Wednesday and somehow it’s pay-the-bills day again, but it’s also the first of March. February was clearly a write-off for me on almost every level, so March is going to have to be a “get your shit together” month for me. I am hoping that I will get a lot done this weekend, too. Fingers crossed, at any rate.
I went down a wormhole the other day; I’m not really sure how I wound up where I did, but I know I was thinking about places I’d lived (the Mom thing again) and so was looking at our suburb in Chicago, the county in Kansas, and so forth. So you can imagine my shock and surprise when I came across an article about an eighth grader in my old school district in Kansas being victimized by homophobia. (Homophobia in Kansas doesn’t surprise me–I experienced it first hand for five years–but what surprised me was an eighth grader in my old school district is an out lesbian. Long story short, kids on the bus were being kids on the bus (I do not miss riding the bus) and swearing, etc. At some point there were some slurs being tossed about, and as the young girl responded, “There’s nothing wrong with being a lesbian. I’m a lesbian” at a time when the bus had one of those moments where everything goes silent for a moment. The bus driver, being garbage, thought that was horrifying (as the security videos from the bus later showed, said bus driver had no problem with junior high and elementary school kids yelling fuck and asshole and faggots and the n-word; no, the girl said lesbian so she must be punished. The school district didn’t even review the tapes, and despite having a three-strikes policy for bus riders; decided her saying lesbian was three strikes and she was banned for a week from riding the bus. The family appealed to the principal,. who refused to even review the tapes; the family went to the school board and the press–and it became a thing. Cheerleaders at my old high school wore rainbow ribbons in their hair to show support at games (way to go, cheerleaders!) and parents and teachers got involved. A library aide who was giving out rainbow pins at my school was fired; which triggered resignations from the teaching staff. Finally, the ACLU got involved, and the principal–who was being transferred in a big promotion to Emporia High–and the bus driver were terminated, and the school board rescinded the principal’s job offer at Emporia High. The eighth grader did eventually switch schools, but finally got justice of a sort.
And shortly thereafter, she went missing. There are no news reports that she’s been found since she was reported missing, which is heartbreaking and sad.
And of course, my mind started whirling about another Kansas book for me based on this story. But I don’t have a title for it…and I can’t write anything without a title. But I have a lot of other things I need to do before I can even think about writing this book, but I can start doing research when I have a spare moment or am too tired to read or focus on a movie or TV show.
And at least I am thinking creatively again, which feels lovely. I’ve been rather listless since getting back to New Orleans, but I am hoping that settling back into my daily routine of getting up in the dark and going to the office every day will snap me back into my reality. I’d like to wash the car and clean it out this weekend, and I should probably do more cleaning up around the house this weekend. I want to start eating healthier than I have been (my weight has been out of control for far too long) but I also know that I need to start exercising more. I think I am going to start doing crunches and stretching every day while waiting to find out what’s the deal with my big toe (reasons to succeed, not excuses for failing). I think I may go to Urgent Care on Friday morning before work–on the other hand, I could also go tonight; they’re open until 8…but I also don’t want to take a chance on having to go somewhere this evening for X-rays, either. Heavy sigh. Why am I so bad at making decisions for my personal life? Why do I actively avoid making decisions in my private life?
Probably because I have such a shitty track record with decision making. What can I say? It is what it is.
At least I slept well last night. I was exhausted when I got home yesterday. The dryer fuse arrived in the mail yesterday but I was too worn out to bother with trying to move the dryer and fix it; that will be a chore for Friday morning, methinks. I did finish a load of laundry in the carriage house last night and emptied the dishwasher, preparatory to refilling it…but I got so tired standing at the sink washing the dishes that I gave up part of the way through and left them to soak until I get home tonight, which should make washing them all that much easier. I did provide Scooter with a sleeping lap while I watched some documentaries on Youtube; don’t ask me what they were because I don’t remember a whole lot of them (I told you I was tired last night) but I know I watched some of History Guy’s biographies of past presidents–definitely Benjamin Harrison (we have the same birthday, over a century apart–but I’m also not sure what else I watched, either. I tend to mindlessly scroll through social media on my iPad while I am sitting there watching the videos so that could also have something to do with it. I’ve also decided that my next read with be Bobby Mathews’ Living the Gimmick (I think that’s the title; I know it’s verb the Gimmick), which is set in the world of professional wrestling in Alabama, which should be very interesting. I read the opening paragraph last night and really liked it, so hopefully when I get home tonight I won’t be too tired to watch. I know Paul won’t be home early enough to watch The Mandalorian tonight, which means I have to avoid spoilers everywhere until this weekend when we will be able to watch.
