Song of the South

I am a son of the South; Alabama born and bred. Southerners like to think, or believe, that they are different from other Americans; they also believe they are the most patriotic Americans, despite the prevalence of Confederate flags and dedication to preserving memorials to traitors. I was born and grew up during the height of the Civil Rights movement. I remember the day Dr. King was murdered. I grew up amidst racism and segregation–there were no black children in my elementary school in Chicago, and the story was our principal would tell black families trying to enroll their children that the school was at capacity–but would then enroll the children of the next white family to come along. That racism at our school didn’t extend to Hispanics/Latinx; I shared classrooms with kids who were born in Mexico or Central America, whose families had come to the United States and Chicago–where my family moved when I was two–to escape war and poverty. Several of my teachers liked to call attention to the immigrant children in my classes, as examples of the American melting pot, how the country was a country of immigrants, and how our nation’s strength came from the combination of cultures and national identities.

Race has always been an issue in this country since the day the first slave ships arrived; the deadly seeds of poison and discord planted in a nation as yet unborn in the notion that some people are less than others, that owning human beings as though they were cattle was a legitimate enterprise. Slavery almost split the country in two; it took a rebellion and a bloody war to put an end to it…but that war didn’t solve the ultimate problem of slavery because it was never addressed: white supremacy and the belief that the US was a country of white people exclusively for white people. If you weren’t white, you could benefit from being an American but never as much as white Americans. I remember hearing, during the Civil Rights era, that Americans of color should be grateful they were Americans because they were better off as Americans than they would be anywhere else.

Even as a child, this begged the question, but isn’t the point of being American the idea that the next generation is better off than the previous? That the reason our country is great is because we all strive to do better than our parents? Isn’t that what people of color are trying to do?

Race issues in America has always been complex and complicated and nuanced.

I sometimes have wondered if I have failed as a writer by not dealing with issues of race in my books. I told a friend the other day that I will have to go back and reread all of my books to see if I allowed any racist ideas or sentiments to creep into it; even if it’s as little a thing as describing a person of color by their color, and if I fell into the horrific racist tropes of using food or drink to indicate the color of their skin–mocha, chocolate, cinnamon, etc.

Getting inside the head of racists…and people who are involved in the Klan…is something that is difficult for a lot of Americans. The rise of social media and the most recent elections have exposed a lot of people to shocking discoveries about relatives and friends, who harbor racist or at the very least, borderline racist ideologies. I’ve been pushing myself to deal with race and in particular how prevalent in can be in the rural south lately, so I am reading a lot more about it.

Lori Roy, on the other hand, decided to write a novel about it.

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The truck driving toward our house is black. Lots of cars drive past our house because there’s a good turnaround spot just down the road and the interstate is the other way. Most every car driving past wants to go the other way, and usually they’re in a hurry, but not this truck. It drives slow and it glitters when the sun hits it and the tailgate rattles like pennies in a mason jar. I hear it even though all the windows and doors are closed and locked, have to be. That’s the rule when Mama’s at work and I’m home alone.

The driver, he is a man. One of his arms hangs out the window, and something dangles from his hand. I don’t know what it is, but then he keeps slowing down, almost rolls to a stop, and as soon as he flings that something, I know. It has happened before. If Mama comes home and finds it, she’ll be angry and maybe even cancel her going-out plans for tonight. And if going-out plans are canceled, Julie Anna won’t come.

I wait until the truck rolls past before I slide off the sofa. Making sure no one will hear, I touch my feet down real soft, don’t jump like I sometimes do, and tiptoe to the front door. The lock is stiff and I have to use both hands to turn it. Mama’s big enough, it only takes her one hand to open the door, and someday, that’ll be me. The lock makes a loud click and I freeze. I tru to be quiet because I’m doing wrong and I know it. Someone is always watching, that’s what Mama likes to say, so I guess I’m sneaking so the someone, whoever that someone is, won’t see.

