Friends and Neighbors

Ah, community.

What is a cozy mystery without one? I don’t know because I’ve never read one that didn’t have a strong sense of community in it, but for me, the depictions of community is one of the primary draws of cozies.

As I have mentioned before, the vast majority of cozies are generally set in small towns, small communities where everyone always seems to come together, everyone knows everyone, and there’s an undercurrent of caring about others that makes them cozy and comfortable to read. I was worried at first about setting one in New Orleans, to be honest; New Orleans is many things to many different people, but I’ve kind of always seen New Orleans as a darker city than most, and that darkness that is always out there on the periphery of the bright sunshine, no matter how cheerful you might be or how lovely of a day it is. Part of it is the history here–New Orleans was a center of the slave trade, after all, and you don’t get much darker than human trafficking–and of course, the city has always been a major port…and ports aren’t exactly known as sedate places. There has always been a lot of crime here, and you really can’t go anywhere in New Orleans without overhearing people talking about the “crime problem” and shaking their heads at the decline of Western civilization as we know it down here by the riverside.

So, how can I write a light, breezy novel about a city that is so dark?

The key was community, of course. New Orleans is a city, but it’s also a city of neighborhoods, and always has been. Generations of families passed homes and property down to their children and their children and so on. “Where’d you go to high school?” was a question asked because the answer told the asker lots of things. Private school or public? What neighborhood did you grow up in? And as I thought more about it, I realized my lonely block in the lower Garden District has that sense of community to it. Neighbors look out for neighbors. We’ve lived in the same place since either 2002 or 2003; I’m never really sure I can remember when we moved onto the property; those years between moving back here in 2001 and Katrina are kind of blurry for me. But we’ve gotten to know our landlady pretty well as well as some of our neighbors; others have come and gone over the years but we always all end up down at the corner for parades during Carnival, catching throws and hanging out and having a good time.

And I realized I could do the same for Valerie.

In A Streetcar Named Murder I only introduced the reader to a few members of Valerie’s community in the Irish Channel: her best friend and neighbor Lorna; the gay couple next door in one side of a double and one’s mother, Mrs. Domenico, on the other side; and her friend Stacia who lives further down the street. I also mentioned there were a couple of houses being used as Air BnB’s, which may play a part in a book should the series get picked up. I had learned my lesson from the failed Paige spin-off series years ago; the mouthy, brash and snarky best friend cannot be the main character, but the book/community needed someone like that in the book. The main character has to be kind–but there’s always a more colorful secondary character necessary to say the funny and borderline mean things in place of the main character.

This is where Lorna comes in.

Lorna is very colorful indeed, and was a lot of fun to create. She’s married to an airline pilot who is often gone for long stretches of time (his name is Jack Farrow; since he’s a pilot she calls him Captain Jack Farrow). She’s British, speaks multiple languages, is fiercely intelligent and doggedly loyal. She also writes lusty romance novels that are huge bestsellers under the name Felicity Deveraux. Lorna is a great best friend who is also always up for anything, and naturally, she has a huge imagination and a big personality. Interesting and fun as Lorna is, I don’t think I would ever write about her as the main character because, like Paige, she would need to be toned down and I don’t really want to do that to her.

It is Lorna’s ambition to join a Mardi Gras krewe that actually puts Valerie at the scene of the crime in the book. See how that works?

But her neighborhood isn’t her only community, either; there’s a community around Rare Things, the antiques store she inherits–Randall Charpentier, her new boss; Dee, her co-worker; and of course the people who are in and out of the shop–the hot guy from an outer parish who repairs and refinishes furniture, for one–on a regular basis. If it becomes a series, I can flit the cases back and forth from her neighborhood to the store and vice versa; there are all kinds of plots and stories I can tell that could come from both.

And there’s still another community that Valerie belongs to that was only touched on in the first book–the parents’ group at Loyola High (it doesn’t exist in real life, folks, but it’s based on Jesuit), the Cardirents. This is how Valerie knew the victim in this book; they were both in the group, with a fraught history (which is more fraught than Valerie ever knew).

So, yes, it is possible to create the sense of community a cozy mystery requires in New Orleans; New Orleans, in fact, is ripe for it.

And on that note, I will sign off here. More blatant self-promotion to come, no worries on that score!

Come

I woke up this morning to a marvelous thunderstorm, complete with pyrotechnics and thunder so close and loud that the house shakes a little bit. These are the kinds of mornings where you want to turn off the alarm, curl back up and go back to sleep again, but alas and alack, I had to get up for work this morning. I think I slept pretty decently last night; I don’t feel tired this morning and I did wake up at five as has been my wont lately. I was a bit tired when I got home from work yesterday; Paul didn’t get home until later and so I worked on the book for a little while until my mind gave out. I tried to read but was tired, so I just watched some history documentaries about the French royal family until I decided to go to bed and be done with it all. It was a pretty decent day yesterday overall; I managed to get through the day and get all caught up on my day job duties without any issues. Which was nice, of course.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around the concept that today is the last day of November already and December is practically here. Christmas already? I’m not ready for it in the least. We don’t decorate anymore since Scooter came to live with us–he sees the tree and decorations as Disneyworld and Epcot–so it never really feels like Christmas completely to me. Maybe this year I should watch A Charlie Brown Christmas? That always used to put me in the Christmas feels. I need to do my Christmas cards this weekend, and I need to ship a box out, as well as try to figure out what to get my parents for the holiday. Paul and I have already discussed and decided our Christmas present will be a major appliance purchase, if our landlady signs off on it; we’ve needed a new refrigerator for quite some time now and I really want to get one with the freezer on the bottom; it makes more sense to have to bend down for the freezer–something you don’t do very often–rather than to get things from the bottom shelves of the refrigerator. Getting old is kind of a bitch. you know? My parents have two refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom, and it really is so much easier on my back and knees….

