Bourbon Street Blues

It’s Southern Decadence weekend in New Orleans.

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 recommend Southern 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 new cover for the ebook edition.

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.

The original cover, which always makes me smile.

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.

If You Could Read My Mind

Friday morning after the Edgars and I feel very drained emotionally and intellectually. Physically I am fine; I cannot believe how well I’ve been sleeping in a hotel up here in New York. I slept for about ten hours again last night–I’d forgotten how that actually feels, and it’s marvelous, really–so I am simply not going to question it, you know? We fly home tomorrow and today is one of those busy days where I am meeting people for coffee and drinks and trying to get all kinds of other stuff taken care of while I am here, and of course tomorrow we fly home. Sunday is going to be a regrouping kind of day, and I do get to work at home on Monday, so that will help me ease back into the regularity of what is my regular day-to-day life. I think I am already ahead of the game in that I am physically rested rather than exhausted, which is my usual when I travel. I have fallen behind on a great many things–April was simply a terrible month for one Gregalicious, and I think a lot of that had to do with being so tired most of the month. I still can’t wrap my mind around the way the Left Coast Crime trip just blasted me with both barrels; I was literally afraid that I couldn’t handle traveling anymore. But this trip has been marvelous; I’ve slept a lot on this trip (more than I do at home, which is even stranger) than I usually do at home, and the lovely thing is that when I feel rested, I feel like I can get anything and everything done, including taking over the world.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like that, too. I’d almost forgotten how amazing it feels.

I feel like me this morning, and I haven’t felt like me in a long time.

I didn’t take a single picture last night, either. I tried to keep my anxiety under control before I had to get up and speak, and I honestly don’t remember what I said when I was up there on stage–I always just kind of go into some weird dissociative state (probably not that extreme, but that’s how it feels) when I have to do things like that (panels and moderating are different; at least those I can remember some things I said and can remember being up there) and afterwards I have to really focus on breathing and so forth to come back into myself. I didn’t do a very good job of managing the anxiety, obviously; certainly not as well as I controlled the travel anxiety the other day when we flew here. (That experience gave me the false hope that I could possibly start being able to control my anxiety in other situations..obviously, I was wrong. But hope will always spring eternal.)

I still can’t get over how late I’ve been sleeping in here. And it’s not that weird half-sleep thing, either; I actually am sleeping. Obviously it something remarkable since I can’t stop writing about it, right?

But now that this is out of the way–I also think the anxiety was subconsciously building all month which helped make April a much worse month than it needed to be–and my mind is clear again, it’s time to start making lists and figuring out where everything stands and clean out the email inbox and start ticking things on the list and making progress again. I feel like, in some ways, I’ve been in this weird holding pattern for a long time without the energy or the drive or the desire to actually accomplish things. I don’t know what caused it; there was an awful lot of burnout I think for some reason. Probably all the juggling and plate-spinning I’ve been doing, and of course the first few months of the year are inevitably overwhelming on many different levels for me. I mean, I was on-boarding a new board of directors for Mystery Writers of America; coordinating and organizing the Bouchercon anthology; writing my own book; and writing several promised short stories (the one due tomorrow the editors graciously gave me another week so I am going to really have to buckle down and do a great job on the story–no pressure there, and of course the festivals and Carnival as well as other transitions at the day job. So yeah, the first third of the year were kind of rough, but I am–at least this morning–feeling like I can get everything done.

There’s nothing worse than that overwhelmed feeling of defeat.

I really don’t like it, because it also starts a spiral into hopelessness and I hate that most of all. That’s the why bother phase, the “why do I try because nothing matters and it doesn’t make any difference anyway” and I absolutely despise that; I call it the Pit of Despair (thanks, The Princess Bride). I seem to have spent a lot more time in the Pit of Despair lately than I have in years, and I don’t like feeling that way.