Lori Roy is one of our top crime writers publishing today–she has, over the course of four novels, won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and been nominated for a third. Gone Too Long is her fifth novel, and it, too, is an impressive achievement.

The book opens with the afore-mentioned first person characterization of a young girl named Beth, and the horrific thing that happens to her. She is kidnapped and held hostage in a basement somewhere, after witnessing the murder of her babysitter, Julie Anna. As if that isn’t horrific enough, we also know that it takes place seven years earlier, and that the action of the story is going to flash back and forth in time between the present and the recent past. The modern day character is a damaged young woman with red hair named Imogene, still recovering–through the use of alcohol and meaningless sexual experiences with men selected when she’s drunk–from the deaths of her husband and son in a car accident several years earlier.

Imogene just also happens to be the daughter of a recently deceased high-ranking member of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. In the present day, her father has just been buried, and her mother has found a strange wire…and asks Imogene to follow where it leads from their house. She does, comes upon an older house on their property that has been abandoned for years, and finds, in a basement similar to the one where Beth was taken, a young boy who would be about the age her son would be had he not been killed. The discovery of this child–and the discovery that the new Klan leader’s son’s girlfriend has tried to sell two incredibly expensive watches–triggers a series of events and revelations that expose the ugliness of the Klan, the ugliness of human nature, and the ugliness of life in general when your family has been devoted to the Klan for generations.

Gone Too Long is a brilliant read, immense in its scope of human emotions and the nuances of how people can rationalize the irrational, and how that irrationality can lead to the self-justification  of doing the most horrible things to other human beings; yes I know it’s wrong but I didn’t have a choice.

This is an incredibly powerful novel, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Alas, it won’t be available until its actual publication date on June 25th, but it can be pre-ordered, both on-line and from your local independent. Do so; pre-order it now so you can experience what is definitely going to be one of the top crime novels of 2019.

Stunning. Just stunning.

Drivin’ My Life Away

We left the Orpheus parade last night when it started raining and the wind picked up. It was already cold out there, but that weather shift was going to take it from merely unpleasant to intolerable pretty fast, so we skedaddled back to the Lost Apartment and called it a night.

But Orpheus is a beautiful parade, and the floats simply breathtaking.

And there’s nothing like Carnival to make me remember why I love this city so much. Carnival is pretty much unavoidable , no matter how hard you try, and there’s no point in resisting it because it isn’t going away. Even those who hate Carnival (which I don’t understand, unless they are also the people who kick puppies and so forth) have to ride the wave until it’s over. Today is the last day of my Carnival related vacation, and it’s been absolutely lovely. Did I get everything done that I wanted to get done? Of course not. I never do. But I did do some thinking, and thinking time is often in short supply. I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the WIP–I may go back and revise the first ten chapters to weave in the threads that are missing before writing the second half of the book–and with any luck, I can have a decent draft of it finished by the end of March.

Fingers crossed.

It’s very cold this morning for a Mardi Gras Day, and I kind of am glad Paul and I don’t do Fat Tuesday anymore. Not that it wouldn’t be fun, but all the costume planning and so forth, and I doubt seriously I could drink all day anymore and still make it to work on Ash Wednesday and be functional. Sigh, the pleasures of getting old. But I always feel like my time is borrowed, and the life I have is a gift I never thought I would see. So there’s that, you know?

I do have some cooking to do today; I need to make bacon for lunch sandwiches and I am going to make the chili today–thank goodness it’s cold, right? I am also going to go ahead and make chicken salad for Paul’s lunches this week.

