Someone asked me once, many years ago, about who I would cast in a movie or television series if the Scotty books were ever adapted. I honestly don’t remember who I originally cast, all those years ago, as Scotty, if given a choice; time has made Swiss cheese out of my memory banks, alas. I do remember thinking Christopher Meloni would be my choice for Frank, even though physically they aren’t alike (Frank is tall and more lean than Meloni) and I know I wanted to cast Pam Grier as Venus (God, what dream casting!), but the rest I don’t remember. Just as well, really, I suppose. If I were to cast them today, I’d probably go with someone like Jake Gyllenhaal as Scotty, or Tom Holland; someone like that. Frank would be a very good role for Alan Ritchson, but he’s not old enough, alas. Maybe Holland as Scotty, Gyllenhaal as Colin, and Ritchson for Frank?
That casting would make for some really amazing sex scenes.
But I don’t waste a lot of my time speculating about movie or television deals. The Scotty series was optioned once for two years, but nothing ever came of it (although I miss those quarterly checks I used to get before the option lapsed) and I don’t really see how one could film one of the Scotty books, anyway. Bourbon Street Blues would require a mob of hot male extras in various stages of undress, for one thing, and then a night shoot in a swamp. Jackson Square Jazz is more internal, and Mardi Gras Mambo would require the recreation of not only Carnival but one of the parades on St. Charles.
It’s fun to think about, but…truth be told I’d just sell the rights and sit back to wait and see how it all turned out. I really don’t have much desire to write for television or film; never have, actually. I also always remember James M. Cain’s response to a question about whether Hollywood had “ruined” his novels; he turned around, pointed to the copies on his bookshelf and said, “They look just fine to me.” (Caveat: at one point in my life I really want to be a writer for soaps. That is the only interest in writing for any type of live action entertainment I’ve ever had.)
Yesterday wound off not being such a great day, I’m afraid. I woke up feeling pretty good and seemed like everything was going to align for a pretty good day. I spent the morning doing touch-ups around the house between reading more of Lori Roy’s marvelous Edgar-winning Let Me Die in His Footsteps; I ran the errands that were needed; and I did some filing. But just when I was getting ready to settle in to work on the book…the Internet went out. Yes, we were having modem problems again, and after an extremely frustrating hour spent dealing with on-line tech assistance (which isn’t very helpful) I remembered something from the last time something went wrong with the Internet and I was able to get a stopgap fix into place, but by then my mood had gone down the toilet and I was feeling a lot of anxiety and frustration on top of anger. So, I sat down again my easy chair and reread the chapters again that I was supposed to be revising to see if the fixes I came up with the other night would actually work, and I believe that to be the case. It was also a reminder than I am still in the process of working through grief, because I really snapped and went down the dark path rather quickly and easily yesterday–so I thought it was probably best to simply go ahead and ride it out. Cox is coming out today to bring a new modem and get it set up, so hopefully this will put an end to this periodic Internet issue. (Our modem is ancient; so ancient they can’t even service them anymore, which is what we found out the last time there was an issue, and even as I type these words I am remembering the last tech advised me to get a new one and I never did because I forgot, of course.)
So today I am going to spend most of my day working on the revision and getting caught up. I have emails to answer but they can wait until Tuesday. I want to spend some more time with Lori Roy’s novel this morning, maybe even finishing it, and get a lot of writing done around other things, like touching shit up and more filing and cleaning the kitchen and so forth. I am pleased I got the errands handled yesterday and some cleaning around here, which was sorely needed. I also found my hearing test results so I can start trying to navigate the world of obtaining and financing hearing aids. There’s a part of me that thinks it will be marvelous to be able to hear at 100% again–if I ever did–and there’s another part of me that thinks it’s kind of nice that I don‘t hear everything. And I am trying to be kinder to. myself. That’s why I walked away from everything and just spent the day yesterday dealing with the negativity the day had introduced into my life. I knew I wouldn’t be able to really write anything because I was in too negative a place, and trying to work would make the darkness even worse (sometimes work can get me through the darkness, but yesterday I could tell–and this wasn’t me trying to be lazy or anything, either–it was one of those times when I would find the work frustrating and aggravating. The downward spiral was such that there was no spiraling up, and anything else would keep the spiral turning on its downward axis. I do know that much about myself–and even knew that I would probably try to beat myself up over losing a day to the moodiness and subconscious grief. But progress in the mental health sector of my life was made–I recognized and diagnosed where I was at yesterday and what would make it worse rather than better, and even this morning I am taking that as a win rather than berating myself for the loss of a day’s work.
And I am really enjoying turning this piece of shit into an actual Scotty book. (I was worried during the completion of the earlier drafts that I didn’t know how to write a Scotty book anymore; those worries were for naught. I just have to always remember that Scotty is there, inside my brain, and I will always find his voice again, even if it takes a while. I should always revisit one of the books before I try writing another one.) I have that sense of who he is again and what the books should be like and I am hearing his voice in my head again, all of which I am counting as wins.
I was also thinking about the next Scotty book–because when I am ever not looking ahead to what’s next on the horizon–as well as a call for submissions for an anthology I want to write something for. Crazy, right?
So, I think I am going to make another cup of coffee, go read for about an hour, and then dive back into the book. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you again either later today or perhaps not until tomorrow.
Friday Eve! I had a touch of insomnia again last night, but I feel okay this morning. I got very tired yesterday in the afternoon, but survived the day but was very drained when I got home. I did do a load of dishes and a load of laundry, though, so there was some success to be had on the home front–glad the sink has been mostly emptied, for one thing–and tonight on the way home I’ll have to stop and make some groceries as we’re out of a few things, but I am just glad that I’ve made it through a relatively productive week here at the Lost Apartment. I’m adjusting to my new job responsibilities as I learn them, which is always nice (nothing too hard or stressful, which is cool, and I like learning how to do new things) and I suppose I should earn the raise I got.
I was too tired to write last night (ugh, the same old refrain, right?) but I did spend some time thinking about the book and this hellish transition chapter I’m stuck on. I really need to stop second-guessing myself, keep moving, and worry about it all later. A short story deadline looms, but I don’t think I am going to have either the time or the inclination to go ahead and try to get something done and turned in on time. I have a story but it needs revision and I am not exactly sure how to solve what the problem in the story actually is; and I really don’t want to turn in something inferior.
I was also thinking last night about, well, my writing career. It’s hard to believe I’ve been a published author now for almost one third of my life, which is quite a long time to be doing this. I was also thinking about my work and how often I am dissatisfied with my own work; I also kind of laughed at myself because I often express that feeling here and on social media–which is precisely the wrong thing to do when it comes to marketing yourself: if the author isn’t satisfied with his own work, why should I read it? I really am terrible at this part of being a writer. But I have never been comfortable praising myself–which is why, I think, I’ve never gotten far with day jobs; I don’t push myself forward because I was raised to believe that you don’t praise yourself–that’s for others to do, and if you do a great job or do something good, other people will notice and if they don’t, doing a great job or something good should be reward in and of itself.
That’s kind of fucked up, actually, now that I put it into writing.
But on the other hand I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t reread something I’ve written and think, oh you should have done this or you could have done this part better or ouch that’s a clumsy sentence/paragraph/transition. I am kind of a perfectionist in some ways; I always think i could have done something better–and that’s not just restricted to the authorial part of my life, either. There are situations I think I could have handled better in the past, but I also tend to look at those experiences as growth opportunities? And God knows I could be a better housekeeper, and don’t even get me started on my electronic files on my back-up hard drive (which I really need to back up again). But is all this self-criticism necessary? I don’t know.
I’m very proud of all of my work; I take all of it–erotica, crime, horror, romance, whatever–seriously and I approach every manuscript with the mentality that I am going to do my best with it. I also think that I need to be easier on myself and less critical of my earlier stuff; the truth is I like to think that I continue to evolve and grow and get better at my craft so yes, if I were to write Murder in the Rue Dauphine or Bourbon Street Blues they would be different books, for sure, but that’s true of every author. Would they be better? No, but they would be different because I am not only a different writer now but a different person. New Orleans is also a different city now than it was when I was writing those books, so it wouldn’t be possible to write those same books the same way today. I mean, Scotty’s rent in the French Quarter was $400 a month back when I wrote Bourbon Street Blues! And so many things I used to write about that aren’t there anymore–Kaldi’s Coffee Museum on Decatur Street; Matassas’ Market on Dauphine; Tujague’s has even moved from where it was for decades, and of course even the sleazy dive bar Rawhide is getting a facelift and a makeover. But that also makes those older books kind of a New Orleans as it was time capsule, which is also really lovely.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.
Wednesday and another edition of the biweekly Pay The Bills Day! Woo-hoo! But this is also my last paycheck at my old rate of pay; I am curious to see what my paychecks will look like when they reflect my raise–check back, Constant Reader, in precisely two weeks to find out.
Can you stand the suspense? I barely can.
I was very tired yesterday, and I slept about the same last night so I can also plan on hitting the wall today around three. I took a long lunch yesterday to record Susan Larson’s marvelous radio show The Reading Life, which will air on December 6th, and that was naturally delightful as every moment spent with Susan is. But by the time I got back to the office and got settled back into the seeing clients routine, I was very tired. I had a ZOOM meeting when I got back home last night, which was interesting and fun–it’s always lovely seeing that group of people (queer crime writers! Woo-hoo!)–and then I settled into my chair to watch Reboot and another episode of Diary of a Gigolo, which is just so much fun. I did get some writing done yesterday–terrible writing, I might add–but am hopeful that tonight I’ll get back on track. I feel like I slept about the same last night, waking up several times and never really falling deep asleep again, but this morning so far I feel good. I managed to somehow get quite a bit finished yesterday, which I didn’t think would actually be the case, given how sleepy and tired I was yesterday afternoon, but looking back over the day I can see that yes, indeed, I did get a lot done despite the exhaustion. I am adjusting to the new work week schedule, methinks; tomorrow is my last day in the office and usually I am worn down the day before my last day in the office for the week, so this is a major plus.
And now to consult the to-do list…sigh. It can wait until later, surely?