Or maybe I’m just on a high from the awards last night. It was a bit overwhelming being in such a big crowd, as well as seeing people I’ve not seen in years thanks to the goddamned pandemic; I wanted to see and talk to everyone and chat and laugh and get caught up, but it’s also kind of impossible in that kind of situation and yeah, it can be a bit much, particularly when you’re socially awkward and much more of an introvert than you should be when your job requires you to speak publicly and be social and circulate and all of those things. There are so many weird contradictions and oppositions built in my psyche and personality that are constantly at war with each other…for one example, obviously I would love to be more successful than I am, but success also comes at a price. The more successful you are, the more public events you have to do as well as public speaking (things I am terrible at, cause me stress and anxiety, and drain me completely) not to mention the small talk. One thing I’ve never been good at is receiving compliments. I don’t know what to say to people when they’re complimenting me and my work…I just stammer and blush and say “thanks you’ve very kind” but somehow can’t engage any further than that because I get awkward and feel stupid.

And on that note, I am going to post this and get some work done. Have a great post-Edgar Friday, Constant Reader.

Fingers & Thumbs

Here we are on a Tuesday morning with the time change coming and the weather shifting into big-time fall. Yesterday was simply beautiful outside; the sky that magnificent shade of cerulean I’ve never seen anywhere else (Italy has the most beautiful skies) and you can go for a walk without getting drenched in sweat. It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is right around the corner, with Christmas and New Year’s hot on its tail; and whatever Carnival is going to be is right behind.

Yes, it is that time of year again. HOLIDAYS.

Sigh.

I loved the holidays when I was a kid. Christmas meant presents and a tree and turkey and dressing and decorations and candy and no school for at least two weeks. Thanksgiving didn’t mean presents, but I always always loved that meal (we always had turkey and dressing for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and got to eat the leftovers for days after). As I got older the thrill of the holidays slowly began to wane. By the time I moved in with Paul I was almost completely over them. Almost six years with an airline–which meant working on the holidays if they fell on your scheduled day to work; the airport never closes and neither do the airlines–had kind of robbed the joy from them for me; I could only see family sometime around the holidays, depending on open seats on flights, which were scarce, and spending them with friends wasn’t quite the same thing. We stopped putting up Christmas decorations when we got Scooter–Skittle wasn’t an issue; he’d go knock a ball off the tree, lose interest and go away; Scooter saw Christmas tree and decorations and thought amusement park! And since he loves nothing more than chewing plastic–the first time I caught him trying to chew on a string of lights, that was it for the Christmas decorations. And every time I go up into the attic, I see the box of decorations and think, should I throw them away? We don’t use them, and even–God forbid, knock on wood–when the day comes that we no longer have Scooter with us, will we use them again?

Given our history, it’s very unlikely. And while the Lost Apartment isn’t as festive around the holidays as it could be, as we’ve gotten older it’s just not as important to either of us as it once was. Sure, we enjoy buying each other gifts, and sharing them–Paul always wins Christmas, no matter how hard I try to get him something absolutely perfect, he always gets me something that is so incredibly thoughtful I get teary-eyed–and we enjoy the new traditions that we have come up with together.

And really, the true gift of the holiday is spending it together, unplugging from the world, and just enjoying each other’s company.

But it’s after Halloween now, so the Christmas stuff is coming out in the stores, and the music will start playing everywhere (thank God I don’t listen to the radio anymore). The Christmas specials and movies will start airing again, every television series will have a Christmas episode of some kind (thank you, Ted Lasso, for doing it in the summer time), and advertising will have a distinctive green and red flavor to it. I will inevitably start grumping about the serious overkill–and I am also not looking forward to this year’s noxious and untrue revisitation of the right-wing “war on Christmas” narrative.