I did ask for and receive a month’s extension on the book, which is a huge relief and took away a lot of my stress. I still have a lot to do, but at least the pressure valve was turned on and the internal pressure in my brain sort of released a bit. Huzzah? Huzzah. I still want to finish reading Wanda Morris’ book–it’s so good and so well done that whenever I am sort of tired I put the book back down because I want to give it my full and not-tired attention so I can appreciate the writing the way it deserves (check her books out, if you haven’t already. Wanda is fantastic.); maybe this weekend, after errands and editing work on the book, I can curl up in my easy chair and while away a few hours with Wanda.

I was a bit amused to see some reactions to my questioning yesterday about whether I should continue to use pictures of men with amazing bodies or just pictures in general–no one said to stop using the hot men pictures, so I am going to continue to use them. I may start mixing in some other type pictures, of New Orleans or Louisiana; there are some fantastic local photographers who do amazing work that I would like to promote here, with buy links to websites and so forth, to help support local artists, but at the same time I am not certain if that would be a copyright violation or not? I think it’s okay as long as credit is given and I am not using the images to sell something? Of course, I have a gazillion pictures I’ve taken that I own the rights to, so maybe I could just use those. I don’t know. I’m not entirely certain why I am even worrying about the hot guy pictures now when it never bothered me or even occurred to me that I should change my ways before. I also don’t want to keep doing the same thing simply because it’s what I have always done, either; that kind of thinking has always annoyed me. Change isn’t always a bad thing and sometimes its necessary for growth. As someone who would like to keep growing in every way (except for weight) rather than atrophying in my sixties, I like to keep my options open at any rate. But at least for now, I will commit to using the hot-guy images through the end of the year; I do need to find my archive of Christmas themed hot men, though. Tis the season and all that. I also need to gather a list of Christmas song titles to use for the holiday posts. Heavy sigh, my work here in never done.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Goodbye Baby

Tuesday morning and all is quiet at this ungodly hour.

I’m up earlier than usual because I made the decision, whilst I was out of town, that the smart thing to do was get up when I actually wake up, rather than just continuing to lie in the bed awake. It’s comfortable, to be sure, and getting out from under my pile of blankets is never an easy thing to do….but it’s also wasteful of time and staying in bed doesn’t make getting up with the alarm any easier, nor does it make me less tired later in the day. All in all, it’s not going to kill me to get up earlier, so today is my first day trying it (not really, I woke up an hour earlier than necessary yesterday and just went ahead and got up then, so this is my second day of trying this to see how it all works for me). I had errands to run after work last night and I had to write a promotional piece for another blog for A Streetcar Named Murder–there really is no worse timing than having a book coming out as you are trying to meet the deadline on another.

It’s also weird because at the same time I have to try to remember things from Streetcar, which was finished months ago, and of course I’ve moved on to something new that I need to focus on. Heavy sigh. But I think the post I wrote last night is fun and interesting, and hopefully will spark some interest in the book. I’ve also been asked to sign at an event here in New Orleans in January–I want to say ALA, but I could be wrong–and I’ve also agreed to return to the dual Murder event weekend in Alabama yet again. I think this is the fourth time I’ve been invited? I love Margaret and Tammy, and I always have a lovely time at the event.