I don’t know why this morning I feel like I’ve turned some kind of corner, which makes absolutely zero sense, but that’s kind of how I feel; like I’m shaking off some kind of malaise or stupor and my mind is functioning correctly again. It’s entirely possible the booster shot I got on Monday fogged my brain for a few days–I’m blaming the insomnia issues on it for fucking sure–and now this morning that fog has cleared. I don’t know, I really can’t explain it other than that, but this is one of those mornings where I feel like I am mentally rolling up my sleeves and taking a look at all and everything I need to get done and diving in headfirst. LOL, we’ll see how long this feeling lasts, won’t we? But I feel good–and that is reflected in my mood, I guess; I’m in a pretty good mood this morning (at least thus far) but it’s probably too much to hope for that it will last the rest of the day.
Probably not, but you never know.
I was thinking last night–after talking to Susan about the next book (should there be one) in the new series, and of course my copy of Raquel V. Reyes’ second novel arrived yesterday–about how important the second book in a series is, and how much different the second books in both of my series are from the first book in each series. In the first book you have to introduce the characters and their backstories and how they relate to each other (the kind of relationships they have with each other) as well as who your main character is and try to get the reader to relate to them and like them enough to buy into the series as a whole. In the second book, you’ve already done all of this work so all you need is little sound bytes here and there to recap those backstories and so forth and you can spend a lot more time developing your plot and story. Murder in the Rue St. Ann was very different than Murder in the Rue Dauphine; revisiting the Scotty series I can see how much more complicated and layered the story of Jackson Square Jazz was in comparison to Bourbon Street Blues, which had a much simpler plot. Likewise, A Streetcar Named Murder is the launching place for this series, and hopefully it will continue (my second one is tentatively titled The House of the Seven Grables, which will probably be changed by the publisher if there is a second book in the series), and the plot I have in mind for this second Valerie book is a lot more all over the place and complicated–especially as we dig deeper into the Cooper family mystery that was brought to light in the first book.
My favorite part of writing a book is the planning stage, really.
And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.
Oh, Scotty VII, what an interesting path you took to publication.
Back when ebooks and Kindles first started to be a thing, they rather revolutionized publishing. This new technology rang the death knell on some independent book stores as well as some small presses, and it was considered the great equalizer: you no longer needed to follow the long-established path to publication that went writer/agent/publisher; and just having an agent was no guarantee your book would ever see print and if it did, that it would sell. You no longer needed a publisher to put your book out and get it to readers; all you needed to do was get a cover designed and format your manuscript and upload it. This excited a lot of people; I was one of them, but still approached the entire thing very cautiously. I have never had a problem with people who elect to self-publish their work rather than follow the traditional path; I certainly never followed the traditional path or ran my career the way I was supposed to, at least according to almost every author I knew.
But ultimately, for me, the ebook revolution and becoming a publisher/author hybrid seemed not only like a risk but a time-consuming one. I didn’t have the time available to market the books I was traditionally publishing the way I should, let alone having the time to have to do all the marketing myself.
But I was curious, and remained open-minded. A friend started her own company and wanted me to write some things for her–short, more like novellas than novels–and since I’d always wanted to spin Paige off into her own series (despite being concerned about writing a mainstream type book from a woman’s perspective) and so I thought, well, here’s a chance to try something new and different. I wound up writing two of these and was partly through a third when I began to realize that even with an independent publisher doing some of the work, I just didn’t have the time or money or incentive to work any harder at marketing these books than I already was–and they needed more attention and promotion than I was able to give them, so we decided to end the business relationship, the already done books came down from sales sites, and that was the end of that.
I did eventually slap up Bourbon Street Blues as an ebook on Amazon, and it’s done okay for me; I’ve not promoted it at all but copies sell every month–but I am not getting rich, either. I also have a longer short story up as an e-original (but it’s also in my print collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories) and yes, I know I need to get Jackson Square Jazz up (one of these days), and perhaps when I’ve retired and have more time, I’ll explore the self-publishing option again just for the hell of it.
But there I was, with a partially completed manuscript and it was a very fun story; I hated wasting it (it was called The Mad Catter), and so, with a little bit of tweaking, I turned it into the seventh Scotty book, and renamed it Garden District Gothic.
I really love the cover Bold Strokes gave me for it, too:
You know you live in New Orleans when you leave your house on a hot Saturday morning in August for drinks wearing a red dress.
It was well over ninety degrees, and the humidity had tipped the heat index up to about 110, maybe 105 in the shade. The hordes of men and women in red dresses were waving handheld fans furiously as sweat ran down their bodies. Everywhere you looked, there were crowds of people in red, sweating but somehow, despite the ridiculous heat, having a good time. I could feel the heat from the pavement through my red-and-white saddle shoes and was glad I’d decided wearing hose would be a bad idea. The thick red socks I was wearing were hot enough, thank you, and were soaked through. They were new, so were probably dying my ankles, calves, and feet pink. But it was for charity, I kept reminding myself as I greeted friends and people whose names I couldn’t remember but whose faces looked familiar as we worked our way up and down and around the Quarter.
Finally, I had enough around noon and decided to call it a day.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life, and I grew up in Alabama,” my sort of nephew, Taylor Wheeler, said in his soft accent, wiping sweat from his forehead as we trudged down Governor Nicholls Street on our way home.
“It hasn’t been this hot in a while,” I replied, trying really hard not to laugh. I’d been forcing down giggles pretty much all day since he came galloping down the back steps the way he always does and I got my first look at his outfit. “But the last few summers have been mild—this is normal for August, usually.” It was true—everyone in town was complaining about the heat like it was something unusual, but we hadn’t had our usual hellish summer weather in a couple of years.
Last summer had been not only mild but dry, with little humidity and practically no rain—which was unheard of. Usually it rains every day around three in the summer, when the humidity has gotten so thick it turns to rain.
“I don’t even want to think about how much sweat is in my butt crack,” he complained, furiously waving the fan he’d picked up somewhere, trying to create a breeze.
I gave up trying to fight it and just gave in to the laughter.
One of the primary problems of turning The Mad Catter into Garden District Gothic was that the book was intended originally to be a sequel to a pair of books that no longer existed; vanished forever into the ether. I had established a character in earlier books of the series who was supposed to take front and center in this one, but I no longer had the back story and was facing the issue of how do I introduce this woman into Scotty’s world? And it was important, because the case involved a long ago murder that took place in this woman’s Garden District mansion–she didn’t own it at the time; she bought it from the original family that owned it, and owned it at the time of the unsolved murder–but I decided the easiest way to do this was make the woman a friend of Scotty’s older sister, which is how he knew her; and she had been a member of the cast of a reality-TV show called Grande Dames of New Orleans, which had been the centering of the previous book in the now-defunct series. I always thought the Grande Dames (obviously, my version of the Real Housewives franchises) was a clever idea and a fun one to explore as well as poke fun at in a fictional setting, and I hated wasting in a series that no one could access anymore. So I decided to keep Serena, and mention that she was in the cast of the new show which hadn’t started filming yet, and she had bought this big house as a centerpiece for her to be filmed in from the show, giving up her luxurious condo in One River Place. (This also gave me the opening to center the next Scotty book in the Grande Dames show.) The party that now opened the book was a housewarming party, so Serena could show off her new manse with the checkered past.
I had also created a character in the Paige series to serve as a kind of nemesis for her, a true crime writer named Jerry Channing, whom eventually I used as the impetus for getting the plot started in The Orion Mask. Jerry became rich and famous writing a book about the infamous, unsolved murder called Garden District Gothic, which in the Paige series seemed like a Scotty title to me, and I used it as a wink to those who were familiar with the Scotty series…and so, in writing about Scotty and the gang solving this old notorious murder, why wouldn’t I call the book Garden District Gothic, since it really is a Scotty title after all?
The murder was, of course, based on the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder that dominated the media and culture for so long back in the day. I just took the set-up of the story from that real-life case and started making up my own characters and backstories for them and went with it from there. The one thing that always bothered me the most about the case was the fact that people viewed the Ramsey family as speaking to the lawyers before calling the police as suspicious; no, it’s actually smart. Sure, it made them look “guilty” in the press (with all those headlines in the tabloids screaming this conclusively proves one of the family did it!!!! Who calls their lawyer first??? To which I again repeat, people who are fucking smart call their lawyer first. Period.), but it was the smart thing to do; someone had the presence of mind to realize that the most obvious suspects in the murder of a child are going to be the immediate family, and why–in a distraught state of grief over your child’s brutal murder–you would need to have a lawyer present when you’re being questioned by the police so you don’t say anything that could be misconstrued as an admission of guilt when you are not in fact guilty.
Always, always, always call the lawyers first. Always. If i have learned anything from my extensive reading of true crime and study of crime fiction, it is “never talk to the cops without a lawyer, especially if you are innocent.”
I was pleased with it when I was finished with it, but I’d kind of like to revise the ending a bit.
And of course, writing it left me with the decision of whether to reuse my Grande Dames of New Orleans reality show for the next Scotty book.
I do not recall which was my first story under the name Todd Gregory, and I am far too lazy to wade through everything to try to find out. I used the name the first time sometime between the release of Bourbon Street Blues and Mardi Gras Mambo, so we’re looking at sometime between 2003 and 2006, and I think it was either “The Sea Where It’s Shallow” or “The Sound of a Soul Crying”; I could also be mistaken in my memory. I’m not really sure of much anymore, and when I try to pin down a specific moment in the timeline of my life I am inevitably proven to be incorrect.
Although maybe my CV may hold the answer–hang on, let me check. Okay, per my CV I started using the name in 2004, and it was actually a story called “Wrought Iron Lace,” which was published in an anthology called A View to a Thrill, with the connecting theme voyeurism (the other two stories, to be fair, came out the same year). Ah, “Wrought Iron Lace,” my gay erotica version of Rear Window, in which a gay man in a wheelchair with two broken legs watches someone move in from his balcony across the courtyard, and his balcony also affords him a view into his new young neighbor’s bedroom, with the inevitable of course happening. (The courtyard set up was one I had wanted to use for quite some time; I loosely touched on it in Murder in the Rue Dauphine but I had wanted to do a kind of Tales of the City kind of thing about gay men living around a courtyard in the Quarter and kind of forming a little family group, a la the Maupin novel as well as Valley of the Dolls and call the novel The World is Full of Ex-Lovers. I returned to the courtyard set-up for another story, written and published as Greg Herren called “Touch Me in the Morning,” where I also used two of the characters I thought up for that novel. Another scene I originally imagined for that novel became the short story “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which appeared as a Todd Gregory story in the anthology Dirty Diner.)