But today I feel rested and wide awake and ready to go; we were also terribly busy yesterday at the office; the first time in years we’ve had a full schedule of someone booked every half hour (we went back to the old “someone every half hour” in January), so I was rather hopping yesterday at work, and being so tired really didn’t help; although I did get a jolt of adrenaline at some point that rode me through the afternoon until I was completely exhausted at the end of my work day.
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Hopefully tonight, I will have the energy to get things done that need to get done and be productive again. Have a great Wednesday, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.
I always forget this when I am asked about major influences on my life, writing, and career–but probably the biggest influence on me was the television soap Dark Shadows.
“My name is Victoria Winters…”
So began the first episode, with young heroine Victoria speaking over some rather spooky music, usually with a background scene of a light in the window at the great house of Collinwood in the fog, or waves crashing against the beach, or the family cemetery, or even the Old House.
Dark Shadows is probably the root or seed from which Bury Me in Shadows was grown from, now that I think about it more. A haunted old house, an even older house in ruins nearby in the woods that was the original family home, ghosts and secrets from the past–oh yes, the framework is absolutely there, and it never even occurred to me.
When my sister and I were kids, we moved to Chicago from Alabama. I was about two years old, give or take; I don’t remember moving up there nor do I remember ever living in Alabama; my sister was two years older. My parents both got jobs–the point of the move was for climbing the economic ladder; they both got really good jobs in factories while my dad finished his degree. But because they both worked (our friends and neighbors all felt sorry for us because our mom had to work; their moms all were housewives), we needed to be watched while they weren’t home. Our landlady recommended a woman down the street–a mother of six whose two youngest were in their last years of high school–and so we started spending our days with Mrs. Harris, who fed us breakfast and lunch, and Mom would pick us up on her way home from the bus stop. When we started school, we went there for breakfast and lunch but came home after school; school let out at 3:15 and Mom was usually home by 3:30. But it was Mrs. Harris–and my grandmother, who worked a night shift–who got me started watching soaps in the first place. One Life to Life and General Hospital sort of held my attention, but it was Dark Shadows I couldn’t wait for. I used to run home from school to try to catch the last five or ten minutes during school; it wasn’t a problem during the summer.
I loved Dark Shadows.
I was crushed when it was canceled.
I mean, look at that house!!!!
The show wasn’t canceled, although the ratings were starting to slide a bit in the later years. The truism that Dark Shadows‘ producers and writers discovered is one that practically every other continuing series having to deal with the supernatural and supernatural creatures has had to deal with: how do you keep topping yourself and raising the stakes? True Blood, Supernatural, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and countless others have all run headfirst into that wall. Once you’ve done time travel and vampires and witches and werewolves and Frankenstein and other dimensions, what is left to do? I admire them for pulling the plug rather than getting more and more desperate to get the ratings up and eventually damaging the legacy of the show.
The show was a phenomenon the likes of which had never really been seen before in daytime–and the lesson learned from its success (go for the young audience!) would soon lead to the creation of youth-oriented shows like All My Children and The Young and the Restless–and of course in the mid-1970’s soaps would be forever changed when General Hospital introduced the character of teenager Laura Webber, played by an actual teenager, Genie Francis–and daytime was never the same. But Dark Shadows managed something that other soaps hadn’t–they created teen idols. Jonathan Frid as Barnabas, David Selby as Quentin, and even David Hennessey as David Collins were often on the covers of teen magazines like Tiger Beat and 16. The show even licensed FAN FICTION–a series of books based on the characters from the show, but thanks to all the fun stuff with time travel and parallel dimensions, Dark Shadows was perfect for spin-off books that took place in other Dark Shadows universe; one could even say Dark Shadows was one of the first shows to make use of a multi-verse.