WE started watching that Hulu series about Chippendales last night, Welcome to Chippendales, starring Kumail Nanjiani as Steve Batterjee. I’ve watched a couple of documentaries about Chippendales and the resultant murder of one of the partners, but I’d forgotten about Dorothy Stratten’s connection to the club before she was murdered (someone really needs to do another series or movie about her life and death; Star 80 was good but…). It’s entertaining enough, and Chippendales also has something to do with the societal change in the sexualization and objectification of the male body that began in the 1970’s (along with the explosion of gay porn and Playgirl, followed by Calvin Klein ads in the 1980s), as well as the beauty standard for men. I recently (it may have been longer ago than what counts as recent, but time has lost all meaning to me now) commented to one of my younger gay male co-workers that “you used to be able to tell if someone was gay or not by how well built they were; if they clearly spent time on their bodies at the gym and ate right to improve the way they looked, they were gay because straight men didn’t give a shit.” Tribal tattoos also used to be a tell that a hot guy was gay. NOT ANYMORE. And the guys today–whatever their sexual orientation–have even more amazing bodies than we used to have back in the day; the definition and the focus on ab development and the absence of any body fat is far more pronounced amongst hot young men these days than it used to be. And they are everywhere. My Instagram and Twitter feeds are often filled with beautiful shots of incredibly handsome young men with unbelievable bodies; some of which I’ve sometimes shared here on the blog. I’ve also been seriously considering going to something else with the blog images, to be honest–I know some people would miss the sexy men images, but it also might be keeping other people away at the same time. I don’t know. But I started using pictures of hot men years ago because when the blog cross-posted to social media it would always show up as with a pale blue square box with a pencil in it, which I hated. When I talked about books, the book cover would come over, so I decided to use images of very hot men that essentially pop up somewhere on the Internet throughout the course of the day and it kind of became an ingrained habit, a default if you will, perhaps even a brand–I hate thinking of myself or anything I do as a writer as a ‘brand,’ and yes, I do recognize that my writing is a product for sale, but it’s not a pack of T-shirts or underwear or a pair of pants hanging on a sales rack. So, do I really want my ‘brand’ for my blog to be sexy shirtless men?

Probably a little late to worry about that now.

The Chippendales calendar–how many years did I buy that? I can remember being deathly afraid to take it to the cash register at the bookstore…but now that I am thinking about it, I don’t remember which bookstores I used to patronize in Fresno. Perhaps a Barnes and Noble at the mall? A Waldenbooks, maybe? But yes, I used to feel my face burning with embarrassment as I tried to nonchalantly buy a Chippendales calendar, all the while thinking the cashier knows I am gay because why else would I be buying this calendar? Now I laugh at the memory of the shame I used to feel. The cashier couldn’t have given two shits about what I was buying, and even if they did, who cares? I had always been attracted more to athletes than any other type of male; I always had a thing for muscles and worked out bodies. Why, I don’t know; whether I was simply wired that way for physical attraction, or if it’s because the first naked bodies of men that I saw were those of athletes in school. Junior high was the first time I ever had to change into gym clothes, shower and be around other naked boys, and I was never comfortable doing so. The locker room before and after gym in junior high was a nightmare, but once I was in high school and on sports teams…the boys I was attracted to were usually athletes. That never really changed over the years as I got older and grew more comfortable with my sexuality–what changed were the bodies. Whereas only athletes and dancers, gay men, and narcissistic straight men used to regularly go to the gym and work out their bodies to build muscle, gradually it became a thing for all men across the board, regardless of orientation. On the rare occasions when I go to the gym now, I see incredibly well-built and well-muscled young men all the time–and while thirty years ago I would have assumed they were gay or bisexual, now I can’t assume anything. I just marvel at the shift in societal attitudes towards men no longer in school who continue to exercise and work out–whether to be healthier or for something to show off and attract women, who knows?

But aesthetically, I appreciate them.

So, the quandary remains. Do I try to rebrand the blog by using other types of pictures, and if so, what kind should I start using? Would people miss the hot guys? Would more people be drawn to the blog rather than closing the browser window as soon as the hot guy loads?

Or do I just not worry about it–as I have never worried about people coming here to read the entries–and keep on as I have been? Decisions, decisions.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

The Irish Channel

Writing a cozy set in New Orleans seemed, at first, to be a little daunting.

One of the key tenets of a cozy is the sense of community one gets while reading it (see Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series for the perfect example; I love Caerphilly, Virginia, and enjoy revisiting twice a year to see how everyone is doing), and it took me a moment to readjust my thinking from “community means a small town” to “no, you moron, anything can be a community; and you can certainly find community in New Orleans.” And then I remembered Leslie Budewitz’ superlative Spice Shop series, which is set in Pike’s Market in Seattle. Seattle is a city, just as New Orleans is; and sure, it might be easier to just invent an entire new fictional small town to set a cozy series in, but if anything, there’s more sense of community in New Orleans than I’ve ever felt in other cities…and it was really about creating a community around my character, Valerie, and picking a neighborhood for her in which to live took me a while as I weighed pros and cons; the only thing that was definite was she was NOT going to live in the French Quarter (there’s a throwaway line where she thinks about how long it’s been since she’s been to the Quarter, and maybe she and her two best friends should arrange to have dinner at Galatoire’s or Antoine’s–yes, I used two of the better known restaurants in the city and the Quarter for the examples, but I also knew I could mention them without needing to explain them to the reader). I did go back and forth about the Marigny or Bywater, but finally decided to put her into a neighborhood that did not flood during Katrina, which narrowed the choices dramatically.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods used to be so distinct that knowing what part of the city someone lived would automatically create some assumptions–just as how the ever-popular question of where’d you go to high school used to be another way to connect with someone you’ve just met–there are any number of differences between those who went to Newman or Jesuit or Holy Cross or Ursulines or Ben Franklin or Warren Easton or McMain Magnet. New Orleans is a small enough city that chances were, you’d also know (or ar related to )someone else who’d gone to that high school at the same time, or you also knew other people who lived in their neighborhood. Obviously, the French Quarter is perhaps the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans, followed by the Garden District, working down through the Marigny, the Bywater, Mid-city, Gentilly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, etc. (With the gentrification of the city over the past sixteen or so years, realtors have also started creating new neighborhoods–which can be confusing. For example, they are trying to rebrand the Central Business District–the CBD–into SoMa, South of Market, which makes no fucking sense whatsoever as there is no market for the area to be south of; I often will have someone mention one of these new neighborhoods by name to me and I have no idea what they are talking about. They are also trying to rebrand the 7th Ward as the “new Marigny”…good luck with that.)