But one of the things that had interested me, the more time I was out and around gay people, was how many gay men I knew had been in college fraternities–myself included. Almost every gay man I knew who’d been in a fraternity also had lots of prurient tales of illicit sexual experiences with their fraternity brothers–something that never once happened to me (I never once had sex with any of my fraternity brothers; to the best of my knowledge I am the only gay man to pass through the doors of my chapter), and that eventually led to me doing my final erotica anthology under my own name: FRATSEX.
FRATSEX was a good anthology, but I was not prepared for it to become a phenomenon. It earned out, thanks to preorders and subsidiary rights sales, before it was published, something that has never happened to me since; I got a royalty check for the book a month before it was released–and it continued selling for years. I got substantial checks for FRATSEX every six months until Alyson decided it no longer need to honor its contracts and pay its authors and editors the contractually obligated royalties twice a year it had agreed to, before it finally went belly-up after years of bad management and even worse business decisions. (I should point out that usually erotic anthologies had a very short shelf life; they usually never sold out their initial run, never did additional print runs, and certainly were gone within a year of release. FRATSEX was most definitely not that.)
But when Kensington decided to pass on the next Scotty book, they came back to me with another offer for something else: a gay erotic fraternity novel intended to follow the same sales path as FRATSEX. I had no idea what to call the book–but the money was too good to pass up, and so I signed the contract for a book whose working title was Fraternity Row. (I had suggested A Brother’s Touch or My Brother’s Keeper for titles; both of which icked out Marketing.) I think it was my editor who struck gold with Every Frat Boy Wants it.
As I walk into the locker room of my high school to get my backpack, I’m aware of the sound of the shower running. Even before I walk around the corner that will reveal the rows of black lockers and the communal shower area just beyond, I can smell that pungent smell; of sweat, dirty clothes and sour jocks. I would never admit it to anyone, but I love that smell. Especially when it’s warm outside—the smell seems riper, more vital, more alive. For me, it is the smell of athletic boys, the smell of their faded and dirty jockstraps. At night, when I lie in my bed alone jacking off in the dark quiet, I close my eyes and I try to remember it. I imagine myself in that locker room after practice, the room alive with the sound of laughter and snapping towels, of boys running around in their jocks and giving each other bullshit as they brag about what girls they’ve fucked and how big their dicks are. I try to remember, as I lie there in my bed, the exact shape of their hard white asses, whose jock strap is twisted just above the start of the curve, and below the muscled tan of their backs. It’s the locker room where I first saw another boy naked, after all—the only place where it’s acceptable to see other boys in various states of undress. The locker room always haunts my fantasies and my dreams.
And now, as I reach the corner, I hesitate. Who could still be showering at this time? Everyone else has left; baseball practice is long over, and I’d be in my car heading home myself if I hadn’t forgotten my bag and I didn’t have that damned History test tomorrow. Could it be Coach Wilson? I shudder as I have the thought. I certainly hoped it wasn’t him. He was a nice man, but Coach Wilson was about a hundred years old and had a big old belly that made him look like he’d swallowed every single basketball in the equipment room. I take a deep breath and walk around the corner.
Maybe it was—um, no, that was too much to hope for. Just get your bag and go.
The locker room is filled with steam from the hot water in the shower. Wisps dance around the overhead lights, and it was so thick I could barely see the floor and make out the row of black painted metal lockers. Yet, through the steam, I can barely see a tanned form with his back turned to me, his head under the water spigot, hot water pouring down over his muscled back and over the perfectly round, hard whiteness of a mouth-wateringly beautiful ass. I catch my breath as I stare, knowing that I shouldn’t be—the right thing to do is call out a ‘hello’, pretend not to look, get what I need and get the hell out of there. But I am utterly transfixed by the sheer beauty of what I am seeing. I bite down on my lower lip, aware that my dick is getting hard in my pants as I watch. I can’t tear myself away—I don’t want to turn and go or stop staring, the body is too perfect. And with the wetness cascading down over it, the glistening flow of the water emphasizing every defined muscle in the lovely male form that has haunted my dreams and my fantasies ever since I transferred here my junior year and started going to this small rural high school. Go, hurry, before he turns around and catches you watching—what are you going to say? Um, sorry I was staring at your ass?
But still I keep standing there, continuing to run the risk he’ll catch me, every second passing making it more likely. How long can he stand there like that without moving?
We-ell, that certainly starts off with a literal bang, doesn’t it?
I had no idea how to write this book, or what it was even going to be about when I signed the contract (I always say yes to money and try to figure it all out later). I’d had an idea, years before, for a book about a fraternity while I was actually living in one, and came up with three main characters: Eric Matthews, Chris Moore, and Blair Blanchard. The three were all friends, all pledge brothers, and all different. Eric came from an upper middle-class family, Chris was strictly middle-class and had a job, and Blair was the son of two movie stars, an aspiring actor himself, and was always intended to be gay gay gay. I had originally wanted to write a Lords of Discipline sort of novel about a fraternity and a secret society within the fraternity–still might; I think it’s a good idea–and so I thought, well, you belonged to a fraternity, and you created a fictionalized version of it for this book idea, so start there.
I fictionalized both Fresno and Fresno State into Polk and CSU-Polk, and my fictional fraternity’s physical house was based on the actual fraternity house, as well as the way its parking lot adjoined a sorority’s at the end of a cul-de-sac, with the fraternities’ parking lots on one side of the little road and the sorority ones on the other side, just like at Fresno State. My fictional fraternity house had a two story dormitory wing attached to the chapter room and meeting/party space/cafeteria, and so on. I created an entirely new character, closeted eighteen year old Jeff Morgan, who had just moved to Polk right after high school graduation (his family was transferred) and enrolls in summer school. In the opening sequence, Jeff is actually in his Economics class and bored, having a very vivid and erotic daydream about a boy he’d had a crush on in high school. Jeff is so involved and vested in the daydream he doesn’t even notice that the class was dismissed until a handsome classmate snaps him out of the daydream…that classmate is Blair Blanchard, who befriends Jeff and invites him to come hang out at his fraternity. It’s also soon apparent that Blair is not only openly gay but has no issue with it; he doesn’t really talk about it around the house, but everyone knows. Blair is the first openly gay person Jeff has ever known–Jeff is from Kansas and hopelessly naïve–and thinks he’s falling in love with Blair; but he isn’t sure how Blair feels about him.
Every Frat Boy Wants It is really Jeff’s story, and about how Jeff slowly comes into himself as a person; accepting his own sexuality and embracing who he is–while having a strange relationship with Blair that he doesn’t quite understand. It’s his first relationship of any kind, and he doesn’t understand why Blair keeps pushing him away–leads him on, turns him off, and so forth, on and on and on–and is told really in a series of vignettes, essentially sex scenes with both elaborate set-ups and follow-ups that have lasting impacts on him, with the story of his unrequited love for Blair running through them all. He even winds up shooting a porn film while on vacation with Blair in Palm Springs at Blair’s movie star father’s place. Eric and Chris turn out to be pledge brothers of Jeff’s–he eventually has a three way with them; they don’t identify as gay but “play around with each other”–until, of course, the very end when Blair and Jeff finally get past all their misunderstandings and disagreements and jealousies and commit, once and for all to each other.
The book did very well–that scorching hot cover also didn’t hurt–and they asked me for a sequel.
That sequel became Games Frat Boys Play, and was adapted from another novel idea I’d had lying around for quite some time (never throw anything away!).
My favorite memory of this book, though, is that I had to go to a conference in Atlanta for the weekend for a queer specfic event. (I still don’t know why I was invited; at that point I had edited one horror anthology and that was it, really) and the book was due. I was in Atlanta for four days; I did my panels and spent the rest of the time holed up in my room, writing madly in a desperate attempt to get this damned book finished and venturing across the street for Arbys whenever I got hungry. I set a writing record for myself that weekend–21000 words in three days–and the book was finished before I drove back to New Orleans. So whenever I talked about writing over twenty thousand words in a weekend? This is the book I am talking about.
That’s not entirely true, you know. Yes, Bourbon Street Blues was always supposed to be a stand alone (I know you’re tired of the story) and they offered a two book series deal and I took it, thinking I would just figure it out later. Well, I did figure it out later; and when I started writing Bourbon Street Blues I already knew there would be a second book and so I had to set it up in the first as well as plant seeds for the next one after that–if there was going to be another one after that. I didn’t know for sure or not whether there would be a third, so when I was writing the first I kept the personal story as simple as I could in case there wouldn’t be a third and I could wrap it all up with the second if need be. But by the time I finished writing Jackson Square Jazz I was already pretty confident there would be a third (the first had just come out and was doing extremely well) so even if the third still ended up not being contacted, everything wrapped up as nicely as possible at the end of Jackson Square Jazz.
I decided the main mystery plot of the book would have to do with the Cabildo Fire of 1988.
When Paul and I had first moved here, sometime within that first year we saw a documentary on our local PBS station (WYES, for the record, thanks for asking, you there in the back) about the Cabildo Fire. I can only imagine how the city reacted to the news that a fire had broken out in one of our most beautiful buildings and recognizable landmarks–especially given its proximity to the landmark of the city: St. Louis Cathedral, and on its other side, the Presbytere. The documentary focused on the remarkable methods the New Orleans Fire Department went to, not only to fight the fire and prevent its spread to other historic buildings nearby, but to preserve the contents of the inside. The Cabildo is the Louisiana State Museum, and it’s filled with all kinds of artifacts and art documenting the history of New Orleans and the Louisiana territory. They brought fire-fighting boats to the levee, and borrowed more from the Coast Guard. They began hosing down the buildings around the Cabildo so they’d be too wet for the fire to spread.
And firemen were sent inside to remove as much of the contents before they turned the hoses on the Cabildo itself.
They literally lined paintings, framed historic documents, and various other historical artifacts with a variety of values along the fence surrounding Jackson Square, delaying until they had no other choice but to turn the hoses onto the Cabildo.
How easy it would have been to walk off with something priceless in its historic value, I thought, thinking of Robin Cook’s marvelous Sphinx and its opening with the tomb of Tutankhamun being robbed before flashing forward to the present day where a young female Egyptologist happens upon a magnificent statue from antiquity; a golden statue of Pharaoh Seti I. I pictured another young woman, in an antiques shop in the Quarter, happening upon something that looks like an artifact lost during the Cabildo Fire (they saved over 80% of the museum’s contents, by the way), and decided upon the Louisiana Purchase treaty. I could also call the book Louisiana Purchase (which also is the name of the state’s food assistance program; you get a Louisiana Purchase card with an amount loaded onto it every month), and possibly weave something about a food assistance program scandal of some sort woven into it as well. I viewed this as a spin-off stand alone for my character Paige Tourneur from the Chanse series (I had always wanted to write about her), and I thought, you know, the Cabildo Fire and some McGuffin gone missing from the museum would make a great plot for the second Scotty book.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.