The books were cheap–as you can see in the picture above (a copy sent to me by a friend with whom I bonded over our mutual love of the show) they ran between fifty cents and seventy-five cents a copy; they all had that same gold bordered cover with an oval image of characters from the show, and they were all written by “Marilyn Ross”, which was a pen name for a very prolific Canadian author named William Edward Daniel Ross; he wrote over three hundred novels during his career, and Marilyn Ross was the name he used for Gothics–and the Dark Shadows books. (He also wrote as Clarissa Ross, and I read some of those novels as well, including The Spectral Mist.) They also weren’t particularly well written, and while they did take place outside the show’s continuity, there were also moments in some of them that didn’t make sense; in one of them, in which Barnabas shows up at Collinwood in the 1910’s, the only son of the family dies in a tragic accident…but if he was the only son, where did the present day Collinses come from? (The earlier books were told from the perspective of Victoria Winters, and in some cases the gimmick was some member of the family was telling Victoria a story about the family history.)
That’s the kind of shit that drives me insane.
But I remember when one of the off-brand television channels in Chicago (not affiliated with a major network) started running repeats of Dark Shadows from the very beginning when we lived in the suburbs in the evenings while the networks ran the evening news–guess what I was watching instead? Yup, Dark Shadows. (I always found it interesting, too, that the young actress who played Victoria Winters originally–Alexandra von Moltke–eventually became infamous as Klaus von Bulow’s mistress Alexandra Isles, who was, in the prosecutor’s theory, the reason Klaus injected Sunny with enough insulin to induce the coma from which she never woke up. But I digress.
I always wanted to write a vampire story similar to that of Barnabas Collins; I have an entire idea for a rural Louisiana version called Bayou Shadows that I’ve tinkered with off and on since the early 1990’s…but then Charlaine Harris started the Sookie Stackhouse series, which was essentially the same thing. I still might write about Bayou Shadows–the town called that has popped up from time to time in my books about New Orleans and Louisiana; most recently in A Streetcar Named Murder, actually–and if people think I’m ripping off Charlaine, so be it.
I’ll know that I’m really ripping off Dark Shadows.
The show also spawned two feature films, Night of Dark Shadows and House of Dark Shadows, each featuring one of the show’s leading men, Jonathan Frid and David Selby, respectively; the first did far better than the second. The show was revived in prime time for a single season in the late 1980’s; I watched it and loved it, of course–even got Paul to watch when it became available on DVD and I rewatched. I wish that show had been given more of a chance, because it was really quite good, and I was curious to see where the story went from that first season. It also had an excellent cast, including Hammer Film star Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia Hoffman. I did watch the Tim Burton film from this century, which had some clever moments but wasn’t quite as good; it went for the silly parody thing The Brady Bunch movies of the 1990’s did, but it didn’t land. The actress who played villainess Angelique in the original series, Lara Parker, has also written some Dark Shadows novels (I have copies but haven’t read them; I really should). Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played the original Maggie Evans on the soap (and in the first film) also has written novels; she was at Long Beach Bouchercon, where I met her and got a signed copy of her book Down and Out in Beverly Heels. She was lovely and couldn’t have been nicer; I really should read that book someday.
I’ve had Dark Shadows on my mind lately because I bonded with Carol Goodman at Bouchercon over our mutual love of Dark Shadows, and the Scotty book still in draft form takes place mostly in a rural parish outside of New Orleans; not the same parish where Bayou Shadows is located, but the next one over.
