Heartbreaker

Adjusting to normality after the madness of Carnival is never an easy thing to do.

Fortunately, it always involves a short work week–three days–and before I know it the weekend will be here and Monday will be when things really get back to normal around here.

In other exciting news, my own Mardi Gras Mambo was included in a round-up of crime novels set during Carnival, along with noted writers whom I admire, such as Bill Loefhelm, James Sallis, James Lee Burke and Barbara Hambly, among others. (You can check out the entire list here.)

Isn’t that lovely? It’s always nice–and a bit of a surprise–when I find myself on lists like this, whether it’s “gay crime writers” or “books about New Orleans” or “New Orleans crime writers” or pretty much anything, really. I must confess, whenever I see a list where I could be included and am not, it always stings a little bit; I suppose that’s something I will never get used to…and I always wonder, is it because I’m gay? Do queer writers not count? Of course when it’s a list of queer writers it can be a bit maddening, but if you let things like that derail you or hurt your feelings…you’re in the wrong business.

You have to not let the exclusions bother you and celebrate the inclusions…which isn’t easy.

Yesterday was a day of utter discombobulation as I tried (and failed, really) to adapt back to my work schedule, which means I did go to work but the rest of my life floundered around the edges. I didn’t even get around to answering emails yesterday, which was a priority, or paying the bills. But this morning I paid the bills (which is always a crushing blow on pay day) and have another hour or so before I have to get ready for work–so the goal is to tear through my emails and get as many answered as possible.

Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also started rereading Bury Me in Shadows last night; and yes, the first chapter is, as I feared, a total mess–but it’s fixable, and I am going to continue rereading those first ten chapters this week and work on fixing them before moving on to the rest of the book. I just need to get past this weird feeling leftover from Carnival, where I don’t feel like I am actually a part of my life but am kind of drifting alongside it, observing but not participating in it, if that makes any weird kind of sense.

But I am hoping today will sort that out. The kitchen is a mess–I did the dishes when I got home last night, but there still is a mess everywhere in here and the floor needs to be done–and get some more things sorted and organized. I slept really well last night and didn’t want to get out of bed this morning; tomorrow is a get up at the crack of dawn morning but it’s also only half-a-day, so I am going to try to get all my errands done tomorrow afternoon on the way home from work so as to be able to, once again, not leave the house this weekend.

I find that I really do enjoy those weekends when I don’t leave the house.

I also managed to read another short story last night, from Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There?, titled “The Bird Bath”:

Opening her door for the first time to Mr. Mitson, Mrs. Pryor felt a sense of recoil. He looked like a tramp of the kind not often seen nowadays. He had a very red face, sharp red-rimmed little eyes, and a week’s growth of beard. He wore a dirty old army greatcoat, made for a bigger man, and a hat which had long ago lost its original color and shape. He smelled strongly of beer.

Nearby, however, actually in her tiny drive, stood a reassuring sight, a white pony, plump and shiny and with the placid look of a well-treated animal. Attached to the pony was a small cart, bearing in white paint the words–J. Mitson, Dealer. This morning J. Mitson was dealing in firewood.

Over the next few days, as the widowed Mrs. Pryor settles into her new home–having returned to England after years abroad with her husband–in East Anglia, Mr. Mitson keeps coming back and selling her things…with the final thing he sells her being a strange bird bath; a plinth with a wide open space at the top.

And that’s when things get interesting.

Another enjoyable, Gothic style, softly whispering ghost story. I love that Lofts isn’t into outright horror or jump scares, but like The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House, her whispered stories make the hair stand on end and the skin crawl.

SO glad I got this book!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Misunderstanding

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday, every one!

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How Do I Make You

My last day of work before my Carnival vacation. It’s a long day; roughly eight am to eight pm, one of the notorious twelve hour days. But I slept really well last night, and while it’s gloomy and rainy and gray and a bit chilly out there, I am in a good mood and feel rested. Thunderstorms are forecast for the entire weekend of Carnival. I’m not sure what that’s going to do to the parade schedule, but adaptation is always necessary when it comes to the weather here. I just pray Endymion doesn’t rain out, so they wind up rescheduling to follow Bacchus on Sunday down St. Charles. That’s happened before, and it’s always a nightmare. The parade never finishes before three in the morning, and seriously–Sunday is already non-stop parades all day.

I did no revising yesterday. Shameful, I know, I was in a fairly good mood but completely unmotivated. I didn’t even read anything yesterday. Horrific, I know. I did start doing some laundry last night but didn’t finish, either. I am going to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home from work and get some things; at some point over the next few days I am probably going to make a Costco run as well. As always, I have a sink full of dishes and at least two loads of laundry to finish…

Ah, the excitement! I can only hope I won’t be too overstimulated to sleep.