And, being a dutiful writer, I contacted the administrative offices of the Louisiana State Museum and made an appointment to discuss my book and the fire with Executive Director Jim Sefcik.
And when I met with Jim, I discovered, to my great surprise, that not only had he been working there the day of the fire…it was his first day on the job.
“I was sitting in La Madeleine having coffee and a pastry,” he said (where Stanley is now used to be a La Madeleine; I used to get coffee there all the time during the Williams Festival), “when I heard a fire engine. I looked out the window and saw a firetruck pull up onto the pedestrian mall and stop in front of the Cabildo. As I thought that can’t be good another one pulled up from the other direction and THAT was when I saw the smoke.”
He gave all the credit to the fire chief for how everything was saved–“I just kept saying yes yes, whatever you think is best”–and I remember saying, “Well, at least you got it over with on your first day.”
He laughed, and replied, “Yes, now whenever there’s a crisis of any kind I just think well, at least the Cabildo isn’t on fire and that kind of puts things into perspective.”
He even gave me Polaroid snapshots of the aftermath of the fire; they’d scanned the originals long since to archive them. I just found them again Saturday when I was cleaning out cabinets, you can imagine my delight to stumble over them all these years later.
He also explained to me why the Louisiana Purchase treaty wouldn’t work as the MacGuffin (the original is stored in a vault at the Library of Congress; the display in the Cabildo is a copy and it is multiple pages long) and suggested the Napoleon death mask as a suitable alternative–even telling me a wonderful story about how the one in the Cabildo (there were four or five made) disappeared and then turned up in trash dump about thirty years later.
And he was right. It worked perfectly.
Danger is my middle name.
Okay, so that’s not strictly the truth. My middle name is Scott. But when you’re first name is Milton and you’re last name is Bradley, you’ve got to do something. Yes, that’s right, my name is Milton Bradley, and no, I’m not an heir to the toy empire. My parents, you see, are counter-culturalists who own a combination tobacco/coffee shop in the French Quarter. They both come from old-line New Orleans society families; my mom was a Diderot, of the Garden District Diderots. Mom and Dad fell in love when they were very young and began rebelling against the strict social strata they were born into. The Bradleys blame it all on my mom. The Diderots blame my dad. My name came about because my older brother and sister were given what both families considered to be inappropriate names: Storm and Rain. According to my older brother, Mom and Dad had planned on naming me River Delta Bradley. Both families sat my parents down in a council of war and demanded that I not be named after either a geological feature or a force of nature. After hours of arguing and fighting, Mom finally agreed to give me a family name.
Unfortunately, they weren’t specific. So she named me Milton after her father and Scott, which was her mother’s maiden name. Hence, Milton Scott Bradley.
My older brother, Storm, started calling me Scotty when I was a kid because other kids were making fun of my name. Kids really are monsters, you know. Being named Storm, he understood. My sister Rain started calling herself Rhonda when she was in high school. Our immediate family still calls her Rain, which drives her crazy. But then, that’s the kind of family we are.
So, yeah, danger really isn’t my middle name, but it might as well be. Before Labor Day weekend when I was twenty-nine, my life was pretty tame. I’m an ex-go-go boy; I used to tour with a group called Southern Knights. I retired from the troupe when I was twenty-five, and became a personal trainer/aerobics instructor. The hours were great, the pay was okay for the most part, and I really liked spending a lot of time in the gym. Every once in a while I would fill in dancing on the bar at the Pub, a gay bar on Bourbon Street, when one of their scheduled performers cancelled—if I needed the money. That Labor Day weekend, which is Southern Decadence here in New Orleans, I was looking forward to meeting some hot guys and picking up the rent money dancing on the bar. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be almost killed a couple of times or to have my apartment burn to the ground. I also didn’t expect to wind up as an undercover stripper for the FBI.
It’s a really long story.
The one good thing that came out of that weekend was I met a guy: Frank Sobieski, this mound of masculine, hard muscle with a scar on his cheek, who also happened to be a Fed. They don’t come any butcher than Frank. We hit it off pretty well, and he decided that once his twenty years with the FBI were up, he’d retire and move to New Orleans. I’ve always been a free agent. It’s not that I didn’t want to have a boyfriend, I just never thought I would find one. I enjoyed being single. I mean, young, single and gay in New Orleans is a lot of fun. It doesn’t hurt that people find me attractive, either. I’m about five nine, with wavy blondish hair that’s darker underneath. I wrestled in high school, mainly because the other kids were bullying me because they sensed I was gay. I’ve been working out ever since. Anyone who tells you being in shape doesn’t make a difference in your life is lying. It does.
But I needed a reason for the death mask-MacGuffin to come across Scotty’s path.
So, I turned back to the personal story of Scotty again.
It’s October now, been about five or six weeks since Labor Day and Halloween looms. There’s not been another word from Colin since the end of Bourbon Street Blues and Frank has put in for his retirement while he and Scotty are doing the long-distance thing; Scotty is finding it a bit restraining and having never really wanted or care about being in a relationship, is starting to have second thoughts about giving up his freedom. He has just come back from visiting Frank in DC and that visit has set his teeth on edge and made him even more nervous about Frank moving to New Orleans. David picks him up at the airport, hands him a joint, and Scotty goes on a bender…
…and wakes up with a massive hangover in bed the next morning, realizing to his horror that he is not in bed alone.
How relatable is that? I know I’ve been there more times than I care to remember.
And I realized, the trick is the key linking Scotty to said MacGuffin and the mystery, and as a big figure skating fan I decided to make him a figure skater, in town for Skate America. Scotty doesn’t know he’s a skater until he’s actually at the event and sees him warming up on the ice–and then he gets a note to meet him at his hotel room at the Hotel Aquitaine later that evening, along with the room’s key card–but Scotty shows up only to find a dead man with a knife in his chest.
This one was fun, and having Scotty’s weird ‘psychic’ power allow him to commune with the ghost of a long-dead fireman who knows the answer everyone is looking for was also a lot of fun. (I liked the concept of having Scotty and his mom go down to watch them fight the fire when he was a little boy.)
What a fun book this was to write!
I introduced a very fun Texas millionaire who collects things and doesn’t care how he acquires them (I even brought him back in Baton Rouge Bingo); was able to bring Colin back only to find out he’s not really a cat burglar but actually an international agent-for-hire working for the Blackledge Agency and thus created the “who will he wind up with” romantic triangle; and even had Scotty living in half of David’s shotgun while his home on Decatur Street was being rebuilt (which I had forgotten about until the skim-rereads and changes something with the new book). I also had Scotty get kidnapped again, and this book had the first of his many car accidents. It also contained Scotty’s first trip (in the series) to the West Bank.
One thing I forgot to mention when I was writing about Bourbon Street Blues the other day was how the series (books) were always intended to be insane and over-the-top*; always. The problem I always have with writing this series is stopping myself because something strains credulity and then I have to remind myself, “this series was always intended to be like New Orleans itself: completely unbelievable until experienced personally, and always over the top and ridiculous.”
Which is part of the fun, you know?
*For one example, Bryce Bell, the young skater, lands a quad-axel at Skate America. To put that in the proper perspective, to date no one had landed one competitively, although there’s a young American skater who can land them in practice….eighteen years later.
PS: When this book was released, I got asked a lot if I had posed for the cover; the same thing happened with Bourbon Street Blues; I was always apologizing for not being the cover model. With this book, I assumed it was the same thing…but later I realized they weren’t asking about the guy in front with this shirt open but the guy in back kissing his neck. At the time, I had a goatee and shaved head; this guy also has this and he does kind of look like me. What can I say?
It’s probably hard to imagine what Southern Decadence is like unless you’ve actually been to it; even the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken and shared on social media over the years can’t even remotely begin to get the concept of what it’s like across–the same as Carnival, really; it has to be seen and experienced to be truly understood. My first Southern Decadence was in 1995, which was around the twenty-second or third time it was held; my knowledge of Decadence, primarily from urban legend and tales told from one gay to another and passed down over the years, is sketchy and probably untrustworthy (if you’d like the unvarnished truth and read about the history, I highly recommendSouthern Decadence in New Orleans from LSU Press, co-written by Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith; I have a copy and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Alas, my memory isn’t what it used to be, but the story is it began as a bar crawl for a friend who was moving away, and grew from those humble beginnings into a massive event that draws queers from all over the world).
That first Decadence I came to was also one of the hottest, temperature wise, or perhaps it was simply because I wasn’t used to the summers in New Orleans yet since I didn’t live here. I just remember being in Oz one afternoon and just soaked in my own sweat, and going down the back staircase from the second floor–the staircase that opens out onto the dance floor–and having to hold onto the railing because the steps were slick and wet. The railing was also wet, and when I touched the walls so were they–all the humidity and body heat and sweat–but at the same time it was so much fun. Gorgeous, flirty and friendly men everywhere, everyone scantily dressed and getting wasted and just having a good time. This was during the height of the circuit parties, most of which have died off over the years–there’s no longer a Hotlanta weekend in Atlanta in mid-August anymore, for example–but back then, it seemed like every month if you had the time and the money there was a circuit party somewhere you could fly off to and be yourself and have fun being in an entirely gay environment for a few days. That was, for me, one of the primary appeals of circuit parties and gay bars–they were safe havens for everyone to be out and proud and loud…and after a few weeks navigating the straight world for work and play and life in general…it was lovely to let loose in, for want of a better word, a safe space.
Circuit parties also had their downsides, don’t get me wrong–Michelangelo Signorile detailed some of those in his book Life Outside, which got taken out of context an awful lot–drug use and rampant sex and bad choices also led to other problems, not to mention the spread of HIV and other STI’s; the very first time I ever went to a circuit party–Halloween in New Orleans, 1995–there was a very Masque of the Red Death feel to it; here were all these gay men crowded into a riverfront warehouse, doing drugs and dancing and having a great time while the plague raged outside the doors. I even wrote about that in my diary on the flight back to Tampa a few days later.
