Golden Years

When I wrote Jackson Square Jazz, an important part of the plot had to do with the 1989 fire at the Cabildo. Shortly after moving to New Orleans in 1996, I’d seen a documentary about the Cabildo fire and how the New Orleans Fire Department had fought the fire–choosing to rescue as many of the artifacts and treasures inside before training the water hoses on the building. I made it a plot point because I wanted to preserve, even if in fiction, what an amazing job the NOFD had done, as well as point out how fragile and delicate our history can be. Doing the research on the fire kept putting a thought in my head–how heartbreaking would it be if St. Louis Cathedral caught fire?

After Katrina, seeing that the cathedral had survived without damage was the first semblance of hope I had after the levees failed that New Orleans would recover.

I cannot imagine how Parisians and other Frenchmen must have felt yesterday, seeing that iconic image that has stood for over eight hundred years aflame. I am not French, but it broke my heart to see the images from this horrible disaster.

One of my dreams, my bucket-list items, was to spend a day at Notre Dame, to soak in all the history and the beauty and the art. I love French history; I love France, although I’ve never been. I remember reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the first time. I remember all the French histories and biographies I’ve read; so much history took place in and around that beautiful, beautiful building. As I write this I remember a scene I wrote once; for a book I never wrote but one day I had this glorious image in my head and I wrote it down: the marriage of Henri of Navarre to Marguerite de Valois on the steps; because he was not a Catholic they could not wed inside. It was after their wedding that the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day began; I remember reading about it in Dumas’ Queen Margot, and in assorted other historical fictions or biographies of Catherine de Medici or Henri of Navarre (who later was the first Bourbon king, Henri IV). I remember having this vivid image in my head of a lady watching the ceremony; and her impressions of it, and wrote them down. I always thought it would be an interesting historical suspense novel–the lady in question was one of the “flying squadron”; ladies trained in the erotic arts who used seduction for information in service to Catherine de Medici. I enjoyed writing about Jeanne-Charlotte de Sevigny in that scene; I’ve always liked the character and the period has always fascinated me. Perhaps someday…

I still think about that novel every once in a while.

But now, when I finally make it Paris, if I finally make it to Paris…depending on when I go, the iconic landmark, one of the major symbols of both Paris and France, won’t be the same. It will be repaired and rebuilt–it was under renovation already when the fire broke out yesterday–but will it be the view that millions have already enjoyed, admired, gasped in awe at?

And of course there’s the fear that it won’t be the same.

On the other hand, the Cabildo was rebuilt after the fire and it’s still the Cabildo, so there’s that. Future generations won’t know anything other than there was a fire and it was rebuilt–and the interior, it turns out, survived a lot more intact than anyone had originally anticipated.

It also reminds me of John Berendt’s wonderful book City of Falling Angels, about the fire that destroyed a Venetian landmark, the Opera House, and the rebuilding process.

And now, tis back to the spice mines with me this Tuesday morning.

Vive le France.

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You Decorated My Life

Friday, and the weekend looms. Alas, but this weekend is deceptive; it is the last weekend before the Weekend o’Festivals which means I won’t see Paul very much and I probably won’t be able to get a whole lot of relaxing done as I will be stressing about numerous things. I need to finish reading two books by next weekend, I need to get some work done on the WIP, and I need to clean this filthy apartment. I am behind on everything (like always) and really need to step up my game. I’ve been feeling slightly overwhelmed this week, but feeling overwhelmed only leads to paralysis and inaction and chaos, so…when I get home from work this afternoon I need to get to work. I need to stay off social media, close my Internet browsers, and just get on it. I need to get chapters revised; I need to clean thoroughly; I need to do all sorts of things, and this is the last chance I have to get any of this done before the Weekend O’Festivals.

And the house is being tented that weekend for termites; effective Friday, the termite tent is going up. So we also have to prepare the house for that.