My latest Scotty book, Royal Street Reveillon, was an actual Christmas book, set in New Orleans during the Christmas season. One part of Christmas I never get tired of is the way New Orleans dresses herself up for the holiday–and seriously, if you are in town and can get a chance to go look at the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, it’s breathtakingly beautiful; which is why I had the book start with Scotty getting Taylor his first sazerac in the Sazerac Bar of the Roosevelt Hotel. I wanted to talk about how beautifully the hotel is decorated, how gorgeous the city is in its Christmas finery, and of course–I got to talk about a particularly New Orleans Christmas tradition–reveillon dinner. It’s funny, because I have tried to write about Christmas before–I do, at heart, love Christmas and everything it is supposed to stand for, even if I get Scrooge-like about the overkill in mid-December–but I’ve never really had much success with writing an actual Christmas story. I tried writing Christmas short stories before, but coming up with something original that is also sweet and about love and kindness is incredibly difficult; it’s like every possible idea has already had every bit of juice squeezed out of it already (how many versions of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life do we really need, anyway?). I wrote three first drafts of Christmas stories–“Silver Bells,” “Silent Night,” and “Reindeer on the Rooftop”–but the first two turned out incredibly sad and depressing and the latter so saccharine sweet it made my teeth ache. I’d always thought of doing a Scotty Christmas book, once I decided to keep the series going past the original three; the original idea of the first trilogy was the gay holidays–Decadence, Halloween, Carnival–and then I thought I would tie all future Scottys around holidays; when I revived the series with Book 4, Vieux Carré Voodoo, opened on Easter Sunday and the end of Lent–which seemed appropriate since the previous book was set during Carnival (I’d actually forgotten about that). Of course, I moved away from that with Who Dat Whodunnit (which was around the Saints Super Bowl win, but also included a Christmas scene with the other side of Scotty’s family, the Bradleys, now that I think about it) and Baton Rouge Bingo…so maybe actually doing a Halloween Scotty book might be in order (I have mentioned this before, of course) since Jackson Square Jazz was set the week before Halloween.

And thinking of the kind of trouble Scotty could get into over Halloween puts a little smile on my face.

I need to buckle down and get to work on my book. It’s due in January and time is slipping into the future…so on that note, dear Constant Reader, I am going to finish this and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday!

I’ll Stay With You

Good morning, Saturday, hope you’re doing fine!

I can’t even begin to tell you, Constant Reader, how unsettling it is has been for me–and I know this is an entirely a mental disorder of some sort–having that full laundry basket sitting on top of my unusable washing machine these last few days–to the point where I am seriously considering going to the laundromat on Magazine Street this morning an just getting it over with, you know? Annoying as it could possibly–and probably will–be, it’s really bothering me that I have that basket full and knowing that, even though the new washer is coming this Friday, the laundry will just continue piling up. It’s also unsettling because I usually launder the bed linens on Friday and obviously, I was unable to do that this past week as well. I am such a creature of habit–and such a completist–that it is unsettling to me that I started to do laundry and never got very far with it; I think that’s the real reason it is bothering me. So last night before I went to bed–we did finish the Gacy docuseries, and someone has recommended another one, that connects Gacy with Dean Corll, the Houston mass murderer who also targeted young men and boys–that I may have to check out.

It’s horrible, isn’t it, that watching these true crime serial killer documentaries gives me story ideas? I was scribbling away in my journal last night as we watched (we also watched LSU in the regional college gymnastics preliminaries; despite having an incredibly bad night, riddled with falls and mistakes, they qualified for the regional final–which tells you how good they really are. They have the potential, if everyone hits, to win the national title) and making notes; particularly for a short story idea I had a while ago for a deeply disturbing story about a young man being held by a psychotic, called “Oubliette.” I actually wrote the opening paragraphs while watching the docuseries last night, and I also realized that one of the primary reasons that the images of Gacy–those videotaped interviews are fucking chilling–bothered me so much was because Brian Dennehy was so brilliant playing Gacy in a TV movie back in the day that I always picture Dennehy whenever I think of Gacy, so adjusting my brain to register no, that really is Gacy and the reality is so much creepier than the Dennehy performance it was kind of hard to wrap my mind around it.

I wrote yesterday, and if I stick to my plan the book will be able to be turned in on Monday, which is lovely and also an enormous release of pressure for me. These final chapters are turning into something I think is kind of wonderful, but I am not entirely sure I’m going to stick the landing–I so rarely do, let’s be honest–and I am also worried about the length of the book; it’s right now already over ninety thousand words, and I don’t know that I want it to go over a hundred thousand–and at the pace I am going that is going to happen. I suppose during the editorial process I can trim ten to twenty thousand words from the book; Bury Me in Shadows also came in long (as did, now that I think about, Royal Street Reveillon) and will probably need some judicious pruning; I have until the end of this month to revise and edit it, with my editorial notes. I’m not sure why I started writing long again–but it’s also kind of nice; the last really long book I wrote was Mardi Gras Mambo and I was also beginning to think I couldn’t write long anymore.

Apparently not a problem. Although Chlorine really needs to be tight, lean and nasty.