But Decadence was always my favorite, out of all of them, and it was something I looked forward to every year. My workouts were always planned so I would hit peak physical condition for Decadence and maintain through Halloween, before starting to work on the Carnival body. It feels weird to talk about it that way, but that was my mentality and my schedule for years. Bulk up for a couple of months, then lean down leading into the event.
I had always wanted to write about Southern Decadence, and I know I’ve written about how I came up with the idea for the book numerous times; standing on the balcony at the Pub watching one of the strippers fight his way through the mob of gay men to get to the Pub so he could work, Paul saying you really should write a book about Southern Decadence and seeing a scene vividly in my head as I looked down at the sea of sweating gay men. I’ve also written about where the idea for the character and his family came from. So what is there left for me to say about Bourbon Street Blues?
The name’s Dansoir. Dick Dansoir.
Okay, so that really isn’t my name. It’s my stage name from the days when I was on the go-go boy circuit. I started when I was in college, at Vanderbilt up in Nashville. As with almost everything that goes on in my life, I became a go-go boy on a fluke. The Goddess brings interesting experiences into my life all the time. Sometimes I don’t think it’s all that great, to tell the truth, but she always seems to be watching out for me.
I was working out at my gym one day when this guy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to make some easy money.
Like I hadn’t heard that one before.
I was twenty-one at the time, just turned, but I wasn’t some wide-eyed dopey innocent. I was raised in the French Quarter, after all, and by the time I went off to college at age eighteen I had pretty much seen everything. French Quarter kids have a lot more life experience than other kids their age. You can’t really help it. The French Quarter is like Disneyland for adults, and growing up there, you get used to seeing things that other people can only imagine.
Anyway, this guy said he was a booking agent and scout for this agency that booked dancers in gay bars throughout the deep South. The troupe was called Southern Knights.
“You can make a lot of money this way,” he said to me above the sounds of people grunting and weights clanging. “You’ve got the look we like.”
I looked at myself in one of the mirrors that are everywhere in gyms. I was wearing a white tank top and a pair of black nylon jogging shorts. I was pumped up from lifting, and if I did say so myself, I looked pretty good. I’m only about five-eight—nine if I have thick-soled shoes on. I have curly blond hair that’s darker underneath. The sun does lighten it, but that darkness underneath always makes people think I dye it. I don’t. I have big, round brown eyes. I am also one of those blonds lucky enough to be able to tan. I’d gotten a good tan that summer and it hadn’t faded yet. The white tank top showed the tan off nicely. I also have a high metabolism and can stay lean rather easily.
But scam artists are everywhere. I wasn’t about to fall for a line from some stranger in the gym. For all I knew, it was a trick to get my phone number, or an escort service, or something else I didn’t want to be involved in.
Not that I have anything against escorting. People go to escorts for all kinds of reasons—loneliness, fear of commitment, whatever—but they do fulfill a need in the gay community, and more power to them. I just never saw myself taking money from someone for having sex. I like sex. I enjoy it. So, it just never seemed right for me to tale money for doing something I like.
Besides, taking money for it would make it work. I prefer to keep my status amateur.
I got a copy of the book out yesterday and skimmed/read it again, to get another look and remind myself of Scotty’s roots and beginning. I realized yesterday, as I turned the pages of an ARC (yes, I still have ARC copies of Bourbon Street Blues available), several things: one, that the reason I always hate reading my own work is because my brain is trained to read my work editorially, to fix and edit and correct and look for things needing to be fixed (and I can always find something) and that second, it’s really been so long since the last time I looked at this book–or any of the earlier Scottys–was four years ago, when I was writing Royal Street Reveillon. So, by making the obvious effort to flip the editorial switch off, and having so much distance from the book that it almost seemed like something new to me, I was able to skim/read the entire thing without wincing in horror or pain or embarrassment.
Bourbon Street Blues was also the last novel I wrote that didn’t have an epigram of any kind, let alone Tennessee Williams: I started that practice with Jackson Square Jazz with a line from Orpheus Descending: “A good-looking boy like you is always wanted.”
Reading the book took me back to the days when I was writing it. The Greg who wrote Bourbon Street Blues is still here, I’ve just been through quite a bit since then and have changed because of my experiences. There were some sentences in the book I would change now to make better, but there are still some jewels in there, and well, I can kind of understand now why the character is so well-liked. He’s charming and humble and kind; sure he talks about “being irresistible” a lot, but that’s part of the charm. Guys find him attractive. He doesn’t necessarily see it, but is more than willing to accept it and not question it. He enjoys his sexuality and he enjoys having sex. I wanted Scotty to be unabashedly sexual and to have no hang-ups, carrying no stress or issues about being a very sexual gay man.
As I read the book again, I also started seeing something that had been pointed out to me over the years a lot–and began to understand why this was pointed out to me so much; an old dog can learn new tricks, apparently–but I still think other people are wrong. The book isn’t “all about sex,’ as some have said. Rather, Scotty sexualizes men; he sees them as potential partners and appreciates beauty in men. His friend David also loves to get laid, so they cruise a lot–whether they are at the gym (either the weight room or the locker room), a bar, wherever they are–and so people get the idea that the book itself is incredibly sexual, even though there is literally only one sex scene in the entire book and it’s not graphic; Scotty’s weird mish-mash of spirituality and beliefs and values make the act itself a sacred ritual, and that was how I wrote the scene; from a spiritual, commune-with-the-Goddess perspective. It’s also funny in that people are so not used to seeing world through the Gay Male Gaze that it’s jarring, and puts sex and sexuality into the minds of the reader.
The question is, would people think the same if this was done through the Straight Male Gaze, in which women are sexualized? Since this is the default of our society–literature, film, television–is flipping the script to show the Gay Male Gaze so uncommon and so unheard of that it triggers such a reaction from some of the readers?
There’s also so much innocence in the book, and it’s also interesting to see it as a kind of time-capsule: Scotty doesn’t have a computer; his rent (on Decatur Street in the Quarter, with a balcony) is $450 a month (ha ha ha ha, that’s what the condo fee would be now monthly); and he also doesn’t have a cell phone. The whole point of the book was to do a Hitchcockian wrong place/wrong time now you’re in danger kind of story; and that is precisely what Bourbon Street Blues is. I’d forgotten that one of the running gags in the book is that he never gets a chance to sleep much throughout the story so he’s tired all the time and just wants it all to be over so he can go to bed.
Another thing that’s dated: even in 2002, in my naïveté and innocence, the evil politician running for governor–when described by Scotty’s brother Storm as problematic–even he doesn’t support an outright ban on abortion–he wants to ban it but with the rape, incest and health exceptions.
Even in 2002 I couldn’t conceive of anyone running for statewide office calling for an outright ban on abortion.
How things change.
It was also interesting that I got two things very wrong in the book, too: for one, I was thinking for some reason the swamp on the edges of Lake Pontchartrain on the way to Baton Rouge on I-10 was the Atchafalaya (it’s the Manchac/Maurepas), and while I had always remembered I’d given Scotty’s mom a name in this book but forgotten it later when I needed a name for her in a different book–I had the name wrong. I thought I’d called her Marguerite in Bourbon Street Blues then named her Cecile in a later book; I had actually called her Isabelle. (I’ve even told that story–about the names–before on panels and been WRONG ALL THIS TIME!)
It was also interesting and fun to remember–as I read–that Scotty was also not looking for a boyfriend. He was perfectly happy and content being single (which was also something important I wanted to write about–a gay man who didn’t care about finding a life-partner, figuring if it was meant to be it would happen). I also presented him with two potential love interests–Colin the cat burglar and Frank the hot daddy–with that actually being resolved without him having to make a choice between them. I also had the book end with Scotty being slowly persuaded into becoming a private eye.
Originally I had conceived it as a stand alone novel, but the publisher offered me a two-book contract, so when I was writing Bourbon Street Blues I knew there was going to be a sequel. This freed me to leave some personal things open for him; I knew I was going to bring Colin back in the next book so he was going to have to choose between them, and I also knew the personal story needed to be wrapped up by the end of the third book, which was going to be the end of the series with everything resolved. That changed when I wrote Mardi Gras Mambo, but that’s a story for another time.
Bottom line: it’s a good book and I am proud of it. It’s only available now as an ebook from Amazon, but I hope to eventually make it available through every service as well as get a print-on-demand version for those who might want one.
Sunday morning and there’s an LSU game tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!). There’s no way of knowing how good LSU is going to be this year, so I guess tonight’s the night we find out. I watched some of the games yesterday–Georgia certainly looked impressive, and good for Florida and Ohio State winning their big games yesterday, but again, it’s also too early to know anything for sure. Were the two top-ranked teams from the PAC-12 (Oregon and Utah) overrated, or will they rebound (although that shellacking the Ducks got from Georgia had to sting) to make a play-off run after all? The only thing you can ever be sure of in college football is Alabama will be a contender.
Yesterday was a very good day. We had a downpour and flash flood warning for most of the afternoon, but fortunately I had already run the errand I had to run; this morning I have an errand to run as well, and then i am going to come home and order Costco for delivery (just a few things we need) and I intend to spend the day writing. I spent the day organizing and cleaning (which is always an incredibly pleasant way for me to spend the day) and cleaned out kitchen cabinets in order to throw away a lot of items that I had purchased for single, one-time use and had never used again. My cake carrier, for example; I bought that to carry birthday cakes I’d made to work. I used to make our nurse a red velvet cheesecake for his birthday every year–but he’s left the agency and it is highly unlikely I’ll ever make another cake that needs to be transported; if I do, I guess I can just get another one. I also was throwing away things I don’t use but take up space in the kitchen–the big metal salad mixing bowl, the big plastic salad container, muffin tins, etc.–and then reorganized the shelves and made more room for things. I also cleaned things off the tops of the cabinets. It now looks a lot less cluttered in the kitchen and when I open the cabinets.
There’s still some work to be done on the cabinets, but I feel very good about the progress made yesterday. I also did the floors.