Scotty lives in the Quarter, and Chanse lives in the Lower Garden District–I’ve also written a lot of stories set in that neighborhood, which is also where I’ve always lived, and is quite distinct from the actual Garden District–I used to joke that we lived four blocks and three decimal points from the Garden District. So having done those neighborhoods already extensively, I wanted to pick a new place for Valerie to live and for me to write about.

I’ve always kind of been partial to the Irish Channel, although we’ve always lived in the Lower Garden District (distinct from the Garden District). I wrote one book about the Irish Channel already (aptly titled Murder in the Irish Channel), and of course, when I needed a place for Valerie to live, I decided the Channel would be the perfect place for her. Twenty years or so ago there will still blighted and crumbling houses in that neighborhood just waiting to be purchased, renovated and gentrified. The stretch of Magazine she lives near used to be one of my favorite parts of the city–I met any number of people for coffee at the Rue de la Course that used to be there, I used to really enjoy the Semolina’s restaurant as well as the Middle Eastern place whose name I can’t remember now (Byblos? it was the last restaurant meal in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina), and of course I sometimes shopped at the A&P or the Walgreens–before I realized Prytania and Tchoupitoulas were the easiest and quickest ways to get uptown; I wasted a lot of time stuck in Magazine Street traffic back in the day. Our friends Carrie and Lisa used to rent half of an enormous Victorian house near Third and Constance; I loved that enormous, drafty and dusty old house (it’s actually where my main character in my in-progress novella Never Kiss a Stranger lives), and was very sorry when they moved further uptown. Paul and I used to have a lot of fun looking for costumes and other home decor in the numerous thrift shops on Magazine; the one for St. Vincent de Paul (at the corner of Robert and Magazine, which eventually closed and became a Vitamin Shoppe; I don’t think the space is currently in use) was amazing. They used to sell handmade wooden tables and bookcases, made by monks in a monastery somewhere in northern Louisiana, and this furniture was not only solid, but it was inexpensive. We still have the bookcases and tables–one of them is my desk, the other is Paul’s–and I don’t think we spent much more than a hundred dollars on the two tables and the four bookcases. We must have bought that all after we moved back here after the year that should be forgotten; we didn’t move much furniture there or back.

But oh, how I would love to get some more of those bookcases. They are sooooo solid…

Plus, putting Valerie in the Irish Channel gives me the opportunity to write about St. Patrick’s Day–which I’ve never done with either of my other series–at some point in the future.

The Irish Channel obviously takes its name from the fact that many Irish immigrants settled there when they came to New Orleans. The Historic Landmarks Commission defines its boundaries as Jackson Avenue to Delachaise Street and Magazine Street to Tchoupitoulas. However, the New Orleans City Planning Commission defines the boundaries of the Irish Channel as these streets: Tchoupitoulas Street, Toledano Street, Magazine Street, First Street, the Mississippi River and Napoleon Avenue.

See what I mean about how confusing the city can be? We can even properly define the boundaries of our neighborhoods. I’ve always considered the Channel to start at Jackson (as does the Garden District proper) and end at Louisiana; with the other boundaries Magazine and Tchoupitoulas.

But I did think having her live so close to Louisiana Avenue–between Seventh and Harmony–would put her right smack dab into the heart of that neighborhood and in walking distance of practically anything she might need. I wanted her to be able to be able to do her errands most of the time on foot, because that also (in my mind) cemented the sense that it was a neighborhood and a community, if that makes sense? And once I’d picked where she lived, I was able to start building her community around her.

But that is a tale for another time.

I love these kinds of double houses!

The Second Time

Saturday morning and LSU plays at eleven, which means I have an extremely short window to get things this morning. I fell asleep in my chair watching the debut episode of Dangerous Liaisons, which was a great idea for a series in theory, but I wasn’t impressed with the execution. I doubt we’ll continue with it–a shame, because it’s one of my favorite stories of all time; I read the original novel after the Glenn Close film was released in the 1980’s and have loved it ever since. (I also love the Cruel Intentions adaptation of it; I even adapted it into my gay erotic fraternity novel Wicked Frat Boy Ways) It also rained overnight–I slept very deeply and well last night–and of course I woke at five again this morning but napped on and off until rising just before eight.