So, this morning I am going to go to the laundromat (taking The Russia House along with me; I read some more of it yesterday), dropping off a library book, getting the mail, and making groceries. I also have a prescription to pick up, and a friend is in town and we’re going to have (socially distanced) drinks later, after I get my work done. I haven’t ha an actual drink–Paul and I were talking about this last night–since I went to New York for the MWA board meeting last year in January–Paul hasn’t had one since last year’s Carnival. How weird, right?

I can’t remember the last time I went for over a year without a drink–but it’s not like I actually missed it, either.

I am actually looking forward to being finished with this book, but am also glad my creativity is kicking into gear again.

And on that note, I need to get ready to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.

Everyone Everywhere

Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

Yesterday was simply a dreadful day, weather-wise; I imagine today isn’t going to be very much better, in all honesty. It’s 26 degrees in New Orleans right now, give or take. I am sitting at my desk in layers, the space heater going full blast, water is dripping out of every faucet to protect the pipes, and I’m about to go look for my fingerless gloves. FOUND THEM! I am glad Carnival has essentially be canceled for the most part–it’s too fucking cold, seriously. The high for today is predicted to be 36…which would usually be some kind of record low. But looking outside the windows I don’t see snow anywhere—at least we don’t have that to deal with. I am kind of dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning to go to the office. It’s going to be incredibly miserable, but at least then I have two work-at-home days. This cold snap is only supposed to last through the weekend, but during the ays it will get up to the 50’s and finally, by Sunday we’ll be back to the normal winter weather for New Orleans. It won’t be easy, but we’ll make it through somehow.

Our heat doesn’t work, by the way, so if it’s 26 outside it’s about that inside, give or take a few degrees. If I didn’t have to do a ZOOM thing later this morning I’d repair back to the bed with iPad and laptop and a book to read; I still may do that after the class ZOOM thing is finished.

My goal for yesterday was to get caught up some on my emails–I managed to get that accomplished, although even more have shown up this morning–and to print out the manuscript preparatory for the big edit/revise. This last one, while I may have called it the last draft, is actually a part of preparing the final draft; I wanted to get through the entire thing changing it from past tense to present tense, while also reading and getting an idea of what all needs to be added or deleted. This next pass through the printed pages will be where I make the notes to revise the language used, and then figure out where the new pieces I need to write need to go. The last and final pass will be a line edit, basically, where I try to catch all the mistakes and things that got missed when I changed things before. I am on track to be finished by the end of the month, or at least by the end of the first weekend of March, with any luck.

We got deeper into season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and are still enjoying it; we only intended to watch one episode, and wound up getting through four, with only four left, which at some point today–it’s Fat Tuesday, after all–we will most likely finish the show off. After a slow start the season has really picked up; I didn’t really want to stop watching last night, but it was already past eleven and I needed to get to bed–getting up at six tomorrow is going to be hard enough, given the cold, and sleeping in really late today would not have helped that situation in the least–but it’s nice to know that it’s there waiting for us when we finally are ready today. I’m not sure if Paul is going to work today–well, he’s not going to the office for sure, but whether he is going to make phone calls or send emails remains to be seen. It’s so weird to be up at this hour on Fat Tuesday and not hear a crowd at the corner or the drums of the marching bands. I really do miss the high school marching bands; especially the public school ones and the Marching 100 of St. Augustine’s; “St. Aug’s”, as we call them down here.

While I was printing out the manuscript yesterday morning I did a deep dive into the Internet about the Three Investigators, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the best (if not the best) of the kids’ mystery series. One of the other things I was doing yesterday involved contracts for MWA’s upcoming mystery writing handbook, How to Write a Mystery, edited by the amazing Lee Child and Laurie R. King; so as I was reading an interview with the ghost writer for several of the Three Investigators books–including several of my favorites–and the name seemed familiar, as did that of his wife–so I made notes on the notepad that always sits next to my mouse to look them up and see why the names seemed familiar. Imagine my surprise when someone responded to the emailed contracts with an issue, and it turned out to be the ghost writer’s wife! That was why the name was familiar; I had seen it very recently. One of those weird, synchronistic elements of my life, I suppose, but it was still kind of cool to be corresponding with the wife of a Three Investigators ghost writer. The original author of the series, who created it and wrote ten of the first eleven volumes, Robert Arthur, also deeply interests me.

