep. Last night I was very tired when I finished my day’s work; and so repaired to my easy chair with Scooter in my lap and watched Low Country, a documentary series about the Murtaugh family crimes in South Carolina. Ironically, I started watching it because I vaguely remembered hearing about the story–wife and son murdered, father shot and wounded, etc.–but I did not know the back story to all of it, which this series provides a small window into; it really only covers the recent crimes, not the criminality of the family going back almost a hundred years–but as I watched, I started seeing similarities to the book I am writing now (powerful corrupt wealthy family that basically rules a rural area as their own duchy), and ideas and things to make my own book better started riffing through my mind. One thing that urban people never get about rural areas is how much of that sort of thing goes on, especially in the South. I am really going to have to go back and dig deeper with what I’ve already done, but I am confident I can get that all worked out this weekend and then get to work on the second half of the book next week.

I slept really well again last night. I started falling asleep in my chair once I finished watching Low Country–again, worth the watch, and yes, very shocking that rural counties in the twenty-first century are still so feudal, so undemocratic, so twisted that any one person or family can be so above the law that they essentially control the justice system in the region, to the point that they get away with murder–and so went to bed early. Scooter has started sleeping with me at night, purring and cuddling, and that also helps me sleep (Paul and I have agreed that Scooter’s super power is the ability to put anyone to sleep by cuddling and purring) and I woke up feeling very settled and relaxed and rested this morning, which is terrific since I have so much to get done today (as always). But I am going to do some cleaning this morning while I do some computer clean-up and so forth (ugh, my files are such a scattered and disgusting mess, it’s not even funny; I would be better about this, of course, if Macs didn’t have that search function) and don’t plan to go anywhere today. I’ve ordered groceries to pick up for tomorrow–I also have to air up one of my tires–and other than that, I don’t plan to leave the house tomorrow either. I need to get caught up and reorganized and all of that–the usual stuff I complain about on here every day. The week went by relatively quickly, too. I read some more of the new Wanda Morris novel, which I took to bed with me but I didn’t stay awake long enough to read more than a few pages–which were fantastic. I can’t begin to talk about how delighted and exciting it is to see new perspectives, new voices, and new stories from marginalized authors. I’m just sorry it took so long to get us to this point, but this was exactly what our genre needed.

My book’s official release date is rapidly approaching, and I am trying not to get over-anxious and/or nervous about it. I need to start pushing the book more, but I am not really certain how or what to do, to be honest. I’m excited about it, of course. The reviews have thus far been pretty favorable–other than that snarky Kirkus one, but even it didn’t bother me at all, and besides, they’re known for being snarky in their reviews and always have been; I guess that’s growth of a sort. Bad reviews don’t get under my skin the way they used to when I first started doing this, you know. I tend to stay away from Goodreads and Amazon reviews–therein lies the path to madness–but my skin has thickened a lot over the years and I know what my reactions will be and why put myself into a position of any kind that might emotionally unbalance me? God knows I don’t need any help in that direction, for sure.

I also watched another documentary about gay porn, Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story which was very interesting. Holmes was Falcon Studios, one of the bigger and more successful brands in gay porn for a very long time, and it did give me some ideas for future projects. I will probably, most likely, keep writing Scotty books until I die (for those of you who were wondering; the next one will probably be another Carnival mystery, French Quarter Flambeaux), but I may not write anymore young adult novels. It’s not that I don’t want to or have a lot of ideas for them, but my time is limited and I want to explore other writing options and genres within crime fiction. I really am feeling the desire to work on my queer historical noirs–beginning with Chlorine–and then moving on to cover other parts of queer history from the second half of the twentieth century. Obscenity would be about gay porn; Indecency would be built around Joey Stefano’s arrest in Tampa for public indecency…and of course there would be more but that’s the original trilogy I’d want to write. They wouldn’t be connected stories–the only commonality would be the fight against oppression and repression–but I think they would be a lot of fun. I have titles for others–Beefcake, Peplum, Physique–but don’t have stories to go with those yet (although I do introduce a Bob Mizer-like character in Chlorine who could drive one of them; Peplum would be, in some ways, a sequel to Chlorine–but it wouldn’t have to be, since I’ve not really decided on the end of that book yet, but one of the possibilities does leave the path open to a sequel.

And on that note, I am going to get to work on the chores and get cleaned up and get this party started. Have a lovely Saturday, and GEAUX TIGERS!