I also spent some time revisiting Bourbon Street Blues yesterday. I didn’t give it a thorough read, more of a skim, but it had been a hot minute since I last read the book and…Constant Reader, it wasn’t bad. The book came out nineteen years ago, and I of course wrote it twenty years ago. It’s had to believe it’s been that long, isn’t it? I wrote it when we lived in the apartment on Sophie Wright Place after we moved back to New Orleans in 2001; it’s the only book I wrote there, because I wrote the next two after we moved onto this property and were living in the carriage house. I also realized that the reason I am so hard on myself when I read my own work is primarily because I have trained my mind over the years to read my stuff critically and editorially, with an eye to revision–and that doesn’t change once the book is actually in print. Bourbon Street Blues is not a bad book at all–there’s even some really clever lines in it. Someone had actually responded to one of my blog posts about the stand alone books that they’d like to see me do the same for the series book; I feel like I may have done that already, but it’s not a bad idea. I need to revisit the Scotty series anyway in order to write the new one (which was part of the reason I picked up Bourbon Street Blues yesterday) and since I have trouble focusing enough to read other people’s work at the moment, why not reread the entire series from start to finish? It certainly can’t hurt.
I have been bemoaning how bad the writing is for this new Scotty book I am writing and yesterday, as I cleaned and organized and reread Bourbon Street Blues, I began to see why precisely the work I’ve already done isn’t good and what precisely was/is wrong with what I’ve already done. The bones are there, of course, and it can be saved, which is what I am going to do today. I know precisely know how to make this book work, how to structure it, how to introduce the new characters and the plots for the book, and it’s a marvelous feeling. After I finish this–and then write my entry on Bourbon Street Blues–I am going to go run that errand, come home and get cleaned up, place the Costco order for delivery, and then dig into redoing the initial three chapters of the book and maybe even dive into another. I also am going to spend some time today with Jackson Square Jazz; I may bring the iPad with me so I can keep reading the Scotty series during Bouchercon–but then again, I have other things I am taking with me to read, too. But those are for the airport and the flights primarily; I can lug my iPad around in my backpack and then between panels or when I am sitting alone in the lobby I can pull it out and scan through another Scotty book quickly. It’s also not a bad idea for me to start working on (at last) pulling together the Scotty Bible I’ve always said I needed to pull together. (I also kind of need to pull together all the information on the Gregiverse; the world in which all of my books are actually set, from Alabama to New Orleans to California to Kansas to Chicago’s suburbs…)
I also have a short story submission I need to look over before sending it in for the blind read–next year’s Bouchercon anthology is the market–but I am not sure I’ll have the time or if I know precisely how to fix it.
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I’d like to have another productive day today, so…lots to do before the LSU game tonight.
Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all is well in the world. Southern Decadence is raging in the French Quarter–if someone would have told me as recently as ten years ago I would have ever reached the point where I didn’t care about going down there and diving into the sea of mostly undressed gay men from all over the country I would have laughed at the absurdity, but one gets older and things and priorities change. Do I have fond memories of years of going and having an amazing time? Absolutely. Do I miss those times? Somewhat, but I am also aware that I am older and that kind of wild-ass partying is too much for my old body to handle anymore.
I slept really well last night, which was a delightful and pleasant surprise. When I got home from the office yesterday–running errands on the way home–I was tired, of course, but still managed to do all the bed linens, get the rest of the laundry done, and did two loads of dishes in the dishwasher. There are still some odds and ends around here that need to be taken care of, but other than that, the Lost Apartment is sort of under control. For now, at any rate.
College football is also back this weekend (GEAUX TIGERS!) with LSU playing tomorrow night in the Super Dome. Monday of course is Labor Day, Tuesday I have to go into the office, and then Wednesday it’s off to Minneapolis. Huzzah! As such I will probably get no writing done at all while I am gone–I’ll be too busy running around everywhere–so it would be nice to make some good progress on everything I am working on this weekend. Of course, the temptation to be lazy and simply spend the weekend relaxing is, of course, always going to be there–will probably win out more often than not–but that’s okay. I am done beating myself up for not working every minute of every day every week of every month of every year. Everyone needs down time, and it’s absurd to think otherwise.
My reading is all picked out for the flights/airport time: Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, Donna Andrews’ Round Up The Usual Peacocks, and Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home, if I don’t finish it this weekend, with Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side on deck. I’ll probably get some books while I’m at Bouchercon, too–the book room is always too big of a temptation for me to avoid completely–and I am pretty overall excited about the trip, and neither flight requires getting up at the break of dawn, either, which is lovely. We also got caught up on Bad Sisters last night, a fun show on Apple Plus–but the one I am really looking forward to is The Serpent Queen, as I love me some Catherine de Medici, and I have long wondered why this fascinating, complex and extremely intelligent woman has never been deemed worthy of a film or a television series (it would have been a great role for Bette Davis back in the 1940s; she would have chewed the scenery like nobody’s business and gotten another Oscar nomination).
This morning’s coffee, by the way, is da bomb. Delicious and hitting the spot, which tells me yet again that I slept incredibly well.
I am feeling particularly good this morning, which is also nice. It’s always nice when you feel rested. Oh! I’ve also been invited to speak on a podcast about Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, which gives me an excellent excuse to reread it!
Alert Constant Readers will have noticed by now that I’ve been making posts about my stand alone novels over the last month or so (maybe just the last couple of weeks? I am not sure of anything anymore and I certainly don’t trust my memories); I am currently working on Timothy and The Orion Mask, after which I will most likely move on to some of the pseudonymous work I’ve done–the Todd Gregory novels, for example–but I should also, in honor of Southern Decadence, talk about Bourbon Street Blues this weekend; but I’ve already done plenty of writing and talking about Scotty and how he came to be, and how I came to write the book and where the idea for it came from, so I’m not entirely sure there’s anything left to say about Scotty and Bourbon Street Blues that I haven’t already said; I’m sure I just don’t remember everything I’ve written on my blog about that book. But it won’t hurt to revisit the book; I know there are some things about the books I’ve never talked about before. but we shall have to see.
And then should I do the short stories? The novellas? Why not? It is my blog, after all, and I can do whatever I please with it, can’t I?
And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee before heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in again later.
As I get ready to write another Scotty book, I am busy making his acquaintance all over again. It might seem strange, but yes, although I’ve written eight books about my ex-go-go boy/personal trainer/private eye, it remains true in this as in all other aspects of my life that my memory is not what it once was; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever written a Scotty book since the first three without having to go back and revisit the series again. I have made continuity errors over the years (Scotty’s mother’s name changed over the course of the series, from Cecile to Marguerite and back to Cecile again), and I may forget things about his past and things I’ve written in previous books, but the one thing I never ever forget is his voice.
No matter what else is going on in my life, Scotty’s voice is very easy for me to slip back into, like a house shoe, and it somehow always feels like coming home to me in some ways. This is odd–because I would have always thought Chanse was the series character I was more connected to rather than Chanse, but that’s not the case at all. Scotty just won’t go away; but I ended the Chanse series and only every once in a while do I regret it (although I am beginning to suspect that I am going to probably end up writing another Chanse novel at some point in my life; I have two ideas that he’d be perfect for, but it also might be better and more challenging for me to simply come up with a whole new character for those stories rather than resurrecting Chanse); Scotty just won’t ever go away.
The idea for the Scotty series famously came to me during Southern Decadence, 1998.
(Well, I don’t know about famously, but I know I’ve told this story before many, many times. Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to see how I remember the birth of the character and the series now)
It was a Sunday afternoon, and Paul and I had somehow managed to get prime balcony standing spots–at the Bourbon Pub/Parade, right at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon where the railing curves at the corner to head alongside the upper floor down the St. Ann side; so we could look down directly into the roiling mass of sweaty, almost completely naked bodies of hundreds of gay men from all over the country. That was my favorite spot for Decadence sight-seeing (Halloween, too, for that matter), and as I looked down into the crowd, I saw a guy in booty shorts and a very very loose fitting tank top, carrying a bag and trying to get through. I recognized him as one of the out-of-town dancers working at the Pub/Parade that weekend (I may have tipped him the night before) and as I watched in sympathy as he tried to get through that tightly-packed crowd of gays in various stages of being wasted, I closed my eyes and an image of him–or someone like him–fighting his way through the Decadence crowd while being chased by bad guys with shaved heads popped into my head just as Paul said, next to me, “You should really write a story set during Decadence” and then it popped into my head: someone escaping the bad guys has slipped a computer disc into one of the dancers’ boots on Friday night as he danced on the downstairs bar, and the bad guys want the disc back.
I didn’t have any way to write it down, obviously–I was wearing booty shorts, socks, and half-boots that came to my ankles, with nothing underneath the shorts and I had my tank top tucked through a belt loop like a tail in the back–yet even the title popped into my head: Bourbon Street Blues. The idea clearly stuck, because when I got home the next morning at about six or seven, dehydrated, drenched in sweat and having lost the tank top at some point during the night, I remembered it and wrote it down.
At some point over the next two years, I wrote a short story called “Bourbon Street Blues” about my stripper–only instead of being from out of town, I made him a local, filling in for someone booked from out of town for the weekend who had to cancel–and wrote about seven thousand words. It felt very rushed to me–the story–and I kept thinking it’s too long for a short story, it would have to be a novel but I also wasn’t sure there was enough story there for a novel. But I liked the idea, no one (at least, to the best of my knowledge) had written anything like it, and I thought, someday I’ll get a chance to write this story and develop this character.
Flash forward to 2001. This was during the time Paul and I had moved to DC to work for the Lambda Literary Foundation, we were miserable there and wanted to move back to New Orleans but didn’t have the money to do so, and the release of Murder in the Rue Dauphine was still at least a year away. I was talking to an editor on the phone about one of his new gay releases, and out of the blue I just pitched Bourbon Street Blues to him. He loved the idea, and asked me to write a proposal and email it to him. I had never written a proposal before, but I thought what the hell, how hard can it be? and so I wrote a two page proposal for the book. Two months later they made me a two-book offer–and the money was good enough to pay for Paul and I to move back to New Orleans as well as to live on for a while. I had only seen the book as a one-off, but they wanted a series. I needed and wanted the money, so I thought I can figure this out later and signed it.
Three months later, we moved back to New Orleans and I started writing the book.
The one thing I wanted to do with Scotty was make him unabashedly, unashamedly, gay. I didn’t want him to have any hang-ups, a sad backstory, or parental issues. I wanted him to be a free spirit who embraces life with both hands, lived in the Quarter, and loved having sex, loved being found desirable, and never really said anything or thought anything mean about anyone else. I made him a personal trainer, and his poverty–he agrees to do the dancing gig for Decadence because he’s behind on his rent and other bills; he teaches aerobics and was a personal trainer–comes from his grandparents freezing his trust funds when he dropped out of college to go to work for a booking agency for male dancers. He has since stopped doing that, but fills in when needed (and when he needs the money) at the Pub/Parade. I also based the shitty politician running for governor–and trying to mount a Christofascist takeover of the state, beginning with an attack on Southern Decadence–on an actual politician who ran for the US Senate shortly after we moved here; we saw him being interviewed on the news and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a joke, some kind of performance art–but forget it Greg, it’s Louisiana.
