The Irish Channel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is a tale for another time.

I love these kinds of double houses!

Victory

And wasn’t yesterday’s entry boring as fuck? I should think at this point that it’s pretty clear, Constant Reader, that I don’t utilize this blog the way one is supposed to when one is a writer: as a conduit to convince readers to buy my books. I think I’ve done an excellent job over the years of proving that I, without question, have no idea how to sell books or how to make my work sound appealing enough for people to want to read, let alone buy.

I really suck at promoting myself. But to give myself credit, I never once believed “social media” would sell books, and from everything I’ve been reading lately, I was right. But it can make loyal readers aware you have something new coming out, and since the gay and lesbian bookstores are long gone…yeah, I’ve literally got nothing when it comes to reaching out and finding new readers, or reconnecting with old ones. I tried the newsletter thing way back in the days of my first website, but was always a little shocked whenever I’d send one out and people would ask to be removed…I was always a little, Why did you sign up in the first place? I never simply added people to my newsletter; you literally had to fill out a form to get on the list…and after a little while it was kind of depressing, so I gave up on the newsletter thing. It’s not like I’m that fascinating, anyway.

I do applaud those who do one, though.

It’s Christmas season already–according to some merchants, it has been since September–and of course, I’m a bit of a sucker for the Christmas season. I’m not a sucker for Christmas displays in September, or endless playing of Christmas carols over and over again on the radio or in public spaces; and while I also understand the importance of Christmas to our (retail) economy, I tire very quickly of Christmas commercials on television–my personal favorite the ones where people gift each other CARS for Christmas, because really? I’m not a Christian anymore; I’ve been in recovery for nearly thirty years, but the “reason for the season” has been forgotten by almost everyone else in the clamor for dollars and status and spend spend spend mentality of the holidays. The basic presumption behind Christmas–peace on earth and good will to all men–is a lovely one that I can certainly get behind; but Christmas has not only been commercialized it has also been politicized…because nothing says put the Christ back in Christmas like commercializing and politicizing the holiday that ostensibly celebrates the birth of Jesus. As always, I tire very quickly and easily of hypocrisy; and I tire of all the nonsense Christmas seems to trigger annually.

But I do like Christmas and the mentality behind it. I like the idea of a season to celebrate peace and love amongst all of humanity. I always wanted to write about Christmas; which is incredibly hard to do without giving into what I call ‘cheap sentimentality.’ I wrote a story a long time ago, my own attempt at writing a gay Christmas story because, frankly, there weren’t any that I was aware of, and it of course was terrible, absolutely terrible. It’s very difficult to come up with anything original about Christmas; but there’s also the possibility that the comfort of familiarity is what many enjoy about it. They enjoy watching the same films and television specials, listening to the same music recorded by the same artists, and follow the old traditions that transport them back to when they were children and the world seemed so much less complicated than it does as adults, and they want to give their kids that same comforting holiday experience they remember. I was quite mercenary as a child, and for me, for the longest time, Christmas was about the gifts I was going to get. As I got older, it gradually became more about the gifts I was giving as I began to understand the message more–and the message does seem to get lost all too frequently.

I also greatly appreciate the extra days off from work as well.

But I wanted to write about Christmas, as I said earlier. Early in my career I realized there weren’t many, if any, gay Christmas stories, so I decided to do an anthology of them, Upon a Midnight Clear, which was, I think, released in 2004. (My story, of course, turned out to be a horror tale, “The Snow Queen,” and I used a pseudonym.) I greatly enjoyed doing that anthology, and am still rather proud of it today. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to get when I asked writer friends to write a story for me; but all of the stories were inventive and new takes on Christmas, from a gay perspective.

Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (which Constant Reader knows is one of my favorites) releases a Christmas mystery every year, and the way Andrews manages to turn out a highly original mystery every year centered on Christmas in Caerphilly is absolute genius. She never descends into cheap sentimentality, and yet manages to infuse the books with a healthy dose of the Christmas spirit each time. Caerphilly is one of my happy places; there’s no greater joy than spending some time there every year. I have already mentioned that Andrews kind of inspired me to write a Scotty book set during the Christmas season, and I am probably going to have to do another; the plot for this one was pretty much already set when I decided to have it take place in December, and so it kind of became a Christmas book by default….I will undoubtedly do another one at some point, one that is more centered on Christmas itself rather than just the season. I’d love to play with Christmas tropes and traditions a bit more–especially since Scotty and his parents are pagans.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, all.

IMG_2445