I also think I am going to use this vacation time–I am out of the office from tomorrow until Ash Wednesday–to head back to the gym. I stretched a little yesterday morning, and it felt fantastic; at the very least, even if I can’t drag my enormous and ever-growing ass to the gym to do weights every day, I should at least stretch because it feels good and I love doing it. Seriously. I actually LIKE lifting weights and working out; I don’t know why I have so many issues with actually DOING it.

But that’s everything in my life, isn’t it? I love writing. I love revising. I love cleaning. I love cooking. I love working out. So why do I never want to do any of those things, and when I do them it’s always grudgingly?

So, my goals over the vacation are these: finish revising Scotty and get it to my editor; get back to writing the WIP; finish reading Lori Roy’s brilliant Gone Too Long; clean and organize the entire house; get my car washed (I parked it under a tree; you can guess the rest); get my brake tag; go to Costco and eat at Five Guys; and start working out again. I think I can make all these things happen, and hopefully once I am working out again I will continue working out. I don’t really need to lower my BMI all that much to trim off the excess fatty tissue; the problem with the size gains I’ve made over the last seven years or so is any excess fat makes it ALL look like fat. Heavy sigh.

I CAN DO IT.

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

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Desire

It’s a lovely morning, with a blue sky and the sun shining, and it might be a bit chillier than it was yesterday–but the high is forecast for the seventies and there’s no rain in the forecast.

I slept deeply and well last night, partly from exhaustion. Paul, of course, is in the final weeks before the Festival so has been working late at the office and then staying up till the wee hours of the morning working at home, so yesterday he was catching up on sleep most of the day so I was, alas, without my trusted parade route partner as I wandered down to the corner for the Pontchartrain and Choctaw parades. I did well for myself with bead-and-throw catching, but it started sprinkling while I waited for the third parade, so I walked back home. As soon as I sat down in my easy chair, however, exhaustion set in. My legs and lower back were aching, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip the next parade. As Sparta and Pygmalion were coming later, I started watching Versailles and actually got through three episodes. Paul got ready for the night parades…and it started raining. There was also thunder here–which also means lightning–and I decided that it simply didn’t make sense to stand in the rain and possibly catch a chill that would ruin the rest of the season, so I remained ensconced under my blanket in my easy chair and watched television: the CNN docuseries The 2000’s is very well done. This morning my back is still a bit sore and all the joints of my leg–hip, knee, ankle–ache a bit; but I have far too many friends riding in King Arthur to skip that one today.

And I also go on my little staycation on Wednesday, so there’s that, as well.

I do love parade season, I have to say. I may even have to write another Scotty-at-Mardi-Gras book at some point.

Or just some Mardi Gras set book. I could write a hundred books or stories about Mardi Gras and never really cover it all, you know.

How I do love New Orleans.

I also managed to revise a chapter of Scotty yesterday; I should be able to do another this morning as well. I read some more of Lori Roy’s superb Gone Too Long while I was grilling yesterday; it’s most excellent and you need to preorder it immediately. I also managed to get some emails cleaned out; hope to do some more this morning as well as reading the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, and perhaps another Norah Lofts ghost story.

I suppose I’ll watch the Oscars tonight after the parades. It’s really not much fun anymore, as all the pre-awards kind of take all the suspense and excitement out of the Oscars. The acting winners will be Regina King (who deserves all the awards), Mahershala Ali, Glenn Close, and Rami Malek, barring the every-once-in-a-blue-moon surprise. I’ll probably read while it’s on…although I’d love to see Olivia Colman win; not only was she amazing in The Favourite but her acceptance speeches are pure gold. But Glenn Close is way overdue; she should have won for both (or either) Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, which I’d actually like to watch again.

And now, I am waking up and needing some sustenance; perhaps some peanut butter toast or a bowl of honey-nut Cheerios?

And then it’s back to the spice mines.

Happy Carnival, all!

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This Town

As I have mentioned before, I kind of invited myself to contribute to this anthology. It’s probably the single most brazen thing I’ve ever done as a writer. I’m not sure how it happened, exactly; I just saw it on Twitter or something and shamelessly contacted Holly West, who–rather than saying who the fuck are you? HELL FUCKING NO, was quite gracious and said, “By all means! I have a spot for you!”