I also realized that, in some ways, I had mimicked The Three Investigators with the Scotty series: while the series is written in the first person, there are three of them; Scotty, Frank, and Colin. My original plans when I was a child for my own series initially began with a single character to hang the series on; it eventually evolved into three friends solving mysteries–and yes, the concept of there being three was not unique to, or originated by, the Three Investigators–the Hardy Boys and their pal, Chet; Nancy Drew with Bess and George; Judy Bolton and two separate groups of three (either with Irene and Honey, or with Lorraine and Lois); etc. (I’ve also always wondered, in the back of my mind, if having three precluded any notions of homoeroticism; it certainly existed in the Ken Holt series with his best bud Sandy, or in the Rick Brant with his buddy Scotty–which has also made me wonder lately if that’s where the name for my Scotty came from… since having three meant including a chaperone).

So, I intend to spend the rest of the morning straightening up the kitchen to serve as the backdrop for my ZOOM session, swilling coffee and trying to stay warm. So, on that note I am heading back into the spice mines, and will catch you on Ash Wednesday. Have a great day, Constant Reader, as always.

Today Was a Fairytale

It is Saturday and I am also on vacation for a week. Huzzah!

I have a lot to do, of course, as always, and of course, LSU is playing Arkansas today at eleven–how far the mighty have fallen, to be playing a Western division conference game at eleven in the morning on the SEC Network–so I will undoubtedly watch the game while reading, making notes on things I am working on, and trying to get caught up while not getting terribly saddened by the game and how it turns out.

But of course, as always, the intent behind this vacation is to get caught up on everything, which is no easy chore, believe you me. I need to whip the book into shape and get it rolling again; I need to finish a short story that has to be submitted by January 15th; the Lost Apartment is a disgusting pigsty that desperately needs to be deep-cleaned; and I’d love to be able to finish reading The Hot Rock as well as some other short stories. I also have a goal to relax and get rested, which will also be lovely.

I am sort of looking at the vacation as a kind of reboot, quite frankly; a time to snap out of the writing malaise I’ve been experiencing for the last few months and get back into my writing again. Getting caught up would be absolutely lovely, but as I always tend to be behind on everything…it doesn’t help that Louisiana and New Orleans history is so colorful and fascinating that I will often go down a major wormhole triggered by something I come across looking for something else–I spent several days in the wormhole created by having my curiosity aroused by the Mississippi River forts, for example, and came away from it with no story ideas other than an amorphous Sherlock Holmes story and perhaps something more recent, but again, amorphous and not much else. I spent a couple of days immersed in Cajun and Louisiana folklore, looking for something I could use for the Christmas horror story, only to come up relatively empty-handed. I have the opening for the story, still don’t know what the rest of the plot is, and am not convinced I chose the correct Cajun folk story/monster to use–which is part of the reason I decided to give up on trying to get the story finished by December 1st.

I also have a sink full of dishes and papers and files and books stacked everywhere. Not good, not good at all.

Yesterday Rex–the main krewe that still parades on Fat Tuesday, and whose “king” (Rex) is traditionally considered the King of Carnival, cancelled their ball and also announced that, with no ball and no parade this season, they will not be naming a King and Queen this year. This came as a surprise to me–let’s face it, few krewes are as conservative politically as either Rex or Comus (who chose not to parade once the city passed an ordnance not allowing krewes to discriminate in their memberships) so having Rex cancel its festivities is indicative of the seriousness of the pandemic, really. I know a lot of New Orleanian traditionalists were still holding out hope that parade season would happen, but with Rex making this stand you can be pretty certain that the party’s over for 2021. While this is obviously sad–who isn’t sad that Carnival isn’t going to happen?–it also means that 2022 Carnival will be epic and balls-to-the-wall; I also hate that the last Carnival was the cursed Carnival of 2020. The Historic New Orleans Collection has a great article about the thirteen times parades were cancelled over the 150 years or so we’ve been having Carnival here in New Orleans; naturally, now I am thinking about writing something during a cancelled Carnival of the past.

It’s weird when norms vanish, isn’t it? I would have never dreamed Carnival would ever be cancelled, and yet, here we are.