When the Sun Goes Down

Work-at-home Friday has rolled around again, and today I get to do data entry and quality-assurance on forms until my eyes cross. I have a couple of errands to run this afternoon–but other than that, I am looking forward to a nice, peaceful day at home doing my work-at-home duties and my chores. Later on, I hope to get some good work done on the book before I repair to my easy chair with the latest Wanda Morris novel. It was a tough choice between that and the new Donna Andrews, but I am thinking since Dashing Through The Snowbirds is a Christmas tale, I may save that for Christmas reading this year–it makes the most sense, and since I generally don’t watch any Christmas movies or specials anymore (I do sometimes watch A Charlie Brown Christmas–it’s my favorite), maybe I could read Christmas-themed books and stories this year in December; maybe call it “The Twelve Reads of Christmas” or something like that. Hmmm, it’s a thought.

It really is amazing what a good night’s sleep will do for you after a few days of insomnia and exhaustion/fatigue.

Last night I didn’t sleep as deeply or as well as I did on Wednesday night. I kept waking up, partly due to Scooter’s restlessness and sometime need to let me know his outrage about something, but was always able to fall back asleep. I had to have bloodwork done this morning; I got an email from the lab telling me I had lab orders waiting for me, so I scheduled it. I got there this morning and checked in–mind you, I needed to fast, so I didn’t eat last night or have anything to drink or eat this morning before leaving the house–only to find out they didn’t, in fact, have lab orders for me. Hilariously, I am terrible about remembering to do the labs after my doctor appointments, so this last time in July I made the appointment for Labs the same week as my doctor appointment and had them done. Once they told me I didn’t have orders in, I looked in the app and saw that I had, indeed, had them done back in August. So, no need to fast overnight, no need to not have coffee before leaving, no need to leave, in fact. Heavy sigh. But I did start reading Wanda Morris’ new book while waiting to be told I didn’t really need to be there, and it’s quite marvelous already. I knew it would be–her debut novel was superb–and it’s such a delight, as always, to see exciting new voices grow and become even stronger as their career progresses.

Last evening as I relaxed before heading to bed I watched another documentary about the history of gay pornography–I’ll probably watch another one later today–which of course put me in mind of writing about that history. I really do need to focus on getting this Scotty book and the next thing I have to write finished so I can get back to Chlorine; my goal for the rest of this year and 2023 is to get these two books finished, finish two other in-progress projects, and wrap up some other things that are unfinished but need to be finished so I can cross them off the list. I may do another short story collection; I’m not sure but I think I have enough sold and/or published for another collection to actually be possible. This one, when it materialized, will be called This Town and Other Stories, because the strongest story I’ve done since the last collection was “This Town”, which was in Holly West’s anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. At least in my opinion, although The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy and Other Stories would probably sell better…

And of course, tomorrow is a big day for the Southeastern Conference, with division championships on the line. LSU can actually get a leg up in the West by accomplishing the gargantuan task of beating Alabama in Baton Rouge for the first time since 2010–but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Sure, it’s possible–anything is possible in college football on any given Saturday; I am sure no one would have thought Kansas State would shellack Oklahoma State the way they did last weekend–but despite all the hype chatter, I’m not getting my hopes up terribly high. Yes, I want the Tigers to win–but I don’t have any expectations, just as I really haven’t all season. I’m just delighted the program seems to be on the rise again after the last two horrible years. I certainly would have never thought LSU would be coming into the game with Alabama tied with them and Mississippi for first place in the division. And earlier in the day Georgia and Tennessee will play for the leg up in the East–which again, no one would have seen coming before the season started; no one really give Tennessee much thought as the program has been moribund since at least 2007, the last time they won their division (which also happened to be the year a two-loss LSU team won the national championship–see how you can see omens and portents in everything?). I am not a Tennessee fan by any means–I rooted for them during the Peyton Manning years because I thought he was a phenomenal athlete plus I despise Florida with every fiber of my being, but that was about it. I only root for them in non-conference games and bowls, but I am happy for their fans–just as I was happy for Georgia fans last year as they finally beat Alabama and won the national title; I always think back to what a glorious ride 2019 was for LSU fans, so it’s always nice to see a long-starved fan base finally get something they can be excited about. Pundits and fans are already comparing 2019 LSU and 2022 Tennessee…but it’s really not even the same. Sure, no one thought LSU would be as great as they were in 2019, but they were also coming off a 10-3 season. Tennessee was 7-6 last year, so it’s an even bigger turnaround for them on that level. I plan to get my writing and my errands and chores finished tomorrow morning well before the 2:30 Georgia-Tennessee kick-off, so I can spend the rest of the day nervously cleaning with the games on in the background. Paul also comes home tomorrow (yay!) so I am going to need groceries, too.