I’ve got to get my reading done as well, so I also need to focus and try not to goof off as much. Scooter, of course, won’t mind me sitting in the easy chair all weekend reading, either–which should minimize the kitty whining I have to put up with over the weekend. (there’s always kitty whining)

Heavy heaving sigh.

What I need is to have a Type-A weekend. I haven’t had one of those in a while; not sure what that’s about, but as I said, I’ve felt disconnected from everything since the Great Data Disaster of 2018. The return of my allergies hasn’t helped much in that regard, either–it’s spring in New Orleans again! I guess the first step in getting my shit together is to make a pretty solid to-do list, and stick to checking things off on it. That’s always been the most effective way for me to deal with these things, and something I’ve been rather slipshod about for quite some time.

With the river so high and all the midwest flooding, I’ve also been thinking about, of course, Katrina and the flood that followed. It doesn’t help that the lead off and title story in my soon to be released collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, is an aftermath story, with the character on his roof in the heat waiting rescue. It’s a morbid, creepy story; one that I was reluctant to tell, if I’m going to be honest about it. I evacuated; Paul and I packed up as much as could fit in the car, put Skittle in his carrier and fled north. We left the Lost Apartment shortly after eleven a.m. that morning; we didn’t get to Slidell until nearly seven, and the outer bands of the storm were already coming in as we crossed the Twin Spans across the lake. It does now seem like that was an incredibly long time ago, and yet the memories, while faded with time, are still relatively vivid–even though the distance makes it seem as though it happened to someone else. There’s an unreality about the entire thing, looking back over the years. It’s hard to believe something like that could happen, yet it did, and it does, every year, to somewhere. Puerto Rico is still recovering, and suffering, from Maria.

The other day on Facebook there was a post from the New Orleans Tourism Board about signs they’ve created that businesses here can hang in their windows, to show queer tourists that they are welcome in the business and in the city. Quite naturally, some homophobic trash (from Oklahoma) had to show up on the thread and say shit like well, looks like I need to cancel my reservations for New Orleans this May–guess it’s time for another hurricane! 

You really can’t fix trash. Particularly from some asshole who smugly thinks Oklahoma is immune from natural disasters. This reminded me, of course, of the congressional trash serving at the time who didn’t think New Orleans (the fifth largest port in the United States) didn’t need to either rebuild or recover from this disaster; they were willing to just let the city sink in the swamp and disappear. Steve King, the Klansman without a mask, was one of them; yesterday he said something similar again about how everyone affected by Katrina sat around waiting for help while “in Iowa we help each other.”

Really? Fuck you, you racist faux Christian piece of shit, and I do hope you have a lovely time in hell when you get there.

And despite the fact that Iowans clearly continue to reelect this excrement to Congress because he is a racist bottom-feeding monster, they still deserve our sympathy and our support and our help in this time of disaster for them.

Sorry you don’t have a soul, Mr. Congressman.

And now back to the spice mines.

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September Morn

So, yesterday I was lazing around, trying to fix a technology issue (involving calls to Tech Support and so forth) but not letting it get to me–despite the disruption to my day that this was causing. I did feel myself starting to slide down the slippery slope from irritation/frustration to the first stage of anger, but I distracted myself by watching something on television. I’d intended to spend the day–well, that doesn’t matter; suffice it to say my frustration was growing. I then watched something on television that completely shifted my mindset (more on that later); when Tech Support called back I simply suggested–since what needed to reboot wasn’t finished–that we simply call it a day and try again tomorrow at noon. Of course, not ten minutes after ending that call the final phase began–which meant, as I laughed at myself, that had I had them call me back in another two hours, we could finish resolving the problem. It’s kind of funny, but really–I wouldn’t have wanted to do with it two hours later, either.

But when I noticed that the final stage had started, and I laughed about it, I looked down at my notepad and opened another tab to do a search…and as soon as the results came up I just stared at my computer screen in stupefaction as the key to the next Scotty book opened a door in my brain. I think I mentioned this the other day, but there are two stories I want to tell for the next Scotty book; two different crimes, but how to connect them together? I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this for years now, years, and just looking at the search results page triggered exactly how to do it. Both stories will intertwine perfectly now.