But will people still turn out in costume on Fat Tuesday? It’s still a holiday, after all, and I can, sadly, see people turning out to drink all day and celebrate.

I meant to read some short stories yesterday, even got started on reading one or two, but after I got home from the gym I wasn’t in the mood and so none of them took with me; I hope to do better with that today. I did make it to the gym last evening, and it was lovely. There’s still some tightness and muscle soreness in my back, but it’s not nearly as bad it was originally, and going to the gym actually made it seem better, to be honest. We watched an episode of The Mandalorian last night–this week’s not being one of the stronger episodes, although the story of the Child progressed a little bit (note to producers: more Giancarlo Esposito, please) and then I fell into a wormhole of Ten Minute History videos on Youtube before retiring for the evening. I do feel very well rested this morning, and not especially groggy; which should bode fairly well for the rest of my day. The lovely thing about this abbreviated and bizarre football season is I am not vested in it other than in watching LSU play; and with the game on early today I should be able to get plenty of things done today (in theory, at least); but seriously, if nothing else, I should be able to make progress on my reading.

And on that note, those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves, alas, so it’s time to mine spice. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

The Chair

I finished reading “Death in Venice” last night, and it occurs to me that I might have been better served rereading “The Masque of the Red Death,” actually. I’ve not read it since high school, and yet it is always there, somehow, in a corner of my mind. There have been several instances, for example, in my life where the story has come to me as the perfect analogy for whatever was going on or whatever situation I found myself in; and its underlying theme–there is no escape from death–is one I’ve always wanted to write about, but whether to do it in fiction or non-fiction form; that is, as ever, the question.

Don’t get me wrong, “Death in Venice” was perfectly fine, and I can see why it is so acclaimed. It didn’t really connect with me as much as I would have liked to engage with it, but Mann’s style is so formal and distant that the characters are kept from the reader as a sort of arm’s length; it’s a very distinct picture of a particular character and I got a very strong sense of who he is from it–but he isn’t someone who particularly interests me very much, nor is the strange obsession with the beautiful young Polish boy Tadzio–absolutely pure, of course, and entirely intellectual; nor sordid thoughts of lust or physical desire to be found on that particular beach on the Lido in Venice, interesting. The extraordinary passivity of the man as he is subconsciously aware that his inability to leave Venice because he must continue to look at, follow, and stalk this teenager will inevitably lead to his death was something I never really quite grasped or understood; perhaps, as ever, I am too stupid to understand the big underlying point of the story, with my low peasant tastes and faulty, not classically educated intellect. It was sort of a Lolita-esque type story, and I think my tastes are too honed to favor writers like du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith to not expect there to be some dark noir twist to it at the end, and to be disappointed to not find it there. (I also thought the whole part of him having his hair dyed and his face painted wasn’t really anything to do with trying to look younger or because Tadzio made him care about his appearance more, so much as it was like getting the corpse ready for the viewing; but your mileage, as always, might vary.)

It has been a long, trying week, and like everyone, I am trying to muddle through the best I can using a combination of judicious amounts of alcohol and prescription medication. I love my day job (although I will now and forever always reserve the right to be highly annoyed by it from time to time), but even under the best of circumstances, it can be emotionally and mentally exhausting–and when you’re both emotionally and mentally exhausted, you feel that way physically as well. I find myself having to force myself to do normal, every day routine things; putting the dishes away seems like an unconquerable chore and when it’s finished, I need to sit for a bit. I watch the clock every night dreading the inevitable time I have to go to bed–because then I have to wake up to what has been almost consistently worse news every morning since before Carnival started, and somehow pull myself together to go to work. I also know that I’m lucky to have a job to go to every day, and I am hopeful I’ll remain lucky.  But…my primary whine now is that I have to get up at six to be at work every day–yesterday, today, and Friday, at any rate–and that just is too early for me to be completely functional. But it beats the twelve hours days I usually put in when I get up this early, I suppose.

Today my goal is to get through most of my emails and try to get some things settled; as much as I can, at any rate, and make some decisions about things I have to make decisions on. Maybe tonight I can get some writing done; if not, I am going to finish reading du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” and reflect on the influence/effect of Venice on not only her two stories (including “Don’t Look Now”, which i reread this past weekend) but on “Death in Venice,” as well as whether I can see influences of the Mann story on her two stories on death in Venice. It’s an intellectual challenge of the sort I used to rather enjoy; the kind of essay and/or article I love to write that no one wants to publish or see from me. (And maybe I can find a copy of the “The Masque of the Red Death” somewhere on line free to download; all of Poe’s work is in the public domain, so it shouldn’t be difficult to locate, frankly.)