Sometimes I think it would be fun to reboot the show again, retelling the original story, or picking up from where the television series ended, or even doing a new generation, some forty years later, with David Collins as an adult with children and so forth…Carol and I have joked about coming up with a concept and trying to sell it and be the showrunners…which would be a dream.
As you will recall, That Bitch Ford got me to come down around eight for coffee, and then we started exploring and eating our way through Manhattan (I’ve now had Irish pub food, Chinese, and Cuban), and of course we saw Hadestown last night, which was FANTASTIC. I knew it was the Orpheus story, and as I said to TBF afterwards, “You know, I was thinking as the show started that writing a musical in which there has to be a song so amazing that it would enchant Hades–a god–and convince him to let Eurydice go is really setting the bar high for the guys writing the score” but you know, it worked. It’s a beautiful show, just gorgeous, and the cast was fantastically talented and the production was incredible–choreographing dancing and singing on a stage that is moving pretty quickly is not easy–but my favorites were Hades and Persephone. He was a hot silver fox daddy, and the voice on Persephone? I kept thinking to myself, how is this talent not a major recording star? They were all wonderful, and ironically the actors playing Orpheus and Eurydice were the understudies, and all I could think was these two weren’t talented enough to be MAIN CAST? WOW. It was a spectacular evening, and as TBF said in his Facebook post of the two of us sitting in the theater before the proverbial curtain going up (they didn’t have one), sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of what humans can create in this world. I also loved that the sets, the costumes, and the music all had a New Orleans/Storyville/jazz age feel to it, as well, and it was very easy for me to believe it was actually set in New Orleans because it works.
Seriously, if you come to New York and have a chance to see Hadestown, do it. You won’t regret it–and you can thank me later.
I generally don’t like movie musicals (there are some exceptions, but it is safe to assume going in that if it’s a musical movie I probably didn’t or won’t like it–Cabaret and Chicago are notable exceptions), but as I was greatly enjoying the show yesterday I realized that musicals really work best (at least in my mind) on stage, where they originated. In a theater, with live performances, it’s much easier to suspend the belief that people will suddenly break into song and everyone around will suddenly turn into a singing and dancing flash mob than it is in a movie–at least that’s the logic in my brain.
And yes, this is me, the one and only Gregalicious, raving about a musical. NOW I WANT TO SEE ALL THE MUSICALS CURRENTLY PLAYING ON BROADWAY. Gah. I guess the Broadway musical gene was always there, it just needed to be activated…
Regardless, when I dragged myself up to my room after walking back from the theater I was exhausted. I had insomnia on Wednesday night, which made yesterday seem even longer than it was. At one point my Fitbit actually went off to let me know I’d made my “step goal” for the day (I never make it, and it’s arbitrarily set for the goal it had when it was made rather than one I set, and I only wear one because it helps with the health insurance costs–having it and syncing it to its app, which feeds into the insurance company’s website, is all that’s necessary. It would make more sense to me if it were more performance based–which would get me to actually go for walks–but it’s not). I did manage to sleep much better last night that the night before, which is lovely. I just went down and had breakfast and a lot of coffee and have some down time. I am going to try to get some writing done before I have to do anything else–yay down time!–and get cleaned up for tonight. Although lying down sounds awfully appealing. Maybe I’ll just read a bit before hitting the shower…I don’t know; I’ve been so on the go since I got here it’s odd to actually have some free time. I definitely do not want to go anywhere or do any walking, so relaxing is probably the way to go here.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone!
So, when Ellen Byron was preparing to interview me for our live stream event from Murder by the Book, she sent me some questions to prepare myself with. They were good questions, actually, and I thought that taking time to answer them when I can think about the responses would be an excellent BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION post.
So, without further ado, here we go!
What inspired your book? Series premise and the specific story?