I also want to let you know that while I was working on this manuscript my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, was released–and I got a “damned with faint praise” review from the Bay Area Reporter, which complained that “it would have been nice to see inside the heads of the other characters”, which took me aback as the book was a first person narrative, which made that impossible. What the reviewer I think was trying to say was that she wished the book had been told in the third person; that to her that would have made the book more interesting to her. But in my baby-author naïveté, all I could think was how can you see inside the heads of other characters in a third person narrative unless the main character was psychic?And the proverbial lightbulb came on over my head. Make Scotty a psychic. This was also an integral key to the puzzle of who Scotty was; the reviewer also yawned over my “gay stereotypes” in Rue Dauphine, so I decided to make Scotty the embodiment of all the worst stereotypes of muscular gay men who worked out and had a lot of sex. Just writing that down now, I realize how incredibly insane it was for me to use my new series book and character to respond to criticism o my debut novel; and when the book came out I braced myself for the inevitable backlash to come.
No one was more surprised than I was at how readers embraced him. The book got great reviews, even from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal (Kirkus, of course, has always pretended I don’t exist). Bourbon Street Blues was even nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery of 2003 (I lost, I think to John Morgan Wilson?) shortly after the sequel, Jackson Square Jazz, was released.
Jackson Square Jazz’s story was actually a recycled idea I had for a spin-off book for Chanse’s best friend Paige. The original concept was that someone would steal the Louisiana Purchase from the Cabildo–and somehow Paige stumbled onto the theft, and knew that the one on display currently there was a copy. (I was calling it, originally enough, Louisiana Purchase.) I decided to make that the basis of the second Scotty book. (This was inspired by a documentary I’d seen about the Cabildo fire of 1989–that may be the wrong date–and how the fire department tried saving everything in the museum before fighting the fire. I remembered how in the documentary they literally were placing historical objects and paintings against the fence at Jackson Square and thinking, anyone could have walked off with something during the fire…and my imagination immediately was off to the races.) Unfortunately, when I met with the museum director–whose actual first day on the job was the day of the fire–I found out that 1) the copy of the Louisiana Purchase at the Cabildo was actually only a replica and the original was stored in the weather-protected underground archive at the Library of Congress and 2) it was more than one page long–I’d imagined it was one large document like the Declaration of Independence; it is not. However–he also suggested I make the MacGuffin the Napoleon death mask–one of the three originals made when Napoleon died–and gave me some great backstory on it as well that I don’t remember if I used in the book or not; but it was a lot of fun talking to him (his name escapes me at the moment, alas) and was a great example of why it is important to actually do research and talk to people.
I also wanted to include figure skating–the working title for the book was Death Spiral, which the publisher made me change, asking for something alliterative, like Bourbon Street Blues–and so I decided to open the book with Scotty having a horrific hangover and then realizing someone was in the bed with him (it’s to this day one of my favorite book openings; what slutty gay man hasn’t been there?)…and then I remembered I’d introduced two love interests for Scotty in book one, and here he was in bed with someone else entirely. (The young man he woke up with was a figure skater in town to compete at Skate America, being held in the Smoothie King Arena.) I loved both of his love interests, and knew I was going to have to bring both of them back somehow, and then I was going to have to figure out which one he’d end up with. (Spoiler: I couldn’t decide, so he wound up with both of them.) I also threw in a ghost, a billionaire artifact collector, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. I turned in the book, along with a proposal for Book Three, in which I finally decided I was going to resolve the threeway relationship personal story, and that would be the end of the Scotty trilogy.
Man plans and God laughs. (Jackson Square Jazz was also nominated for a Lambda; I think this was the time I lost to Anthony Bidulka.)
Mardi Gras Mambo turned out to be an entire other kettle of fish.
I’m not entirely sure I remember exactly what the original plot of Mardi Gras Mambo was going to be, but I know it had to do with the Krewe of Iris (Scotty’s sister Rain belongs) and the book opened at the Iris parade on the Saturday morning before Fat Tuesday. It was due in June of 2004, and of course, I wasn’t nearly finished by the time Memorial Day rolled around, and was planning on asking for another month on the manuscript on the Tuesday after. Of course, that was the Memorial Day weekend when Paul was attacked and everything went to hell in my personal life. My publisher was incredibly kind; they took the book off schedule, told me to take care of Paul, and get the book done whenever I got the book done.
I started writing it again in January of 2005, shortly after I began keeping a blog in order to get me writing again. That was when the Christian/Virginia nonsense happened, and everything got derailed again. When I started writing the book again, I threw out everything except that first chapter at the Iris parade–which did wind up in the final book–and I do not recall what the second plot I chose to write was at this time, other than I knew I was bringing in a Russian character, inspired by someone I’d seen around in the bars for years and had always been just awestruck by his body–and yes, that Russian turned out to eventually be Wacky Russian, my personal trainer. I actually kept this as an inspiration–Eclipse used to be the nightlife insert for IMPACT News, a queer newspaper that died out in the early aughts:
Finally, it was April 2005, and I started writing Mardi Gras Mambo again. I had the plot all figured out–it was completely insane–but I also realized I couldn’t end the personal story with Scotty the way I had hoped and wrap it all up with Book Three. There had to be a Book 4, and so when I finished the book at last and turned it in, I included a proposal for a fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle–which was going to be set during an evacuation for a hurricane that missed New Orleans…I always thought it would be interesting to write a mystery story set during such an evacuation.
Of course, I turned the book into Kensington on August 14th, 2005. Fourteen days later, Paul, Skittle and I fled from New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina.
I wouldn’t come back for good until October 11. Paul didn’t come home until after Thanksgiving.
Of course, I wrote to my editor a day or so after the levee failure to say, well, I don’t think I can write that book I proposed now.
I didn’t see, for a very long time afterwards, how I could write another Scotty book–light, funny, zany–in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then one day I was walking to work from where I’d parked my car and some people on bicycles came riding toward me. They smiled and waved and I smiled and waved back…and realized oh my God, that was Brad and Anjelina. Their house wasn’t far from my office–in fact, it was quite literally around the block from where Scotty lived–and I thought, you know, Brad kind of looks the way I describe Scotty–wouldn’t it be funny if someone tried to kill Scotty because he looked like a movie star who lived in his neighborhood? The more I thought about it, the funnier it became, and I started writing the proposal for Hollywood South Hustle when I got home from work that night. I was so certain they would take it that I started developing the characters and writing out a detailed synopsis…and they turned it down.
I wasn’t expecting that, but it was a marketing decision. Even if they signed the book immediately, it would still be another year before it would come out, and they felt by then Scotty’s audience was long gone, if it wasn’t already. It was disappointing, but right around the same time Alyson came back to me for a fourth Chanse book but they needed it right away–like within ten weeks–so I turned the Scotty story into Murder in the Rue Ursulines. I finished the book, turned it in, and figured the Scotty series was dead, alas.
Shortly thereafter, during the Gay Easter Parade an idea for a different Scotty book occurred to me . The parade was over and I was walking back to my car to drive home when I walked underneath a balcony…just as they started watering their plants. I got soaked–you can’t get mad, it happens in the Quarter periodically and it’s just one of those New Orleans things–and I thought, you really need to write about this. As I walked to the car, dripping, I pictured Scotty hurrying to catch a ride on his parents’ business’ float for the Easter Parade–and of course, he’d wear a white bikini, rabbit ears, and have a rabbit tail–when the exact same thing happened to him, only his bikini would become see-through when wet. By the time I’d driven home, I’d figured that the person on the balcony would be an old friend of his parents’, he’d invited Scotty in to dry off, and when Scotty was on his way home from the parade, the cops would be there because the friend had been murdered. Using The Moonstone as my inspiration, I came up with another MacGuffin story, a way for Colin to come back and explain everything that happened during Mardi Gras Mambo, and I had the perfect ending to Scotty’s story. I just didn’t have a publisher.
But Bold Strokes Books, a primarily lesbian publisher, had started doing books by and about gay men. I’d taken an erotica anthology to them when it was orphaned by the death of its original publisher, and so I wrote and asked if they wanted a Scotty story. They did, and thus Scotty came back to life one more time…and I figured that was the end of it. I wrapped up the personal story about the three-way relationship in a way that was organic and made sense; and I also added a new wrinkle to Scotty’s personal life: Frank’s late-in-life decision to become a professional wrestler. (One of the things we locals learned from Hurricane Katrina was to not put off following or chasing dreams or goals; my attitude thus became go for it and I started chasing down dreams I’d pushed to the side for years.) Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo were both nominated for Lambdas, but at this point I can’t remember who I lost to in both of those cases–for the record, Lambda has never rewarded a Scotty book with an award–probably because they are inevitably funny and over-the-top, which never wins awards because funny is seen as “not serious,” despite the fact that humor/comedy is much harder than drama/tragedy.
I didn’t think I was going to write another Scotty book then, either. But then something miraculous happened: the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, and I wanted to write about what it was like to live here during that incredible time. It didn’t seem like the right story for another Chanse book, so I thought, well, I can pull Scotty back out and write it from his point of view.
And of course, Who Dat Whodunnit was just sitting there for the title. How could I not write that book?