The songs I got to choose from were three of my favorites, but I eventually decided on “This Town,” after reviewing the lyrics:

We all know the chosen toys 
Of catty girls and pretty boys 
Make up that face 
Jump in the race 
Life’s a kick in this town 
Life’s a kick in this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us
Change the lines that were said before 
We’re all dreamers – we’re all whores 
Discarded stars 
Like worn out cars 
Litter the streets of this town 
Litter the streets of this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

 

 “We’re all dreamers–we’re all whores”–that was the line that sold me; this was the song I was going to use.

But despite the fact that was the line that convinced me, these lines:

Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

were the ones that actually inspired my story.

cover-west-murder-go-gos-frontOur IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, his bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, his bored eyes just flicked over the lami- nate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about every- thing. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitat- ed. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up ran down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our arm- pits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic. They only no- ticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking sec- ond place because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

She was Celia, and we were better for knowing her, special for being her sisters, like she’d selected us to be pledges and not the actives.

She somehow even knew the best places to catch the parades at our first Mardi Gras and wasn’t from New Orleans.

Haven’t we all known a girl like Celia, the one who somehow always knows what the next thing is, who always wears new styles and fashions before anyone else, who always seems to know where the best parties are, where to find the cute guys, the one everyone is drawn to, who draws the eye, who is the center of attention?

I was in a fraternity in college, and another trope that pops up regularly in my fiction is college Greeks–fraternities and sororities. Chanse was an alum of an LSU fraternity (I have an in-progress short story where Chanse deals with the current day members of his old fraternity after a suspicious death on Big Brother Night, “Once a Tiger”), and of course there are the Todd Gregory fraternity novels. Sororities fascinated me back then, and they still do today; they were a lot stricter than their male counterparts back when I was in college, and still seemed stuck, rules and tradition-wise, in the 1950’s.

Anyway, one day during Carnival last year I was standing under the balcony in front of the praline shop during a Saturday afternoon parade–Iris, I think it was–when a gaggle of sorority girls passed by in front of me. The clear leader of the pack was a beautiful young woman the others were clearly trying to please and impress; the alpha to their betas. They all paused right next to me so the leader could light a cigarette. As she put her cigarette in her purse three men of varying ages immediately stepped up to light her cigarette for her–one was in his fifties, one was slightly older than the girls, and another who might have been in his thirties–and I remembered another golden girl from a sorority back when I was in college…and I wondered what it would be like to be, not the alpha girl, but one of the betas, caught up in her thrall, and what you might be willing to do  for your alpha. Is it peer pressure, is it desire to please, what precisely is it that keeps you in thrall and makes you do things against your nature?

And that night, I started writing “This Town.”

The great irony, of course, was that after I’d written the story and Holly graciously agreed to use it in her anthology, I was reading William J. Mann’s Edgar-winning Tinseltown and realized that “this town” has a specific connotation, one that makes the song itself make even greater sense: “this town” is how people in Los Angeles refer to show business, i.e. “you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.” I’d even know that, from years of reading biographies and memoirs and histories of Hollywood and the studio system, but…my mind and my memory is a sieve these days.

But I’m very proud of my story, and I hope that you will like it, too, when you get a chance to read it.

Romeo’s Tune

It’s PARADE SEASON, boys and girls!

Tomorrow’s afternoon parades were moved up an hour due to the possibility of inclement weather–which does rather make one wonder about the evening parades–but tis Carnival Season in New Orleans, so the weather is what it is, and we celebrate and enjoy around it. I mean, it usually rains during Jazz Fest, too. And I don’t think I ever remember a Carnival season where there wasn’t at least one cold, rainy night for parades.

The weather has been interesting lately; what I like to call New Orleans Gothic. It’s gray, rainy and warm during the day, and then the fogs rolls in as the sun goes down and it gets about ten degrees cooler. The cloud cover reflects the lights, so the clouds above at night aren’t dark but strange, light shades of orange and pinks and blues, yet closer to the ground, beneath the live oaks, its dark and the fog wraps itself around things so things begin to disappear about five feet or so ahead of you.

As I drove home from work and running errands late yesterday afternoon I began to notice the tell-tale signs; portable fencing lined up on neutral grounds, ready to be put into place for the parades. More and more houses are hanging Carnival flags and putting up their decorations. Fences are festooned with beads glittering in the sun when it peeks through the clouds for a moment or two. The grocery stores have, of course, been stocking King cakes since before Christmas, and everything you would need to party outdoors for days on end are on prominent display throughout the stores. The mood of the city is also starting to lift, which is always lovely.

New Orleans is always in a state of flux; but change seems to come slower here than it does in other places, and there’s always some resistance to those changes. I was thinking the other day that the New Orleans of today is so vastly different than the New Orleans I moved to all those years ago, that I fell in love with even longer ago. But no matter what, it’s always New Orleans here; there are some things that never change, that never go away. The friendliness, for one, and that peculiar to New Orleans us against the rest of the world mentality I’ve never really experienced anywhere else; the way the city will fight and squabble and complain and argue and bicker, but band together as one against outsiders. (In some ways, the Saints are the embodiment of this particular virtue, but that’s a subject for another time.)