LSU can actually clinch the West Division of the SEC today with a win over Arkansas–either outright and a share of it; should Alabama beat Mississippi today, it’s theirs if they win. If Mississippi wins, the pressure is back on LSU to win out; both would end up tied for the West if they both win out, but LSU goes to the championship game by virtue of having beaten Mississippi when they played. It’s a very chaotic college football season, folks; the kind that rarely comes around and things happen that never usually happen. (I still can’t believe LSU beat Alabama last week.) Just a month ago, things looked very bleak for the season indeed for LSU, and I am so proud of how they bounced back after that embarrassing loss to Tennessee. Several things happened this year that have never happened before: LSU had never beaten both Auburn and Florida on the road in the same season before, let alone beaten them both on the road AND beat Alabama. LSU hadn’t beaten Alabama in Baton Rouge since 2010 (the last time Alabama had lost twice this early in the season–but I doubt they will go on to lose to Auburn in the Iron Bowl as they did in 2010), hadn’t beat Florida four years in a row since 1977-1980, and the Tennessee loss was the first time the Vols have beat LSU since 2005.

Okay, I’ll stop boring you with my football fandom. GEAUX TIGERS!

Although I have to add I don’t know how I’ll manage to stay calm during the LSU game–and today I find myself rooting for Alabama. College football always gets interesting later in the season…

I’m going to try to work on edits during the games today; I am not sure how well that is going to go. I’m probably not going to leave the house this weekend outside of a lunch date tomorrow; I really need to work on the book and I’m even going to have to (sigh) not watch the Saints game tomorrow and work instead. I’m running out of time on my deadline, which is terrifying to me, and I have a lot of other things I have to write as well. I really need to make a thorough and complete to-do list; maybe after I finish and post this. I did get a lot of chores done yesterday around the work-at-home duties; laundry and dishes and the kitchen are under control this morning, so I don’t need to do anything this weekend on that score. But whoa boy, was I worn out once five thirty rolled around. I repaired to my chair and watched Youtube videos (and yes, I watched the LSU-Alabama highlights again because I still can’t believe LSU beat Alabama)–I watched a really great historical one about the fall of Constantinople in 1204 to the 4th Crusade, and another interesting one about the camp aesthetic of Mommie Dearest–until Paul got home, and we got caught up on Andor, which I am really enjoying; I’ve actually enjoyed all the Star Wars television shows other than The Book of Boba Fett, which I should probably give another chance to, before switching to Dangerous Liaisons, which was, frankly, boring and the revised plot doesn’t make much sense–a wealthy older noblewoman would not be able to confer a title on anyone; that was the prerogative of the King and the King only, especially in absolutist France of the eighteenth century, so yeah–it wasn’t just being tired. I can forgive historical inaccuracies as a necessity for dramatizations, but being so blatant and deliberate in being wrong like that for the purpose of plot and story is something I cannot condone by rewatching. I am not a purist either when it comes to adaptations of novels into series and films, either–I enjoyed Cruel Intentions, after all–but in all honesty, there was so much more to the original story that had to be cut and removed from any film adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that could have been implemented into telling the story over the course of a season–perhaps even a second–and the fallout and aftermath from the exposure of the Marquise de Merteuil’s letters could have also been interesting.

Ah, well. Great idea, poor execution.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The game starts in less than two hours (!!!) and I need to get some things done. Have a happy 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.

The Nightwatchers

I never really thought much about writing vampire fiction.

I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I read a battered paperback copy of Carrie when I was fourteen, and ‘salem’s Lot continues to be a top 5 King novel for me, if not my favorite (it’s always a toss-up between this and The Stand, frankly) and despite my attempts to turn myself into a King clone in the 1980’s, I’ve never been very good at writing horror. I love to read it–there are some truly terrific horror writers publishing now (if you’ve not read Paul Tremblay, you really need to start), and they are, if you’ll pardon the incredibly cheap pun, killing it. I can do creepy. I can do Gothic. I can do atmosphere and all those marvelous things I love in horror fiction. But I cannot, for the life of me, scare people. I don’t know why I can’t write anything that gets under your skin and into your nervous system; the kind of thing that makes you leave a light burning after you go to bed. I wish I could write like that. I’ve certainly tried a few times…I still have an idea for a horror novel sitting in the back of my brain that I am really going to have to try to get around to writing at some point, because I really should give it a real try sometime.

I have always enjoyed reading vampire stories. “salem’s Lot has always been one of my top five Stephen King novels; I loved Dracula (oh to write an epistolary novel!) and numerous other such tales. It took me awhile to come around on Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (a tale for another time), but I did eventually. Twilight never struck any chords with me. But the one thing I never thought I would do was write about vampires, despite loving them the way I do–going all the way back to my childhood and Dark Shadows. I don’t think I ever would have written about vampires, but my editor at Kensington thought I could; thought I would do a good job at it, and encouraged it, beginning with an offer to write an erotic vampire novella for a collection to be called Midnight Thirsts.

Go home, old man, Rachel thought, tapping her black fingernails on the counter.

It was a quarter till nine, fifteen minutes before she could lock the doors. Everything was clean and the cash register was already counted down. All she had really left to do was dump the remains of the day’s coffee down the sink, lock the cash drawer in the safe, and turn everything o. She’d be gone by ten minutes after at the latest.