I am trying to decide what I want to write next, if I do another Scotty. There’s an amorphous idea boiling in the back of my head that’s been back there for quite some time–Hollywood South Hustle–which would combine two stories I’ve been pondering for a while (I am leaning toward this one as the next Scotty because the other two–Bywater Bohemia Bougie and Redneck Riviera Rhumba–don’t have even an amorphous story dancing in my head other than the titles. I think Redneck Riviera will have to have something to do with Frank’s wrestling career and the other has to do with gentrification, but that’s all I’ve got. Hollywood South on the other hand has two different plots I want to write–one about a film industry scam that actually happened here in New Orleans, and the other about the victim of a vicious assault, twenty years later. It’s just about trying to figure out, really, how those two plots roll into each other and can run parallel to each other in order to make a cohesive story. Plus there’s another plot element that needs to be wrapped up, carried over from the current, and I think this plot can accommodate that story pretty well. This is kind of the Scotty book I originally intended to write as the fourth book in the series, but Katrina pretty much buried that, at least for a while. (I’ve already spun part of that original plot into Murder in the Rue Ursulines; but since it was a Chanse book it changed a lot; enough so that using the original idea as a Scotty would absolutely work.)

But…it’s nice to have another idea for Scotty lingering in my head, on the back-burner. Maybe I’ll even get to it later this year.

Stranger things have happened.

I also want to work on Monsters of New Orleans. I’ve not done any short story work in a while, and I kind of miss it. I had another story turned down by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, but that’s only whetted my appetite to try to get something else published in there. There’s a long story, novella-length, called “Never Kiss a Stranger” that I’d also like to get back to work on, but on the other hand, I’m wondering if the story might make for a better novel than long-form story. I suppose I should finish a draft before making a decision, one way or the other.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines for me. I was thinking about working on some stuff today, since I’m not leaving the house, but I think I’ll just read instead.

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone.

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Dim All The Lights

It is cold this morning in the Lost Apartment; kind of gray out there with the sun hidden behind fluffy white clouds. There’s a sink full of dishes, clothes in the dryer, and mess pretty much everywhere. At some point I have to go to the store today–there are things we need that cannot wait till Wednesday–but I am going to postpone the mail until Wednesday on the way to to the office. I also need to do some wrap-up work on the book at some point today, but it’s still pretty much finished. I want to get that done today so I can spend tomorrow reading…which, since it doesn’t seem sunny, will probably work. I wanted to take my camera out and take pictures of the Bead Trees of St. Charles–an annual tradition–but without sunshine the pictures aren’t as effective…so, unless the sun comes out today, that’s something that’ll have to wait until the weekend.

Yesterday was fun.  I gave up on Thoth about half-way through; there was an enormous break in the parade, and the longer I stood there the less I wanted to. Also the wind started picking up, the sky got gray, and I felt a few drops…tired and wet wasn’t something I felt particularly up for, so I decided to come inside and rest up for Bacchus. I’d already caught plenty of beads, and with Bacchus and Orpheus in the future…yeah, I called it an afternoon and came inside.

The three day parades yesterday rolled as floats only (no marching bands or walking groups) because of inclement weather in the forecast; they also moved them all up to eleven in the morning and they followed each other; so Thoth rolled hours earlier than usual. I was inside yesterday around two; Thoth usually begins at two-thirty and it was already half-way past.

It’s also amazing how fast those parades can move when it’s just floats.

And Bacchus was, as always, fun despite the cold. Paul caught some beads directly from Bacchus (Jensen Ackles) himself, and I got some doubloons from his float.  Here are some great shots of the parade (and Jensen).

After Bacchus, we came back in and got caught up on Schitt’s Creek and How to Get Away with Murder, and then, tired and worn out for a day mostly spent on the parade route, I went to bed early and also managed to sleep in, which was quite lovely.  The temperature is currently in the low forties, which doesn’t bode well for Orpheus tonight, but I also don’t mind bundling up for this parade. It has the train float which is one of my favorites!

And then tomorrow, we will just rest and relax and get ready for the three day work week.

Happy Lundi Gras, everyone!

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Misunderstanding

Well, Iris is over for another year and as always, the ladies of Iris were most generous to Paul and I. The coffee table is now buried in beads and throws, and there’s a whole day of parades today, plus the magnificence that is Orpheus tomorrow night. We skipped Tucks and Endymion last night–we never have really gone to watch Endymion; we used to walk up St. Charles to go out dancing on that night, and always caught tons of beads from Endymion as we walked–and our attendance today is entirely dependent on the weather. The day parades have been moved up an hour already because of potentially inclement weather; but thus far Bacchus is scheduled to role tonight at its regularly scheduled time.