That’s an interesting story, actually. I had been toying with the idea of writing a cozy for a long time–I’ve always liked them–but never was sure I could do it; there were rules, after all, and I’m terrible about following rules, always have been. Several friends have been encouraging me for years to do it, but I always hesitated. It was (I thought) outside of my comfort zone, and while I would toy with ideas here and there, none ever came to anything. My partner’s office is near a costume shop, and he’d had to go in there one day for some reason or another, and as is his wont, he struck up a conversation with an employee about the costume business, how they made money, how they stayed open all year, etc etc etc. He’s very curious. Anyway, that night I mentioned to him that someone had yet again suggested I write a cozy, and he wasn’t sure what one was, so I gave him a thumbnail overview, and he said, “Oh, you should do a costume shop” and proceeded to tell me about his conversation with the shop employee. I agreed it was an interesting idea, and stowed it away in the back of my head for future reference, and would think about it now and then, come up with characters and a community for the main character to be a part of, and so on. But at the same time I kept thinking New Orleans wasn’t the right place for a cozy series–basically looking for ways to fail instead of reasons to succeed, which is the underlying theme of my life, really–and so it went. An editor I’ve worked with before was interested in the idea of my writing a cozy series, so I wrote up a proposal and sent it off. They liked it, but couldn’t sign it, and recommended I take it somewhere else, so I did. It evolved from a costume shop to an antique shop during the process of me signing a contract with Crooked Lane; they liked everything about my idea except for the shop itself, so I had to change that. I went down to Magazine Street and walked for a block, writing down every kind of shop I saw, and sent the list in–and we all came to an agreement about the series being structured around an antiques business. As for the story, well, I wanted to talk about and explore the gentrification of New Orleans that has been ongoing almost this entire century, and how real estate has just exploded around here. (It still staggers me that our rent was $450 when we first moved here; the lowest rent I’ve seen advertised in our neighborhood is around $1500 for less than thousand square feet. Our original apartment now rents for $2500 per month now, which is insane.) What happens to Valerie–the fear of a new tax assessment pricing her out of her house–actually happened to a friend of mine; and the prices just seem to keep going up all the time. You can’t even buy a condo in my neighborhood for less than $350, 000 now–the asking prices for houses in the neighborhood are completely insane. Every time I see a new listing in the neighborhood for half a million dollars or more I think, we really should have bought when we moved here–but home-ownership is New Orleans isn’t something Paul or I have ever been terribly interested in. Termites, tornados, hurricanes, floods, black mold–no thanks! But man, what a return on our investment had we bought in 1996!
We both write series set in New Orleans. Why do you find it so inspiring? Especially when you’ve lived in so many other places?
I’ve lived all over the country–we’re from Alabama, and I’ve lived in Chicago on the south side, the suburbs, Kansas, Fresno, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis and then New Orleans. New Orleans is the only place I’ve ever been to where I felt like I belonged, where I fit in; where I didn’t seem like the eccentric one. New Orleans embraces its eccentrics and doesn’t judge them, and I like that. I knew that first time I came here on my birthday in 1994 that if I moved here all my dreams would come true. And they have, which has been kind of lovely. And no writer could ever exhaust the inspiration New Orleans provides. I’ve written fifteen books set here and countless short stories at this point, and haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve never written about the music scene here, for one glaring example, or restaurants or the food industry or…you see what I mean? There’s not enough time in my life to write everything I want to about New Orleans.
Tell us about your protagonist. Where did the inspiration for her come from?
My sister never had any interest in going to college or having any kind of career other than being a wife and mother. She was a straight A student and had numerous scholarship offers, but had little to no interest. I used to always think she had wasted her potential, but gradually came to the realization that she has the life she always wanted when she was growing up, and has never missed having a career outside of the home–so rather than feeling bad about her lost potential, I should have been happy that her dreams came true. I started thinking about that more, and thought that would make a great starting place–a woman like my sister who wasn’t really very interested in college but went because it was expected of her…only to fall in love, get married, and drop out when she had twins. I really like the idea of a woman who’s not yet thirty, who wasn’t really sure what she wanted from life and then sidetracked to wife-and-mother, but with her kids now off to college and her husband having died…what do you do for the rest of your life when you’re a widow at thirty-eight and your kids have left for college? And the more I thought about her, the more I liked her and wanted to write about her.