And this? This is why writers drink.

But nevertheless, it was a good feeling, and made my evening. I like writing books with complicated plots, and I’ve always felt that the Scotty books (after Mardi Gras Mambo) weren’t as complex as the pre-Katrina ones. Bourbon Street Blues wasn’t complicated, but Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo were…and after Katrina I simplified the plots a lot. Royal Street Reveillon is a return to complicated plots and subplots, and if the series is going to continue, I have to be able to further challenge myself when I am writing the books. Part of the reason I went off-contract was because, despite the fact that I like routines and order, I felt the deadline treadmill I’d climbed on was a rut and I was becoming far too complacent with the work I was producing. (I’m not saying I’m not proud of the work nor that it wasn’t good work; and maybe that’s just all a part of my Imposter Syndrome complex, but I always feel like my work could be better, that’s all I am saying; and whether not writing on deadline is making the work better remains to be seen…but it’s not as stressful for me to create the work as it was.)

You never can win. I was just thinking that had I been on a deadline with Royal Street Reveillon, it would have wound up being a shorter book and a major subplot would have had to have been cut out from it. Maybe the longer version is more self-indulgent; I don’t know. But I feel good about the book; satisfied with it…and it’s been a while since I’ve written a book I felt this satisfied about. And that’s going to have to be my measuring yardstick going forward. How do I feel about the work? I know I’m not going to please everyone with it, and when people give me valid reasons for not liking it I will listen and decide whether it is something I should take into consideration going forward, or not.

This week I plan on getting back to work on the WIP. Today’s agenda is spending the rest of the morning reading Alafair Burke’s brilliant The Better Sister, cleaning out my email inbox, and rereading the first ten chapters I’ve written on the WIP. I also want to spend some time cleaning today; I still haven’t done the floors, and I’d wanted to do the staircase as well. I feel rested this morning–although I could probably sleep for another hour or so–and that’s kind of nice. I’m still not sleeping completely through the night, but some good sleep is better than none.

I watched a few more episodes of The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and while I am enjoying it, it got me to thinking–as documentaries are wont to do–about sex trafficking and the abduction of children for whatever reason (Lori Roy addressed this very beautifully in Gone Too Long, and I will repeat myself: you need to preorder that book because you will love it) and how privilege comes into play with dead or missing children. Maybe at some point I, too, will write about missing children but at the same time I don’t want to seem exploitative…therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? It also astounds me that no one ever questioned the McCanns and their friends’ stories earlier than they did. But the big question for me–and I’ve not finished watching, but I know this story has no resolution–is, how did they get rid of the body and how were they able to do it? How did they know where to dispose of it?

Also, as I watched, I couldn’t help remembering Alex Marwood’s superb novel The Darkest Secret, which you should also read, Constant Reader, if you haven’t already (and if you haven’t, all the shame should be heaped upon you).

I suppose the whole privilege thing has been on my mind lately because of the college admissions bribery scandal that dropped this week. I, too, have heard the nonsensical complaints about “affirmative action” over the years–how students of color got to go to college for free and took the spot of a white student with a higher GPA; how allowances were made for minorities at the expense of white kids; how a person of color (or woman) got a job a white man should have; on and on it goes, lie after lie after mistruth after falsehood, all with the common denominator of no one is as oppressed as the straight white male. The public outcry about this admissions scandal was a bit of a surprise for me–what about legacies, or wealthy people who basically donate money to colleges so their kids can get admitted regardless of grades or abilities? That has been going on for years, and in particular at the elitist Ivy League colleges. One founding principle this country was founded upon was a mistrust of elites and a class-based society; the founders did not want their new country, their United States, to have the same problems with elites and classes that the mother society, that of Great Britain, had. And yet…here we are, with moneyed people convincing the poorer and middle classes to vote against their own best interests so the moneyed, privileged class can become wealthier and more privileged.