I was at the office a mere two hours this morning, which I spent doing odds-and-ends I’m responsible for, and then hit the grocery store on my way home since I won’t be able to get anywhere this weekend. It’s warm–low seventies–but yeesh, is it ever muggy out there! I was sweating bringing the groceries in from the car, which…I mean, it’s still February. But I got enough stuff to get us through until the staycation next week starts.

I also read another one of Norah Lofts’ ghost stories from Hauntings: Is There Anybody There?, titled “Victorian Echo:”

When my great-aunt Julia died she was eighty-seven, and she had attained her last objective, which was to die in her own house.

She left far more money than anyone would have expected. Most of it went to rather obscure charities, but she left her house, its contents, and a thousand pounds to me; a surprise, and a very pleasant one. She had always lived rather parsimoniously; I had sometimes wondered if she had enough to eat and on my visits had taken food, making rather thin excuses.

Jon and I went out to look at my inheritance on a Sunday, the only day on which we were both free. It was mid-March, a sunny, windy, hopeful day with catkins in th ehedges and primroses in the ditches. Joe did not know the house well; he had come with me a time or two, but Julia disliked him and showed it.

Norah Lofts’ ghost stories are more Gothic than scary; her goal isn’t necessarily to give you a jump scare, but rather to get under your skin and make it crawl just a little bit. Her Victorian style of writing is absolutely perfect for this; she’s very much in the school of The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson in that way. For our happily married young couple in this story, pinching pennies to make ends meet, this inheritance of a house and a small fortune is indeed a blessing for them…until they start to notice that their behavior changes when they are actually inside the house…

Great, great fun.

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Daydream Believer

Thursday morning, Constant Reader–we’ve almost made it through the week, and the Carnival parades start tomorrow night! Woo-hoo! I am more excited about this than I probably should be, but I am also going to be on vacation for the entire second week of parades, which means this is the first year I am not going to have to deal with getting to and from work around the parades, and being bone-tired exhausted from all the walking I’ll have to do to get to and from work.

Huzzah!

I did manage to get that chapter finished yesterday, and will try to get another one done today–at least one. Today is, of course, a half-day; I am going to probably stop at Rouse’s on my way home from work to get some things, and will have to make groceries tomorrow in the afternoon as well. Today’s grocery run will be minor; mostly to get a few odds and ends, while tonight I will make a thorough list to get us through until next Wednesday, which will be the next time I’ll get to stop at the grocery store. Then again, we do have a tendency to eat a lot of corn dogs and funnel cakes during the parades…yay for healthy eating!

Last night when we got home from work, we talked about panels and scheduling for Saints and Sinners–Paul’s been working very hard lately, and continuing to work when we get home, so we haven’t really had much chance to hang out and reconnect for the last month or so; so last night was rather lovely.

Yesterday was a tragic day for us New Orleanians; a beautiful historic old home on St, Charles Avenue, commonly known as the “Rex House”–a former King of Rex lived there, and it had become tradition for the Rex parade to stop in front of it so the current King could toast the family there–caught fire and burned. It was a five alarm fire; it took six hours to get under control, and you could literally smell smoke all day all over Uptown; we could still smell it when we got home last night. (Several years ago an abandoned historic church a few blocks away from us also caught fire and the blaze lasted for hours; interestingly enough, where that church once was is now condos.) This made me think about fires in New Orleans. I’ve written two books built around famous fires in New Orleans–Jackson Square Jazz and Murder in the Rue Chartres–and this reminded me that in the first years we lived here, there had been an arsonist in our neighborhood. I don’t remember if the arsonist was ever caught, but the fires stopped. Fires are taking very seriously here, and arson is one of the worst crimes one could commit here; with our old wooden homes and buildings, it’s not difficult for fires to spread and become horrifying conflagrations. Our fire department doesn’t get nearly enough love or appreciation here–they do get quite a bit, but it’s never enough, frankly. It wouldn’t be too difficult for the entire city to go up in flames…Christopher Rice wrote about that in his debut novel, A Density of Souls, where a bomb went off in a gay bar in the Quarter and the explosion spread the fire. I remember reading the first sentence of the chapter after the bomb went off: The French Quarter was burning. 

Just typing those words gave me the shivers.

And now, I am going to finish cleaning the dishes and get ready for my short day at work. Have a lovely day Constant Reader!

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