She glanced out the big windows fronting the coffee shop. The streetlight just outside cast a yellowish glow in the thick mist pressing against the glass. She shivered and looked back at the old man. He was sitting at one of the tables in the far corner, with the same cup of coffee he’d ordered when he came in around seven thirty. He hadn’t touched it. It was still as full as when she’d filled the cup, only no steam was coming off the black surface now. He didn’t seem to be watching for anyone, or waiting. He never glanced at this watch, which she’d spotted as a platinum Tag Heuer, nor did he ever look out the window. Every once in a while. he would look up from his newspaper and catch her staring. He’d smile and nod, then go back to his reading.

Apparently, he was determined to read every word.

She stood up, bending backward so her back cracked. The night had been really slow. The Jazz Café, even on weeknights, usually was good for at least thirty to forty dollars in tips. Tonight, when she counted out the tip jar, it yielded less than seven dollars. Just enough to get her a pack a cigarettes and a twenty-ounce Diet Coke at Quartermaster Deli on her way back to her apartment. It wasn’t, she thought, wiping down the counter yet again, even worth coming in for.

Usually, on this kind of night, cold and damp and wet, Rachel was kept busy with orders for triple lattés. The tables would be full of people who would coming in shivering, bundled against the cold wetness in the air, which seemed to penetrate even the thickest coat. They’d hold their steaming cups of coffee with both reddened hands, talking and laughing. SOme would be doing their homework on laptops.

She liked busy nights, when the orders kept coming and the tip jar filled. Then, the time seemed to fly by, her closing shift passing in the blink of an eye. She hated the slow nights, when every passing minute seemed to take an eternity. She glanced back at the clock on the wall, then back at the old man. If you would just leave, she thought, I could go ahead and close early.

He’s kind of good-looking, she thought as she sipped her tepid cup of green tea, for an older guy.

At that moment he look up, and their eyes met. His were blue, a deep blue with some green in it. Once again, he nodded his head to her and smiled, but this time he didn’t go back to his newspaper. He held her eyes.

Not to worry, my child, I’ll be gone soon enough.

She turned away, shaking her head, the hair on the back of her neck standing up…

As is frequently the case with my work, The Nightwatchers began as a short story. Within a year of moving here, Paul had struck up a friendship with the director of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (which is where he now works), and as such he volunteered us both to help out with the 1997 Festival. I worked at the sign-in desk, where people picked up their badges and so forth, and it was in the lobby of Le Petite Theatre de Vieux Carre, a marvelous old theater on the corner of Chartres and St. Peter, right across the street from the Cabildo, and kitty-corner to Jackson Square. It was very old, and the main stage was named for Helen Hayes, who’d actually played there before. It was haunted, too–every building in New Orleans is–and I heard some of the stories. Being a volunteer, I had access to back stage, upstairs to the balcony, the prop attic; everywhere. (I eventually used some of this knowledge in Jackson Square Jazz.) At some point during the weekend I had an idea for a story–a horror story–about a theater company rehearsing in an old haunted theater in the French Quarter, where the person always cast in the lead female roles is also sleeping with the director. The young actress who deserved the part doesn’t listen to company gossip, but she does eventually find out that the rumors are true, and at some point made a deal with a devil who appeared to her in her dressing room, on and on and on. I called the story The Nightwatchers, because to me, that was what the devils/demons were called–they watch at night for souls to prey on. When I was asked to write this novella, I dug out the story and reread it, deciding it was perfect to adapt into something new.

I played with it a while, and couldn’t quite get it right in my head until I decided to abandon the theater idea; I’d tried turning the girl into a gay guy but it didn’t really work. I also couldn’t seem to get the atmosphere right, either, and I was convinced–still am, in fact–that the atmosphere had to be just right or the story wouldn’t work. Then one night I was walking through the lower Quarter in December–meeting Paul somewhere, I think–and it was one of those evenings when the fog is so insanely thick that you literally can’t see more than a foot or so in front of you at any time. As I walked along the sidewalk, with the old buildings pushing up against the sidewalk, when I heard the sound of hooves on the street–and realized, bemusedly, that in the fog and the only light from a gaslight–that I could have traveled back in time. Only in New Orleans can you feel like you’ve traveled back in time when it’s foggy, I thought, and wrote an entire scene around that feeling when I got back home. It was the perfect mood/atmosphere for the story, and it worked very well.

And as I wrote the novella, I got more and more into the characters and started imagining my own supernatural world, with vampires and witches and werewolves and everything else, including a ruling council over the paranormal world, the Council of Thirteen, and the old man Rachel sees in the coffee shop is a representative of the Council, in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire…a vampire who believes her young friend Philip Rutledge (now the center of the story) is the reincarnation of someone he loved hundreds of years earlier when he was human (shades of Dark Shadows!) and so wants to turn Philip into his eternal companion, and it’s up to Nigel and Rachel to rescue Philip.

It was a lot of fun to write, and I left the ending a bit open so I could write more about the characters if I ever chose to do so; I actually slotted a continuation novel into my writing schedule; it was supposed to be what I wrote next after finishing Mardi Gras Mambo…needless to say, life conspired to keep me from ever getting around to this book. I am still a bit disappointed I never carried on with the story; I used this same mythology when I returned to writing about vampires again several years later with Blood on the Moon.