Ah, well.

And on that note, I should probably return to the spice mines. I am running out of time to get my moderator homework done, and that is a big no-no. I mean, I am sure I could lead a great discussion without having read the books–I’ve done it before–but I prefer to be better prepared, plus the books look fantastic.

God knows I’m loving Alafair’s.

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Blades

Reading these stories, and revisiting the music, has drawn me into something I rarely do: reminisce and think about the past. I generally try not to think too much about the past; it’s the past and there’s nothing to be done about it, after all. Sometimes, though, when writing, I try to draw on my past and my own experience.

The 1980’s were a difficult decade for me, but one of the things I remember fondly about that decade was always the music. I’ve always had a soft spot for 1980’s music, and it was a weird, transitory time for it. MTV changed everything; exposing Americans and young people to new music and bands and artists they might not have ever heard, and the visual medium of the new “music television” channel also allowed us all to experience music visually, and there’s no question that interesting video presentation helped artists like Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and many others to an even greater success than might have otherwise been possible for them.

The Go-Go’s videos were almost always very simplistic; probably “Vacation” was the most complicated video they ever made. Rewatching their videos recently kind of made me laugh–“Head over Heels”, for example, looks like it cost $20 to produce–and I’m not certain if this was because they didn’t care, or the record company thought they were big enough to not need the push from a terrific video.

The next story up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is “Blades,” by Steve Weddle.

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He was on his fifth Tequila Sunrise when his head hit the table.

“Everything, guys. Everything.”

We’d talked Nick into coming for drinks because he hadn’t been out of his apartment since twenty-nine days back when he and Laura had called it off. We had to get him out. Even without the wedding, the three of us considered ourselves his groomsmen. Until death do us all part, it seemed. Though another few drinks might take care of that.

The Thursday night crowd at Wingin’ It was worried more about the Cowboys-Eagles game than about the four of us concussing ourselves on a table.

Raphael slid the emptied tumblers away from Nick’s head. “She didn’t take every- thing, man.” Raph was the jokester among us, the one we sent in to cause a scene if we needed it, the one thinking he was just one prank away from going viral. When we’d go to games, he was the one who would sneak us in a diaper bag full of White Russians in baby bottles “You’ve still got your health,” he told Nick, pulling a coaster from the side of Nick’s face. “And that nasty cold sore.”

Truth be told, Nick was a bit of a late bloomer. We were all in our late thirties, but he hadn’t even gotten through his first marriage, yet. And with Laura dumping him a month before the wedding, he was even further behind us.

“Look,” Sam said, “if it wasn’t meant to be, it’s best you know now. The two of you can move on, find new people. It’s good news to find out now.”

“We’re still registered,” he said.

Ralph, Sam, and I looked at each other, then back to Nick.

“Sure,” Sam said, “I’m sure she didn’t even think about it. Probably moved on. You should too, man.”

“At Target,” Nick continued, ignoring Sam. “I checked. Target still thinks the wedding is going to happen. On the nineteenth. That’s next weekend.” He’d raised his head, apparently just he could drop it, rattling on the table again. “Next weekend.”

Sam said he’d get the next round, then walked across the room to the bar.

This story is different from the preceding ones in that the crime committed during the course of this story isn’t a felony; and the crime itself, while the driving force behind the story, isn’t really the focus of the story. The story is about friendship, and the things guys do to help out their friends, whether it’s a smart thing or not, and the ending of the story might be a little dark–the story itself is dark, emotionally–but it also leaves the reader with a strong sense of satisfaction; justice, of a sort, has been done, and everyone feels better about things. It’s about male bonding and male friendship, and not done in a way that feels non-relatable to not-straight men.

Quite good, and I loved the change of pace.

And now back to the spice mines.

Fire Lake

Carnival is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and as such, one has to plan accordingly. The closer I get to sixty the harder it is for me to stand for long periods of time; my retirement plan to be a Wal-mart greeter so as not to have to exist on cat food is clearly out of the question.