At some point I also need to get to work on some of these short stories and the Secret Project again, but who knows when that time will present itself again? I find myself so tired when I get home from the office–at least yesterday, and certainly those days of last week when I went in rather than working from home–and this getting up so goddamned early is also a challenge for me, to not be tired when I get home; although it is rather lovely to get home so quickly, regardless of the time of day.

Last night we continued with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which is truly so much better than I ever dared to hope. It did occur to me last night, as we watched two episodes back-to-back, that the show is following the same trajectory as both Dark Shadows and True Blood–a small town with all the typical dysfunction any soap viewer knows to expect from a show centered in a small town; and how the supernatural aspects begin to amp up in an accelerated fashion once the show actually begins. Dark Shadows brought forth first ghosts and then a phoenix; after that came the vampire and the flood gates opened. Likewise, on True Blood, once Bill the vampire showed up, the little Louisiana town of Bon Temps began the epicenter of all kinds of crazy and bizarre supernatural events and creatures. I understand the necessity of it all, but once you go so far, there’s really no dialing it back. I’m glad they decided to send Sabrina to the witch school and leave her traditional school; by embracing the witch half of DNA and signing her name to the Book of the Beast it defied the way these types of shows usually go, with the mortal half always holding sway over the witch half, and not using her powers, etc. etc. etc.–which has always felt…contrived to me; after all, if Darren had no problem with Samantha being a witch and using her powers, 90% of the plots of Bewitched wouldn’t have been possible. (More on that later–and the implicit sexism of that show, which really needs to be explored.) But we’re enjoying Sabrina, and hoping that it doesn’t eventually–as these shows always, inevitably do–“jump the shark”–which is why we finally stopped watching Supernatural a few years ago (although we still love the show and remember it fondly; we have no desire to go back and watch the last few seasons).

And on that note I now have to go get ready for another day in the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, as much as you can.

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Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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I Just Want to Love You

Oh, Mondays. The start of a new week, a new beginning–as it were, sort of like a mini-New Year’s in some ways. The cycle of employment. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night–I kept waking up, but feel somewhat rested and not mentally fatigued, the way I usually feel on a morning when I have to get up at the crack of dawn (actually, it’s dark outside and so I am getting up before the dawn) when I didn’t sleep well. AH, well, hopefully tonight I will sleep well–I may even try to go to bed earlier than I usually do to try to make up for last night’s not-so-good sleep.

A good friend passed through New Orleans yesterday, so I met him for a beer at the bar on the corner after I worked all morning. I am such a lightweight–the one beer made me slightly tipsy, and so when I got back home I wasn’t really feeling up to getting back to work. it’s fine–I did manage to get a lot done in the morning, and I never feel like I’ve wasted time if progress is made–and most importantly, I’ve almost managed to get my email inbox almost completely emptied out. Of course, when I send the emails I drafted yesterday this morning, they will beget even more emails in response–which is fine. As long as I keep up with them, and don’t allow myself to get overwhelmed by the volume, I won’t get behind again. There are, however, times when I just can’t face my emails.

We watched the figure skating last night before we went to bed; it’s always lovely to watch Nathan Chen be his usual fantastic self, and then it was off to bed. I didn’t make any progress on the Secret Project, which now becomes a priority going forward. I have to get that finished this week so I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows and the short story I need to write by the end of next month. I also didn’t get a chance to read more of Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey, but being social, getting out of the house, and spending time with someone I rarely see was actually quite nice. I do wish, though, that I’d cleaned the kitchen. I hate starting the week with the kitchen a mess. But as I make our lunches I’ll see if I can get the sink cleaned out and the dishes in the dishwasher put away. At least tonight I won’t come home to a messy kitchen in that case.

Such excitement, right? It’s no wonder I can’t sleep, given how massively exciting my life is.