So, that’s how The Nightwatchers came to be a story. Writing this now I see the parallels between what I wrote and some things I read and enjoyed (or watched, a la Dark Shadows); and is my “Nightwatcher” group that different from Anne Rice’s Talamasca? Probably not.

I did read and enjoy the other novellas back in the day; I’ve been meaning to revisit Michael Thomas Ford’s because it was particularly memorable.

When I See You Again

It’s a work at home Friday and Paul is getting ready to head out to the airport. Heavy heaving sigh. While alone time is something I can always appreciate, it doesn’t take more than a day or two before I start missing him. But I have a lot to keep me busy, so if I just focus and work my way down the to-do list, I should be able to keep busy enough to not miss him while at the same time getting a lot of things done–always a plus, especially given how behind I am on this book–but a Gregalicious at rest tends to stay at rest, so the big thing for me is going to be staying motivated.

Ugh, I hate when Paul goes away.

I was tired again yesterday when I got off work and came home, so spent some time organizing and doing mindless chores once I got home until Paul got home from work. By the time he’d gotten home I’d already finished the chores and given in to Scooter’s demands for a lap to sleep in, and was watching the latest iteration of ESPN’s show Saturdays Down South, which of course is a history of the Southeastern Conference. This episode was for the decade 2010-2019, and while it naturally focused on the Alabama supremacy, it was fun revisiting some of that football history from that decade: Auburn’s runs in 2010 and 2013 (the “Kick Six” win against Alabama included); the runs for both Mississippi and Mississippi State in 2014 that ended disappointingly but had them both ranked in the Top Three at the same time (until they lost to LSU and Alabama, respectively, on the same day), and of course ending with the incredible LSU season in 2019. Much as I would love to climb on board this year’s LSU hype train, I’m reserving that excitement until a week from tomorrow. Alabama is the stumbling block as it always is (only one national champion since 2006 was able to claim the title without having to beat Alabama–hence The Alabama Supremacy), and even the game being in Tiger Stadium means nothing. LSU has beaten Nick Saban exactly four times (2007, 2010, 2011, 2019) with three of those games being in Tuscaloosa. LSU hasn’t beaten Alabama in Baton Rouge since 2010–twelve years.

So, yes, I am a huge LSU fan but I am also realistic. I’ll be cheering for the Tigers, you bet, and I want them to win…but I am not expecting them to win. I am hoping for it to be a great game.

After Paul got home we caught up on American Horror Story: NYC, which weren’t as interesting to me as the first two episodes. In other words, as we get deeper into the season the plot is beginning to derail a little as so often happened with seasons of the show. However, since the story is set so strongly in the gay community of the early 1980’s, I’ll keep watching. I somehow always manage to keep watching this show (Double Feature we bailed out of during the aliens second feature; we also gave up on Hotel but somehow managed to watch both Roanoke and Apocalypse all the way to the bitter end) despite how far off the rails some of these seasons inevitably wind up going–it’s the completist in me, I think–although I feel pretty confident we’ve also given up on A Friend of the Family as well. (Paul: “This could have been a two-hour movie; it didn’t need to be an ongoing series.”) I am now at a loss for what to watch with Paul gone–I can’t watch anything we’re watching together, or something we’d watch together–but I think I am going to revisit the latest Nancy Drew series; I watched the debut episode and kind of was intrigued by it, but Paul wasn’t interested so never went back to it. I checked yesterday and was stunned to see three seasons have aired, which is cool. I hope The Hardy Boys also gets another season, in all honesty; I enjoyed the show. Having grown up on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, I am always interested to see how the characters/stories get adapted for a modern audience (and belonging to several fan groups on social media for the books is equally interesting, particularly in how imprisoning and limiting so many people can make of nostalgia for something from their childhoods), just as I was interested in seeing Riverdale’s approach to the Archie characters.

I wound up going to be relatively early as I started falling asleep in my chair while watching AHS: NYC last night (I will probably have to rewatch the latest one because I kept dozing off; I also rewatched Andor last night for the same reason before Paul got home). I also got a new espresso maker yesterday which I am dying to try out this morning. I also want to finish my reread of The Haunting of Hill House before moving on to something by Paul Tremblay. I didn’t do well with my “October horror reading month”–I didn’t read very much this month at all, which is shameful, especially since I got Wanda Morris’ new book this week as well–can’t wait to dig into that.