And my kitchen, as always, is a disaster area on a Friday morning, so it’s perhaps time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you later or tomorrow.

Royal Street Reveillon

Ah, reality television.

I am, and can be, remarkably naïve when it comes to some things. I literally will believe almost everything I am told because my default is never to assume someone is lying (unless they’ve proven themselves to be a liar before), so I actually believed, all those years I was watching The Real World, that the show was “unscripted” and the cast had cameras and microphones on them 24/7.

Then The Real World came to New Orleans–to my neighborhood, in fact–and the “gay one” got a job bar-backing at Oz (one of my favorite gay bars; and autocorrect tried to turn that into “barebacking”, which is an entirely different thing), and it wasn’t long before I realized that The Real World wasn’t, actually, “real.” I saw them any number of times walking from one destination to another to film, the camera crews not filming and just walking behind the cast; I actually watched them set up a scene in Oz and go through several takes, and so yeah, the luster and magic was gone for me. I think I may have watched another season or two after New Orleans, but reality television had also changed dramatically from when the first season of that show aired (and yes, I am aware that PBS’ An American Family was the first real reality-type show) and by the time I stopped watching that it wasn’t about kids learning to get along and learning from each other’s differences as it was about getting wasted, hooking up, and fighting.

You know, the formula Bravo quickly adapted to in Season Two of The Real Housewives of Orange County.

Viewers want conflict.

I never watched the Real Housewives shows, but usually on Sundays when it wasn’t football season Paul would come downstairs and fall asleep on the couch while I would either read or edit in my easy chair. I’d turn on the television for background noise, and it was just easiest to always park the channel on Bravo because they’d marathon something–originally Law & Order, then The West Wing or Inside the Actor’s Studio, which were fun for an occasional distraction but not enough of one to take my interest away from what I was doing. But Bravo changed, and those marathons eventually became one of the Real Housewives shows. I winced a bit, but again, background noise I didn’t need to pay attention to–it all seemed so exploitative and, well, awful–that I couldn’t see myself ever watching regularly. So I began to slowly recognize who they were–all the gossip site pop-ups and so forth on social media also covered them extensively–and even know something about them. I didn’t want to ever become a regular viewer, didn’t think I ever would.

And yet…

I originally tuned into The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to see Kim Richards, whom I remembered as a child star when I was a kid–from Nanny and the Professor to Escape to Witch Mountain to Tuff Turf–and was interested to see how she turned out, what happened to her…and just like a soap opera back in the day, I was soon tuning in every week. Some other friends turned out to be big fans of both Orange County and New York, so I started watching New York so we could talk about it (my antipathy to Orange County would be a subject for another essay at some other point), and there was no turning back after that.

I still primarily only watch New York and Beverly Hills with any regularity (although Atlanta is always a favorite), and there have been times when I’ve thrown up my hands in disgust with what was actually going on with the season and stopped watching (I stopped watching Beverly Hills during the “let’s out Denise Richards as bi!” bullshit, for example, and never did finish the season); but I am still absolutely fascinated by the concept behind these shows. Is any of it for real? How much is set up and scripted? It becomes very easy to get sucked into the shows–they are highly addictive; they remind me a lot of soaps as they are very high on petty drama and melodrama, feuds and fights and arguments–and how much of what we see is actually not audience manipulation on the part of production, the network, and the editors. (Women often claim to have “gotten a bad edit”–which always makes me think about The Real World–that show really started everything) I find myself getting emotionally sucked into the petty dramas too–which often spill out into the social media world and the endless blogs that dedicate themselves to reporting on these shows–and there are times when I think, well done, production! I would have never guessed you could ever show me a side of this horrible woman that would make me sympathetic to her.

Because while the women may manipulate and scheme and plan and script things, the primary people being manipulated by production are the audience and the line between reality and “reality” often gets so blurred that it’s hard to tell what is real and what isn’t.