Paul went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday last night, leaving me home to my own devices for the evening, and so I pretty much spent the evening watching nonsense on television and reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long, which is so beautifully written I have to put it down every once in a while to digest it. I am hoping to finish reading it today before and between parade.  I am glad I have tomorrow off, so I can get all the odds-and-ends of my book finished before Orpheus rides, and on Fat Tuesday I am going to probably just relax and read most of the day. I am very behind, not only on the Short Story Project but on the Diversity Project, and I also have my TWFest homework to do as well–I have three books to read for that. But once the Festival is over and I have the first draft of the WIP finished (around April 1st, methinks), I can dive back into both projects. Huzzah!

And since I am taking today off from writing, I can spend the morning before the parades get here curled up in my easy chair with Lori’s book, which is an absolutely lovely way to spend a morning…and perhaps during the brief break between Thoth and Bacchus I can get it finished. It’s a very  well written book, and the story itself, intertwining present day grief in a family with a history of Klan leadership, is stunning in its scope and what it is trying to do, and I am here for it. It’s also interesting that it fits into one of my goals for the year–which is to read more diverse books as I try to get a better handle on this country’s horrific history with race and how that currently impacts and effects our current society–which was, as I started reading it, completely unintentional…so technically, it counts in the Diversity Project because it is about racial disparities and tackles the question of race head-on by doing something incredibly daring for this day and age–a look at the Klan from inside the family of one of its leaders.

Reminiscent of William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, which I reread earlier this year.

And now, I am going to retire to my easy chair with Lori Roy’s book and my iPad, with the electronic copy of Murder-a-Go-Go’s.

Happy Sunday, every one!

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One Fine Day

IRIS SATURDAY!

Iris has always been my favorite Carnival parade; so much so that it’s the only parade I’ve put in a book thus far; Mardi Gras Mambo opens with the boys on the neutral ground of St. Charles Avenue, watching the ladies of Iris on a beautiful Saturday afternoon:

Of all the parades, my favorite is the Mystic Krewe of Iris. There are several reasons for this. First, Iris is a women’s krewe, which means the masked figures on the floats tossing things are not men. Men always look for women (the larger the breasts, the better) and children in the crowd to reward with their largesse. They only throw to men by accident, or if someone yells particularly loud. This sucks if you like to catch throws. However, the ladies of Iris are just as sexist as the male krewe members. They throw to men and children. Flirting with the ladies definitely works. And since Iris rolls on the Saturday afternoon before Fat Tuesday, usually it’s sunny and warm. Sunny and warm means I don’t wear a shirt. (And a lot of guys don’t. It’s basically a beefcake bonanza out there on St. Charles Avenue the afternoon of Iris. Did I mention how much I love Iris?)

I get lots of throws at Iris every year.

Carnival so far had been a bit of a disappointment.  Mardi Gras was early this year, which meant despite the fervent prayers of the locals, there was a strong possibility that Fat Tuesday itself could be cold, gray and drizzly. If the weather on Fat Tuesday sucks, it adversely affects the tourist numbers of the following year, so the City Fathers were keeping their fingers crossed and praying just as hard for sunny warm weather as the rest of us who just want to run around half-naked.  Unfortunately, every night since the parades started, it had been gray, cold and wet. The parades still rolled despite the inclement weather, but all the newscasters were despondent about low numbers of people out for the parades. They fail to take into consideration that standing in a slight drizzle on a cold night waiting for a parade isn’t fun. You’d think they’d realize it as they stand out there in their trench coats broadcasting. And actually, it’s better for the businesses. Instead of being out there on the streets, the tourists were in the restaurants and the bars staying dry and warm spending their tourist dollars to support our economy.