Purina it is!

So, I’ve started taking breaks between parades; when I can see the flashing red lights of a fire truck, signaling the end of a parade, I come home and have a seat while I wait for the next one, trying to get rested so I won’t be completely exhausted at the end of the day.

Sigh. I rather miss the days when I could stand out there all night, work all weekend, walking back and forth between the Quarter and home, stay out every night until dawn…if I tried that now I’d probably need to a rest cure of some sort.

Sad, but all too true.

The good news is a co-worker last year convinced me to buy one of those self-message rolling things, and after the parades yesterday I used it on my back, shoulders, and legs. This morning I felt rested, not tired, and my muscles feel much more relaxed than usual. I think when my vacation starts this Wednesday I might try to get back to the gym, for a light round of weights, stretching, and some cardio. I also might make it to Costco on Wednesday, and of course, there’s lots of cleaning that needs to be done. I am hoping that the staycation will be much more effective this time than it usually is…for anything other than reading and resting.

I did managed to get another chapter done yesterday morning before the parades started rolling, and prepared the final five for their revision. I also need to revise the prologue and write the epilogue, but I don’t think that will be too difficult, frankly. It doesn’t need to be much more than fifteen hundred words, at the most, and the book is already coming in pretty long.

I finished watching Versailles last night, and yes, all and any attempts by the show to be historically accurate went out the window with Season Three. While I do admire them for digging deeply enough into the mythology of the Sun King to come up with storylines including the Louise Marie Therese, the Black Nun of Moret, and it would be hard to do a show about Louis XIV and resist the temptation to unravel the riddle of the Man in the Iron Mask (Dumas also tried…and his explanation, also a-historical, at least made a sort of sense)…the  very idea (no spoiler) they came up with very wrong and unlikely; it made no sense, if one has even the slightest knowledge of primogeniture and the rules of succession. They also messed up with Louis losing his claim to Spain with the death of his wife, Marie-Therese; the claim simply passed from her to their son, and the result was the War of the Spanish Succession (which, coincidentally, is the war being fought in The Favourite).

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

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Desire

It’s a lovely morning, with a blue sky and the sun shining, and it might be a bit chillier than it was yesterday–but the high is forecast for the seventies and there’s no rain in the forecast.

I slept deeply and well last night, partly from exhaustion. Paul, of course, is in the final weeks before the Festival so has been working late at the office and then staying up till the wee hours of the morning working at home, so yesterday he was catching up on sleep most of the day so I was, alas, without my trusted parade route partner as I wandered down to the corner for the Pontchartrain and Choctaw parades. I did well for myself with bead-and-throw catching, but it started sprinkling while I waited for the third parade, so I walked back home. As soon as I sat down in my easy chair, however, exhaustion set in. My legs and lower back were aching, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip the next parade. As Sparta and Pygmalion were coming later, I started watching Versailles and actually got through three episodes. Paul got ready for the night parades…and it started raining. There was also thunder here–which also means lightning–and I decided that it simply didn’t make sense to stand in the rain and possibly catch a chill that would ruin the rest of the season, so I remained ensconced under my blanket in my easy chair and watched television: the CNN docuseries The 2000’s is very well done. This morning my back is still a bit sore and all the joints of my leg–hip, knee, ankle–ache a bit; but I have far too many friends riding in King Arthur to skip that one today.

And I also go on my little staycation on Wednesday, so there’s that, as well.

I do love parade season, I have to say. I may even have to write another Scotty-at-Mardi-Gras book at some point.

Or just some Mardi Gras set book. I could write a hundred books or stories about Mardi Gras and never really cover it all, you know.

How I do love New Orleans.

I also managed to revise a chapter of Scotty yesterday; I should be able to do another this morning as well. I read some more of Lori Roy’s superb Gone Too Long while I was grilling yesterday; it’s most excellent and you need to preorder it immediately. I also managed to get some emails cleaned out; hope to do some more this morning as well as reading the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, and perhaps another Norah Lofts ghost story.