But Carnival is coming–the parades start on Valentine’s Day, and my life will become very complicated again. Our office is now too far for me to ever try to get there and back on foot–being old doesn’t help, either–and so I have to either get off work on parade nights early enough for me to get home before the streets close, or I am trapped; destined to be stuck in traffic while trying to take the only possible exit from the highway into my neighborhood–and then of course parking anywhere is completely impossible. I think I can figure out how to do it all without having to take too much time off work–which is a good thing, as I don’t have enough vacation time this year to take the entire second parade week off–but it’s going to be challenging. Very very challenging. I’ve not wanted to deal with it–as well as making my future travel arrangements for upcoming trips and so forth–but this is the week I need to get this all taken care of, and it’s gone on the list.

And frankly, it’s lovely to have to-do lists that I actually pay attention to and use and cross things off from as they get done. I’ve missed that feeling of accomplishment, frankly. I actually think my additional new responsibilities with Mystery Writers of America is going to help me to get better organized as well as be more productive, because I don’t have a choice. I do better when there’s not a choice, as insane as that probably seems.

And now it’s back to the spice mines. I need to make this week’s to-do list, make sure that I don’t miss anything, and get back to work. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

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Do You Know You Are My Sunshine

Monday morning, and the first full work week of the new year, and the first in over two weeks. It looms large, doesn’t it? Particularly in the enormous disappointment the Saints served up yesterday–outside of sexy Taysom Hill, who looks amazing in those all-white color block uniforms. This was probably the most ambivalent I’ve been about the Saints since before we moved here and become full time Who Dats; I’m not going to rehash any of the preseason stuff about Drew Brees, but yeah–it just never felt the same this year. Hopefully next year I’ll move past it.

At least I have my Sundays back from now on.

Plus, it’s Twelfth Night and the official opening of Carnival. I get to eat king cake now; I bought one on Friday so I could have it with my coffee this morning. Huzzah for king cake!

Overall, I had a very productive weekend, and this is pleasing to mine eyes. I didn’t read much on the Reread Project–although technically reading these Holmes stories is a part of it, I suppose; but I don’t remember much of them from my junior high school days so it’s kind of like reading something new, so I am not counting them as part of the Reread Project.

I read another Sherlock Holmes story yesterday; “The Gloria Scott,” in Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Like the Lyndsay Faye pastiche I read on Saturday, this story is almost entirely told in dialogue; only this time, it is Holmes recounting the story to Watson; which is interesting; odd that two stories I’ve read back to back are told in similar fashion. I doubt very seriously that my Holmes story will be told that way; but I also haven’t written it yet so who knows? I did start writing it yesterday, however; which is a lovely start. I also revised two more chapters of Bury Me in Shadows, and I also got vaguely started on my website writing. I came up with another story idea, “Just Another Night on Bourbon Street,” which was inspired by my reading further in Bourbon Street by Richard Campanella; we’re now up to the arrival of the Mafia in New Orleans. I don’t know much about the Mafia in New Orleans or organized crime; I do know the mob used to own the gay bars in the Quarter, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of then are still used to launder money.

I don’t know that, I just said it wouldn’t surprise me. Particularly when you see how empty most of them are most of the week,

The sun is rising through the trees–I love how it seems like the sun rises over the West Bank, which is actually due south from the Lost Apartment–another one of the geographic nonsensities created here by the twists and turns of the river.

We watched the Golden Globes last night, which was really kind of a waste of time. Paul and I have gradually grown tired of, and bored by, awards shows. We haven’t really stopped watching many of them, we just don’t really get excited about them anymore. The Globes are more fun than the Oscars, because anything can happen there and there’s no real way of predicting who’s going to win–I would have thought, for example, Eddie Murphy was a long-overdue lock, yet the winner was Taron Edgerton for playing Elton John in Rocketman; I don’t think it means he’ll win an Oscar or even be nominated–but after Joaquin Phoenix’ bizarre acceptance speech, I’m not so sure he’s such a lock on the Oscar either. But that’s really about it; that and Renee Zellweger’s also weirdly awkward and slightly embarrassing acceptance speech were the uncomfortable moments of the evening. But it was nice to see 1917 get some attention; I love that one of the main characters is played by the kid who played Tommen on Game of Thrones, and that’s a film Paul and I actually want to see.

And now, back to the spice mines. Have a lovely post-holiday Monday, everyone.

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