Take, for example, this current rollercoaster of a season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Before the season started airing there was gossip flying around the Internet about their Aspen trip and a meltdown by a supporting cast member in her second year officially on the show–Kathy Hilton, older sister of OG cast member Kyle Richards–that supposedly went “really dark”…only for the season to start airing and the behavior of other members of the cast (Lisa Rinna, Diana Jenkins, Erica Girardi) being far worse than any of the rumors floated about Kathy’s “meltdown.”

Again, a subject for another time, perhaps once the reunion episodes have aired.

Anyway, I had always thought that a Real Housewives type show, set and filmed in New Orleans, would make the excellent backdrop for a crime story, particularly because of those blurred lines between reality and “reality”…so I used it for one of those e-novellas back in the day. After they were taken off the market, I kept thinking about how I wasted the background of a reality show on a story no one can access anymore and so that original story eventually morphed into Scotty VIII, Royal Street Reveillon.

I fished the last olive out of my almost empty glass and popped it into my mouth. I glanced at my watch as I chewed it, and moaned after swallowing. “There’s nothing like a good martini,” I said, glancing around the bar and getting our server’s attention.

“Do we have time for another?” My nephew Taylor finished the rest of his sazerac and looked at me hopefully.

“I take it you liked it.” I replied, not even trying to hide my smile. “But no time for another unless we want to be late.”

This was Taylor’s first time at the Sazerac Bar. He’d turned twenty-one just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and since we were going to a party at the Joy Theater, I thought I’d treat him to a sazerac in the bar where they were invented. I personally don’t care for the drink—give me gin or vodka any day of the week—but everyone in New Orleans is required to try a sazerac at least once.

And now I could rest easy, having done not only my civic duty but treated Taylor to a New Orleans rite of passage.

I’d also wanted him to see the Roosevelt Hotel’s Christmas decorations. The Roosevelt was one of the grand old hotels of the city, and their lobby decorations are truly spectacular. Since we were going to a party at the Joy Theater—a mere block or so from the hotel, I thought, why not kill two birds with one stone? This was Taylor’s second Christmas with us, and I wanted to do it right. We’d already done Celebration in the Oaks at City Park, and I’d loved seeing the beautifully decorated ancient live oak trees through a newbie’s eyes.

I know it’s corny, but I love Christmas.

I love everything about it. I love decorating my apartment. I love picking out presents that are one hundred percent perfect for the person and carefully wrapping it up in beautiful paper, topped with a bow and twining ribbons around the box. I love picking out a tree, and the wonderful smell of pine that permeates everything inside once it’s delivered. I love getting the boxes of ornaments down from the storage closet and adorning the branches with them. I love tinsel and opening a new box of icicles for the branches. I love Christmas cookies and cakes and pies and turkey and celebrating and spending time with people I love.

I even love carols—although I do think that September is a bit early to start playing them unless the intent is to drive people to homicide by December.

While I kept the original backstories of the Grande Dames of New Orleans cast as I had in the original, I changed a lot because I didn’t want those few who had read the original to know the ending. I also wanted to do some fun things with the story, adding in another murder that was completely unconnected to the primary story as well as yet another deep personal dilemma for Scotty that doesn’t get resolved in this story, and trying to keep track of all the crazy things I had going on–as well as the complicated and complex backstories and threads of different subplots; I added another murder for the main story and I wanted to make it a bit more topical, so I added an element of “me too” to the story (in all honesty as I write the current one I wish I hadn’t done this because I can’t just drop it, either, like it never happened), and I found myself having fun with it. This was by far the most complicated and layered Scotty book since probably Mardi Gras Mambo, and this was one I felt very contented about when I turned it into the publisher. Even revisiting it now, as part of the prep for the current one, I kind of am proud of myself for it.

I also set it during Christmas season in New Orleans because I love New Orleans at Christmas-time. It’s one of the few times of the year where I don’t mind that it gets dark so fucking early–because New Orleans has put on her Christmas face and it’s absolutely delightful. One of the things I love most about this crazy city is how everyone here takes decorating so seriously–so seriously they decorate their houses and windows for everything. Jackson Square is stunning with the big red bows tied on the lampposts guarding the gates, as you can see in the gorgeous cover my publisher gave my book (and perhaps the thing about it that make me happiest the most is that one of the lamp’s light is out–just like it would be in real life) and the lights and…sighs happily.

I did think, for a time, about ending the series with this one, but I left the personal story hanging yet again which meant there would be another one–and I honestly don’t know what happened that it took me so long to get around to writing another one, but here we are.