I suppose I’ll watch the Oscars tonight after the parades. It’s really not much fun anymore, as all the pre-awards kind of take all the suspense and excitement out of the Oscars. The acting winners will be Regina King (who deserves all the awards), Mahershala Ali, Glenn Close, and Rami Malek, barring the every-once-in-a-blue-moon surprise. I’ll probably read while it’s on…although I’d love to see Olivia Colman win; not only was she amazing in The Favourite but her acceptance speeches are pure gold. But Glenn Close is way overdue; she should have won for both (or either) Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, which I’d actually like to watch again.

And now, I am waking up and needing some sustenance; perhaps some peanut butter toast or a bowl of honey-nut Cheerios?

And then it’s back to the spice mines.

Happy Carnival, all!

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Don’t Let Go

Tuesday morning. I am not as tired or sleepy this morning as I usually am on Tuesday mornings; I suspect my body is, at long last, adapting to my new work schedule. It’s only taken, what? Three months? And I am about to have another break. Next week I only work Monday and Tuesday, and then I am on vacation until Ash Wednesday.

So I’ll probably have to get used to my schedule all over again. Huzzah.

But I revised another chapter of the book last night, which was absolutely lovely. I am getting closer and closer to being finished, and this fills me with absolute delight. I also realized that there are parades this weekend, so getting a chapter done per day is not only wise but necessary; chances are I’ll be too tired and worn out this weekend from parade-going to get caught up if I fall behind…so I can’t fall behind; I need to keep revising at least a chapter a day in order to be finished by next Wednesday.

Huzzah! I think.

I also have decided, after further thinking on the subject, that my short story “The Blues Before Dawn” would actually work better as a novel rather than a short, so I am putting it on my list of novels to work on. It’s a period piece, probably will be set in the late 1950’s, and will require a lot of research about gay life in New Orleans during the Eisenhower years. Looking some things up in the index of Richard Campanella’s book Bourbon Street was what finally convinced me that it was a novel rather than a short story; I had originally intended for the story to be set in Storyville during the time the United States entered World War I. (I do think there’s some stories and/or novels, perhaps even a non-fiction research book to be written during that time period; as I continue to read up on New Orleans history, and once I start actually doing the research, I feel certain the floodgates will open and I’ll have all sorts of ideas for stories and things…and I need stories for Monsters of New Orleans.)

I watched another episode of Versailles last night, and yes, they’ve completely tossed any semblance of historical fact away for this final season. I’m no longer sure of what year it’s supposed to be; it’s somewhere after the Affair of the Poisons yet sometime before the War of the Grand Alliance. The dying out of the Hapsburg line in Spain is part of the story this season; which only confuses matters more. Louis XIV’s wife, Marie-Therese, was a Spanish Hapsburg, and the older half-sister of the last Hapsburg king of Spain, Carlos II. In last night’s episode much was made of the fact that not only was Carlos ill, but how close Marie-Therese was to him and so it was not out of the question that she’d want to return to Madrid one last time to see him before he dies.

This is a-historical. At the time Marie-Therese married Louis XIV, her father had only two children, she and a sister who married the Holy Roman Emperor.  Because Philip IV had no sons at the time, it was possible his daughters might be his heirs; so it was written into the marriage contract that Marie-Therese renounced all claims to Spain for her and her heirs; her sister, since she was marrying a Hapsburg, did not have to do so; this way Spain would remain a Hapsburg possession. Carlos II wasn’t born until Marie-Therese was already queen of France; she could not be, therefore, close to someone she’d never met. She also died in 1683, so this has to be set in the time period before 1683.

Sigh.

Incidentally, when Carlos II did finally die, he’d been persuaded to leave his possessions and his throne to his French relatives rather than the Austrians. This resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession.

I will keep watching, though, because I do love the period, the production design is spectacular, and they are also tackling the mystery of the man in the iron mask, one of my favorite mysteries of French history.

And now back to the spice mines.

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