Sigh. Am I being overly ambitious with my plans to get things caught up while Paul is out of town? It’s entirely possible, and I could possibly be setting myself up for a terrible disappointment, but there it is.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Mystified

Monday morning and all is quiet in the Lost Apartment. I am heading back into the office this morning–I have a lot of trainings to get done today, as well as plenty of my own day job work that needs to get finished–and then I hope to come home and get some work on the book done, as well as some cleaning up around here. I made dinner last night and I made chili in the slow cooker, so the sink is full and the counters a bit on the sloppy side. I feel well rested this morning, which is something I’ve noticed happens on Monday mornings now that I have shifted my work-at-home days again; when it was Monday I always somehow woke up tired every Tuesday morning and starting the week off being tired was always unpleasant, as it continued building until the weekend. I think I needed this past weekend to get rest, to be honest; I’ve been feeling a lot of fatigue lately. I’m also worried a bit about burnout, too–I am not feeling 100% this morning, to be honest, but my COVID test was negative, small victories–and I am wondering if it might not be my blood sugar. I’ve noticed lately that my blood sugar sometimes spikes and then wanes, and again, I have to wonder if that has anything to do with my eating habits and so forth. I felt hungry a lot all weekend, yet nothing sounded either appetizing or appealing to eat. I didn’t make dinner on Saturday–I was going to make Salisbury steaks–and so while the chili cooked yesterday I made the steaks. They were good–Paul didn’t have any, he waited for the chili–and then this morning again I felt like my blood sugar was low enough for me to be concerned about it. (the last time I had lab work done it was high; which reminds me, I need to have it done again soon.)

I worked on the book this weekend around my fits of fatigue and television watching; yesterday we watched House of the Dragon (enjoyed), The Serpent Queen (not one of the better ones), and Interview with the Vampire (I was rather disappointed with this episode, which is a shame; I loved how they were doing Claudia when they first introduced her but missed the mark with this one, methinks). We also started watching A Friend of the Family, which led me to remark at some point, “You know, the 1970’s really were awful for the most part, weren’t they? The clothes, the cars, the furniture, the home decor, the hair…everything was a style crime.” Watching this, it’s very hard to imagine that such a thing could happen–there seems to be this sense of innocence in non-urban areas (sorry, but Pocatello, Idaho doesn’t really count to me as an urban area, apologies to Idahoans) that lasted from the 1950’s through the 1970’s so things like this could happen. And while fathers and mothers were always deeply concerned about their daughters’ sexuality and keeping it locked down until they were “safely” married; it would never enter the minds of good Christian people that someone who went to church with them and was a close family friend (although there was some incredibly questionable behavior, and the ‘family friend’–played with just the right dose of charm and smarm by Jake Lacy–really crossed many lines) would be a child molester or a pervert or a sexual deviant; people were sooooo convinced back then that you could actually spot such a person because they were so vile and depraved it had to show; the character I find the most interesting is the family friend’s wife, who was clearly emotionally (if not physically) beaten down by her husband and clearly had what we now call ‘Stockholm syndrom’–that, to me, is the interesting story. How could you write such a story from her perspective and gain the reader’s sympathies and understanding?

Paul is leaving for slightly over a week on Friday and there’s no LSU game this weekend–there are some interesting games on this weekend, but nothing I actually need to watch; I can always check scores and watch highlights if I need to; the big conference games this weekend are Georgia-Florida and Tennessee-Kentucky–no need to watch either, other than they are rivalry games and thus one can never be sure of how might actually win the game; Florida and Kentucky certainly needs the wins more. How wild would that be if both undefeated teams in the East went down to defeat in the same weekend? So, I think I’ll spend the weekend writing, reading and cleaning. I don’t really need to hit the grocery store for much since Paul will be gone, either. We’ll see how much I can get done, and we’ll see how productive my evenings are going to be. Scooter will be much more needy than usual, but rather than just hanging out in my chair and watching tv with him in my lap I can actually watch television in bed when I get home at night…an interesting thought.

I am also enjoying my reread of The Haunting of Hill House, and my God, how much do I love the way Shirley Jackson writes? I think my holy trinity of women writers of dark fiction (I can’t really call Jackson a crime writer, although there’s some terrific overlap) are du Maurier, Jackson, and Mary Stewart. Stewart isn’t really a dark writer, though; I don’t know what to call them but those three women are probably, if I had to pick three, my holy trinity. The Haunting of Hill House is so melancholic and dreamlike; the word choices and the sentence structures and the paragraph construction things of absolute beauty. I also love the character of Nell (I wonder how much she influenced Stephen King in his creation of Carrie?) and how sad and lonely and despondent she is, particularly since she is so young (just past thirty). Then again, at the time it was written that was pretty much middle-age and she would have been considered a spinster.

The weather has turned into the beautiful fall we always enjoy in New Orleans; that we long for yet forget about during those long, hot, damp hideous days of summertime. I am also expecting some things in the mail; an anthology I contributed a story to a very long time ago is supposed to drop this month, and when I met with the Crooked Lane publicist at Bouchercon she told me I’d get my box of author copies in late Halloween; so I am resisting the urge to run to the post office every day just in case. It has been eighteen years since I had a hardcover release of any kind; it’s kind of lovely to have one again after all this time. I need to start posting about the new book a lot more once November 1 pops up on the calendar; as the countdown to the release date draws near I need to amp up the promotion. Does it work? I don’t know, to be honest, and that often makes it hard for me to want to make the effort at all.

And on that note, I need to get cleaned up and head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will speak to you again tomorrow morning in the darkness of the predawn.