Every night after we got home from the gym, I’d ask the boys if they wanted to go out and watch the parades. I hate standing out trying to catch throws when it’s cold, so I didn’t try very hard to convince them. I’d have gone if they wanted to, but Frank and Colin weren’t into standing around in the cold rain just to have beads thrown at them, so we pretty much blew off the earlier parades. After all, there’s always another day of parades, and the Goddess wouldn’t be so cruel as to have the weather suck the day of Iris.  Regardless, I love the Iris parade, and unless the streets were flooding, we were going. Besides, my sister Rain is one of the ladies of Iris, so going was also a family obligation. Actually, most of my relatives are in one parade or another, but Rain’s appearance in Iris is the only one I care about.

Fortunately, that Saturday dawned bright and sunny and warm.  All three of us had gotten up early, so we could go to the gym and pump up—as I said, the sexist ladies of Iris really notice muscles. We caught a ride with my best friend David Uptown, where he managed to find a place to park on Baronne, and walked the two blocks over to St. Charles Avenue.

That’s another important thing to remember about Carnival. NEVER watch parades on Canal Street. That’s where the mobs of tourists are, drunk and boisterous and pushing and shoving and just getting on your nerves. It’s much more fun to go Uptown and watch along the St. Charles route. That’s where the locals go. It isn’t as crowded, there aren’t any breasts being bared, and instead you can see what Carnival really is supposed to be like—or what it was like before the college students found out about it. That’s where you see families out with their kids, portable barbecues set up on the streetcar tracks, and coolers full of beer everywhere.  Of course people are drinking, but New Orleanians know how to pace themselves—after all, we have to all year long. Drinking might be a city pastime, de rigeuer for every social event in town, but you don’t see people puking or passing out on St. Charles. You don’t see men taking a piss in a corner.

Many locals leave town during Carnival. They’re sick of the hordes of tourists, the problems getting around the city—St. Charles and Canal, the two main streets in the city, close for the parades, and it’s easy to get trapped inside the parade route. I can only imagine how frustratingly annoying it must be to live Uptown during Carnival. There’s also the familiarity. If you’ve been dealing with it your entire life, after a while I guess it can get old for some people, but I am not one of those people. After all, do you get sick of Christmas? And so far, it hasn’t gotten old for me. I feel like a kid again every year when the parades roll. I don’t believe I would ever get sick of Carnival. I love everything about it. I love the green, purple and gold decorations everywhere—the huge masks adorning balconies, the beads hanging from the tree branches and the telephone lines. I even love the tourists, even though they do stupid stuff they would never dare to do in a million years at home. I love the parades, catching throws, the non-stop fun atmosphere. I even like the pervasive smell of grease from the vendors hawking corn dogs and French fries and those bizarre sausage sandwiches made with fried onions and green peppers. I love the signs in front of bars advertising BIG ASS BEER $3.95—40 OUNCES!! Okay, it’s not like living in New Orleans is ever boring, mind you—it’s kind of like living on a non-stop rollercoaster ride sometimes—but Carnival is different. The whole city is in a festive mood, and everyone is relaxed and just wants to have a good time. What other American city throws such a huge party and invites the whole world to come join the fun?

Doesn’t that sound like fun? My very first Mardi Gras, back in 1995, was also my first experience with Iris, and I fell deeply and madly in love with the ladies of Iris. They showered me with beads, year after year. I used to have an Iris party every year; we even accidentally created a drink the first year we named the Iris: champagne, cranberry juice, and vodka.

It’s delicious.

And I finished revising Royal Street Reveillon yesterday. I still need to work on the prologue and write the epilogue, and I probably will go over Chapter 25 again, but for all intents and purposes, it’s done done done. Huzzah!

And now back to Iris prep.

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An American Dream

I am waiting for the other shoe to drop about Spotify, because I am really enjoying having it. Although I suppose…how do the artists get paid? Obviously, the music has to be paid for at some point–for the right to stream it, right? Then again, that isn’t how radio worked, and this is kind of like “choose your own radio/be a disc jockey”.