I had already established over the course of the series that the two sides of his family–the Diderots (maternal) and the Bradleys (paternal) didn’t really get along. The Diderots go back to Iberville and the 1718 settling of New Orleans; the Bradleys were Americans who came after 1803, and thus are not only parvenus to the aristocratic Diderots, but also l’Américains. Perish the thought! We’d also established that the Diderots were not nearly as conservative as their State Street living in-laws, but we’d never actually seen much of the Bradley side of the family, so I thought why not do the Bradleys and let us get to know the other side of Scotty’s family? It was around the same time I started reading about a megachurch out in Kenner (or Metairie? I don’t recall) that was rising to prominence in local politics and was, as you can imagine, homophobic. The same-sex marriage wars were also being fought at this time; and during one of those pageants (Miss America? Miss USA?) the reigning Miss California was asked about same-sex marriage during the question portion by judge Perez Hilton (why was he judging a beauty pageant for women is a mystery for the ages) and she responded that her faith had taught her that marriage was between a man and a woman (the audience started jeering) and she apologized by saying “I’m sorry, but that’s how I was raised!” She wound up as First Runner-Up, and some felt, rightly or wrongly, that her “politically incorrect” answer cost her the title. In some ways, I felt bad for her (although it’s not my fault it’s how I was raised I have always thought was an incredibly stupid thing to say; you have free will, and you should be capable of making up your own mind rather than simply parroting things without question you were raised to believe. So if your parents were racist white supremacists…) but then of course, the Right tried to turn her into a martyr and heroine, and she dove right into that headfirst, erasing any sympathy I might have felt for her (I still think the question was inappropriate for a pageant, as would be anything polarizing–and yes, well aware that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be polarizing, but here we are), and of course, Miss Upright Moral Christian had a bit of a shady past that eventually came out and that was that. I decided to base the murder victim in the book on this girl, and tried to explore the influence of this megachurch on her. I also gave Scotty a first cousin who was the darling of the Bradley grandparents because he was a jock and was on the Saints team as a player–but also a homophobic asshole. The Bradleys were like something out of Tennessee Williams–I think I even named Scotty’s uncle (the football player’s dad) Uncle Skipper as an homage to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
There’s a lot of story there left in the Bradley side of the family, now that I think about it–and I’ll be digging into that in the new one, rest assured!
Funny story: After I wrote Who Dat Whodunnit, I decided I was not going to write another Scotty book. This had been Book 5 of what started as a stand-alone and then became a trilogy and yet somehow, I’d kept going on top of that. I kind of felt played out a bit with Scotty, and the longer the series went on, the more problems I was having with things like character ages–Scotty was getting older, which meant his parents were getting older, which meant his grandparents were getting older, too. I didn’t want to deal with the deaths of his grandparents (or Aunt Sylvia, who was his grandmother’s age and had married Uncle Misha), and so I had two options: pretend they weren’t getting older and not talk about their ages, or let the series go. I was still writing Chanse at the time, and I kind of figured that would be the series that went on longer. But I was on a panel at Saints and Sinners and someone from the audience asked me if there would be another Scotty.
GREG: Probably not, but if I can figure out a way to include Mike the Tiger (the live tiger mascot at LSU), Huey Long, and a treasure hunt for Huey’s deduct box, I will.
(I had read T. Harry Williams’ award winning biography Huey Long and had become fascinated completely with him. All I had known about Long going into reading that biography was that he’d been a demagogue (thanks, US History textbook from high school) and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men had been loosely based on his life and career. Mention Long’s name to anyone and they immediately reply with “oh, he was so corrupt”–which amused me, since every Louisiana politician is corrupt to a degree–and I knew Roosevelt and others had worried about him as a populist politician who reminded them of Hitler (and the way he crushed his opposition in Louisiana and essentially became the state’s dictator, who could blame them?), but what was the real story? And Huey Long made me start to have what was at first a grudging admiration for him which grew into a kind of fandom the more I learned. (There are some similarities–more than one would think–between Long and LBJ in the Caro biographies, as well as with Robert Moses, another Caro biography; which would make for a very interesting comparison/contract essay at some point.) But the more I read about Long, the more I wanted to write about him. He fascinated me, and the fact that his trove of cash–the deduct box–was never recovered after his murder was even more fascinating to me.)
And don’t you know, later that night, it came to me. A few months earlier there had been a bomb threat at the LSU campus, and there had been some controversy about how the administration had handled the situation–they’d evacuated Mike the Tiger off the campus before the mass evacuation call for the students. It made sense to me (but I didn’t blame the students for being upset because it absolutely looked like the administration cared more about the tiger’s safety than the students’)–in the chaos of evacuating the campus, getting the tiger out safely would have been a nightmare, and God forbid something happen and Mike got loose. Then it hit me: what if some animal rights’ activists had staged the bomb threat in order to steal the tiger in order to set him free somewhere? (Mike is a frequent target of PETA, who often calls for him to be released into the wild–not in the US, of course–, or sent to a big cat sanctuary.) So, I had the tiger kidnapped, and since Huey Long was responsible for LSU being what it is today, it only made sense for the treasure hunt to have to do with his missing “deduct box”–Huey always used cash, after his assassination the deduct box containing thousands and thousands of dollars in cash disappeared–and there we had it: a plot involving Mike the Tiger, Huey Long, and the deduct box.
This was also the book where I decided to extend Scotty’s family a bit further by adding a new, younger gay character to the mix: Taylor, Frank’s nephew, disowned by Frank’s sister and her homophobic husband after he comes out to them after a semester in Paris, and so he comes to live with Scotty and the boys in the house on Decatur Street. I wanted to bring in someone younger, and gay, with literally hardly any gay experience in the world to reflect the change between generations of gay men and how they view being gay and the rest of the world.
I also figured this would be the last one, but like I said, Scotty just won’t go away.
SIDENOTE: I had to write to the administrators of the Huey Long website for permission to use some quotes from the site in the book. Needless to say, they were very wary of me when they responded, so I emailed them the chapter where I would use the quotes–Scotty was doing some research on Long, and came across the website. Like me, Scotty had always been told Long was corrupt and a demagogue…but demagogues also don’t get things done, which Long did. Some of Long’s programs–like the Homestead Exemption–still exist as public policy in Louisiana. They wrote me back, granting permission…and that was when I found out the person I was talking to was Long’s great-granddaughter, who was rightfully suspicious of anyone writing about her great-grandfather. I sent her a copy of the book when it was finished, and she sent me a lovely thank you card, which is probably one of my favorite writing souvenirs.
The genesis of Garden District Gothic was weird, but yet serves as yet another example of my adage never throw anything you’ve written away.
I had always wanted to spin Chanse’s best friend, journalist Paige Tourneur, off into her own series. I had always intended to do so; from the first time I thought her up for Murder in the Rue Dauphine I thought, “she’s fun and witty and interesting and that weird name–there’s so much more story there than we can get to as a supporting player in a series about someone else.” I have so much written down about Paige and her origin story; how she came up with that name and why; how she wound up at LSU; and so on and so forth. A friend started an ebook publishing company, and wanted me to write Paige novellas for her; I did two–Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans–but the sales, frankly, weren’t there and I didn’t have the necessary time to put in marketing them to help drive the sales, so even though I’d started a third, The Mad Catter, we agreed to kill the series and pull the first two from availability; ultimately, I was working too hard for too little pay-off. I was disappointed, obviously; Paige was kind of a passion project for me–I’d made any number of false starts writing a series book for her, and it was sad to see that there wasn’t an audience for her after all. But I had about four chapters of The Mad Catter in place, and I didn’t want to waste the time spent on them…so I decided to turn them into a Scotty book, which became Garden District Gothic.
I also brought in a new character–a true crime writer with a shady past of his own–who actually wrote a book, a la Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, about the case. The name of his book? Garden District Gothic. I brought him in, thinking I would spin him off into his own book/series–I thought it might be fun to write about a writer…(I thought about using him as the main character in another book based on an actual unsolved string of murders in a rural Louisiana parish, but very quickly realized he was simply an amalgamation of Scotty and Chanse, so that book–The Bodies in the Bayou–went onto the backburner. I think I may have created the character before, in the Chanse series, but I could be remembering that wrong. I also used this book to sort of set up the next; I will explain that further when I am talking about Royal Street Reveillon. I also crossed the character of Paige Tourneur over from the Chanse series into the Scotty series (I loved the character, hated to sideline her after I ended the Chanse series and the novella series didn’t pan out); not that she will be a big part of the Scotty series, but hey, every so often I need a journalist, and why not use a character I am very fond of already and wasn’t ready to stop writing about?
The book was loosely based, obviously, on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case–a decades old notorious murder of a child in the Garden District that was never solved. I wanted to examine and explore issues of class in New Orleans, but I am not entirely sure I pulled off what I intended with the book.
Then again, I think that with every book, don’t I?
And we now come to the (so far) most recent book of the Scotty series, Royal Street Reveillon.
Originally I’d envisioned the Scotty trilogy (when it morphed from a stand-alone) as encompassing the three big gay holidays in New Orleans: Southern Decadence, Halloween, and Mardi Gras. Jackson Square Jazz wound up taking place just before Halloween, alas; Scotty talks about their costumes in the epilogue, but I hit the other two holidays out of the park. When I added a fourth book, I tied it to the Gay Easter Parade–Scotty is on his way to ride on the Devil’s Weed’s float when the book opened–and then of course the next book was sort of Christmas/sort of Mardi Gras/sort of the Super Bowl. Baton Rouge Bingo was the first book that wasn’t tied to a holiday of some sort; neither was Garden District Gothic. But for the next Scotty book, I wanted to do a Christmas book. I’ve never really written much about Christmas, and I do love the season, especially in New Orleans. I wasn’t sure what kind of plot I was going to use, but I knew it was going to be set during Christmas season and I knew I wanted to use reveillon, the Christmas season meal you use to break your fast for Mass, in the title. I had introduced one of the characters from Dead Housewives of New Orleans in Garden District Gothic, so it only made sense to me (or so it seemed at the time) for me to take the framework of Dead Housewives–the entire Real Housewives spoof I wanted to write–and build this new story around it. I changed a lot–made the overarching story much more complicated, and especially complicating the “whodunnit” aspects of the three murders that all occurred within twenty-four hours of the premiere party for Grande Dames of New Orleans.
I also did a couple of horrible things to Scotty and his loved ones over the course of this book…which will have to be dealt with in the new one, alas. I hate when I do this to myself! But with Royal Street Reveillon and its darker themes, I wanted to show how much Scotty has grown and changed over the course of the series; he’s evolved as a person, partly because of the changes to his life and partly because of what he experiences through the murders he finds himself involved in. Do I wish, as I start writing Mississippi River Mischief, that maybe I hadn’t given so many growth opportunities over the years to Scotty and his gang of family and friends? Absolutely. But that’s part of the challenge of writing a series, and what makes it so much fun.
*Funny story about the original cover of Bourbon Street Blues. Back in the day, publishers used to meet with reps from Barnes & Noble and Borders to show them covers and get their input; covers were changed based on those meetings. The Bourbon Street Blues cover was so in-your-face it took me aback when I first saw it; and they had toned the original image down dramatically, mainly smoothing down the bulge so it wasn’t so in-your-face. The Barnes & Noble buyer told them, “he needs a bigger bulge” so they made it bigger–but were still cautious; the image’s original bulge was still bigger. I do think that story is hilarious.