Both of Us

Well, it’s Saturday morning, how are you all doing out there? I am doing well–I cannot believe how much better I’ve been sleeping lately; I almost feel completely rested for the first time in I don’t know how long–and there’s no LSU game today. You know what that means, don’t you? That means a day to clean and write and get things done as much as humanly possible. I may even clean the windows this morning–crazier things have happened, of course, but there you go.

I made it to the gym for my third workout of the week last evening, and it was the first time I’ve gone where it was dark when I set out for the place and even darker when I walked home. There was an unusual occurrence as I walked there–I actually got cat-called by a woman in a car as she drove by while I waited on the corner for her to pass. It completely caught me off guard–and trust me, it’s been a very long time since anything like that has happened to me. As I said, it was a very pleasant surprise but I also don’t think it served as an indicator of dramatic changes and improvements to my body in the two weeks since I returned to the gym, but I will say I’ve noticed that my muscles are being kick-started up again to look better than they have been–taut rather than slack, if anything. When I was a trainer I always used to tell my clients that once you’ve built a good, strong muscular base that it’s much easier to get back to that after some time away from the weights–I did notice the other night while doing my bicep curls that my arms looked better, and the definition was coming back, which was lovely. The trick is going to be my storage of excess body fat around my middle, which, coupled with my enormous ribcage, tends to make me upper body barrel-shaped–and my narrow hips and pelvic girdle always ends up looking–because of the barrel shape–like I have no ass, which I absolutely hate and despise. And yes, while the entire point of going back to the gym is to be healthier, lower my cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce my body fat percentage, the side effect of looking better physically certainly is working as a motivator–perhaps not as strong of one as back in the day, when I wanted to run around gay bars shirtless and attracting flirtatious attention, but it is a motivating factor.

I’m also enjoying wandering around the neighborhood on my walks to and from the gym; getting to know the neighborhood better that I’ve lived in for the better part of the last twenty-four years or so. There’s an absolutely fascinating house on Camp Street, hidden behind a church, that has its entire first floor porch (or gallery, or balcony; whatever you want to call it) hidden from the street and the sidewalk by a massive, thick hedge that reaches all the way up to the second floor balcony; it’s so thick you literally cannot even see that the lower floor porch/gallery is even there. Anyone sitting there is completely hidden from the sidewalk. Likewise, the gorgeous house on Coliseum Square owned by the actress Jennifer Coolidge is similar; the back yard and its fence is completely hidden by a towering, thick hedge and trees and enormous elephant ferns–so sitting in the back yard you would feel like you were sitting in a forest clearing rather than in the heart of a city, which is a very cool effect.

We are very much enjoying the second season of The Mandalorian, to the point where I honestly think the smartest thing Disney–and Lucasfilm–could have done was do these “meanwhile, somewhere else in the galaxy” movies and series to flesh out the skeletal structure of the universe as laid out in the Skywalker stories rather than continue the sad, twisted melodrama of the Skywalkers. I rather enjoyed the final trilogy when I saw them in the theater, and of the three films The Force Awakens is probably the strongest–it’s also the only one I’ve been able to watch more than twice. The more I watch The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker the more flawed the films seem; although I will argue The Last Jedi is not as bad a film as the fanboys screamed to the ends of the known universe it was. I think they listened too much to the fan complaints and thus rejiggered the script of the final film to the point where groundwork laid in the second was completely ignored or totally betrayed by the third. But The Mandalorian is quite marvelous, and it’s the highlight of our Fridays every week,

We are also watching The Murders at White House Farm on HBO MAX, which is quite good. Based on a true story about the mass murder of a family–in which it was originally thought the mentally ill daughter murdered her parents, her twin sons, and then herself–it’s remarkably well written and well-acted; the story also hinges on a chief inspector who simply accepts the evidence at face value and asks no questions, preferring to close the case as it seems without looking any deeper. This is a problem with police investigations, which we have seen, time and again, in true crime documentaries and books and weekly series: the police tend to come up with a theory of the crime and look only for evidence that supports that theory, even if it means ignoring other evidence that contradicts their theory. This should scare everyone, as it is a terrible flaw in police investigating; they are not necessarily looking for the truth and the actual criminal as they are looking for someone they can convict in court, regardless of whether they committed the crime or not.

If you don’t think that’s a serious problem for our justice system–although this series takes place in the UK, the statement still holds—then I don’t know what to tell you other than I hope it never happens to you.

I also hope to find some time–around the cleaning, writing, and organizing–to finish reading Westlake’s The Hot Rock. I also landed a copy of Lawrence Block’s first Burglar book–Burglars Can’t Be Choosers–and I am looking forward to being immersed in that. I’ve read one of his burglar novels before–I think it was The Burglar in the Library–and really liked it, so it only makes sense that if I intend to read the entire series I would go back to the very beginning. I should also get back to reading Elmore Leonard; it’s been years since I read anything of his and I know I greatly enjoyed the ones I did read (although I disagree with his writing advice that you should never start a novel or story by talking about the weather; I do it all the time. But then again, in New Orleans the weather is a very important part of the fabric of the city).

I also want to get some work done on short stories this weekend. I really do need to prioritize the novel, though. Decisions, decisions–there is so little time in which to get everything done (as well as have the necessary down time) that it will undoubtedly make me quite mad by the end of the year, when the book is finally due.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and perhaps today will see the end of the election.

Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.