Talking about Pat Benatar the other day, of course, led me to make a Pat playlist, and of course the Go-Go’s anthology has led to a Go-Go’s playlist as well. I also made one for the Carpenters (on the Benatar thread I mentioned how noir their music is),Stevie Nicks (was there any doubt?), the Monkees (Peter Tork’s death), and copied some 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s pop hits ones. It’s actually been kind of fun.

Oh! TINA TURNER! Be right back.

So I managed to get two chapters revised yesterday; two more today and the thing is done. Oh, I still need to redo the prologue and write the epilogue, then copy edit one more time, but if I get these two chapters done today, I can do the prologue and epilogue on Monday, and do the final copy edit next weekend.

And then it’s finished.

I’m actually excited to get back to my short stories and my other WIP, to be honest. I want to get the WIP finished in its first draft by the end of March, then put it aside to rework another manuscript for the month of April before returning to the WIP.

Huzzah!

I am also very tired this morning. Muses last night apparently wore me out. My lower back hurts a bit and my legs are tired as well. It may have something to do with I bought a new brand of over-the-counter sleeping pills at Costco yesterday, the Costco brand at that. I tried them out last night and obviously they worked. I didn’t even wake up until almost nine this morning, and am still very sleepy and exhausted. Today’s goals are to wash the bed linens, do some more cleaning, cook some things, and do the last two chapters of Scotty. I doubt I’ll have much of a chance to work on it again until Monday; Paul and I always drink on Iris Saturday which makes the day a total waste, and Sunday is parades all day and recovery. I would like to power through today and get those last two chapters finished today, so I can go ahead and use Monday to write the epilogue, and then do one last copy edit on Fat Tuesday while the rest of the city parties and celebrates, and then I can be done with it.

It’s been a long haul, but I am very pleased with this Scotty book.

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

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You May Be Right

So, the fact that I am a Luddite is a well-established fact by this point in time, so new technology and so forth always throws me for a loop. The most recent example of this for me is Spotify. That Bitch Ford ™ convinced me to give it a try, and I keep getting sucked into making playlists and remembering oh yes, I loved this album or Oh! Oh! I wonder if this artist is on here and yes, time suck. Big time.

And Apple Music is probably very similar. And I already have iTunes. But I have a thirty-day free premium Spotify account, so I have thirty days to decide if I want to abandon this or go to Apple Music.

I managed to revise another chapter yesterday. Just the one, dear? is an actual valid question; it’s true. But I went and did errands, then I had to make room for things and throw things away, and there was laundry to get done. I am probably going to run to Costco today to get it out of the way–Paul had something delivered to the mail service yesterday, and if I have the leave the house, might as well run another errand and get it out of the way, right?

It rained a bit last night during the Druids parade, but remembering the mantra (marathon not a sprint) kept me inside and off the route until Nyx arrived. By then the rain was gone and there was a surprisingly large crowd out there on the route. I didn’t stay out there for the entire parade; there were still another six or so floats left when we called it a night, but I’d already  gotten a purse (thanks, Beth!) and a plethora of beads, among other things, and so it wasn’t a big deal to end early. There are three parades tonight (!): Babylon, Chaos and Muses. Muses is, of course, one of the more popular parades, so it will be mob-like out there tonight. Patricia Clarkson is the Muse tonight; the first woman to be Muse twice, and she gets to ride in the big shoe. I’ll try to take some pictures–I always try–but there are no guarantees. It’s also supposed to rain around five, but it’s also not supposed to last long.

I also need to do some cooking today; bacon and chicken breasts and so forth, so there’s readily available food for us to eat over the weekend; today is a good day for that. I woke up early this morning, and while it’s taken me a little while to get going, I am feeling energized and ready to get some shit done. I’ll probably start revising Scotty when I post this, and then head to Costco and get the mail on the way back.

Got to start checking things off that to-do list; today is a great day to get started on that.

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

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