Why did you choose the Irish Channel as the neighborhood?
My Scotty series is set in the French Quarter, and the Chanse series was set in the lower Garden District (where I’ve always lived and always default to it for that very reason), so I wanted to do something different this time out. Before I moved here, I had friends who lived in the Channel and I loved their house and I loved their neighborhood. I had already started writing a novella set in their old house, and I thought, why not use that same house for this series? The Channel did used to be considered a bad part of town, too, when we first moved here (so was the lower Garden District, which we didn’t know), and so I thought the gentrification issue would work better there than in my neighborhood. That part of the Channel is one I used to spend a lot of time in. As my character mentions in the book, I used to hang out at the Rue de la Course coffee shop at the corner of Magazine and Harmony–it was where I would meet friends for coffee. I’m still bitter it closed.
Similarities in our series: both widows, both have family mysteries, both live in the Irish Channel, you have jokes about potholes, I have a plot point about them. Let’s talk about NOLA’s potholes.
Oh, the potholes! Ironically, an active one ate one of my car tires a few weeks ago. Usually, if I am going someplace and have to turn around, there’s usually room for me to make a U-turn or I can turned into a driveway and turn around. This particular day the bar on the corner had reopened after being sold, closed, and renovated for a few months. So, there were cars everywhere, including blocking the driveways, and I thought, fine, I’ll just go around the block, which I hadn’t done in years. Because I hadn’t done that i years, I forgot there’s a massive pothole right when you make the turn so you have to jog left to avoid it. I hit the pothole, hard, and when I did, I thought oh that’s not good and as I continued driving I noticed the car was pulling to the left–which was the tire that hit the pothole. Sure enough, it was flat. It had a nail in it, and I happened to hit the pothole perfectly so that the nail dragged, tearing a hole in the tire. So, yes, New Orleans is a city of potholes–all different shapes, sizes, and depths. When the streets flood the water hides the potholes, and if they are really deep…the one on our street (which is reforming after being filled in and paved over for like the fiftieth time) ate a pick-up truck when that end of the street flooded a few years ago, so our street was blocked until the water went down and a tow truck could get in.
You have a Nolier than thou joke – I have OhNo!LA, an app that’s a runner in the book.
I wish I could claim credit for that joke, but I stole it from Bill Loefhelm, another New Orleans crime writer when we were on a panel together talking about writing about New Orleans and the need to get things right. He responded to a question about accuracy by saying something like “Yes, you really don’t want to set off the Nolier-Than-Thou people” and it still makes me laugh whenever I think about it because it’s so true! In all honesty, I am one of those people–nothing is more infuriating to me than reading something set in New Orleans that doesn’t get it right–but I’ve loosened up some as I’ve gotten older. I was even wondering if that was still a thing while I was writing this book…but since it’s come out I’ve seen any number of locals posting reviews and comments about “how (he) got New Orleans right” so it is still a thing. (And I’m glad and grateful people think I get ir right.)
How would you say your past experiences and jobs in life inform your writing?
I always say that life is material, as is every experience you’ve had. I’ve had so many jobs over the years and have been fired so many times I can’t keep track of them all anymore. But I also had a huge variety of jobs–fast food to retail to food service to banking to insurance to an airline to being a personal trainer to managing a health club to being a magazine editor to my present job working in an STI clinic as a sexual health counselor. Whenever I am creating a character and need a job for them, I inevitably fall back on one of my experiences. The main character in The Orion Mask worked at an airport–I’ve written a lot of characters who work for airlines–and so I try to get away from my own experiences once I catch myself doing it again. I have always had jobs that required interaction with other humans, so I’ve gotten to observe a lot of human behavior. I’ve written about high school students in Kansas (where I went to high school). I’ve written about fraternities because I was in one (hard as it is to believe now). I played football in high school, I’ve written about football players in high school. The only places I’ve lived that I’ve not written about are Chicago, Houston, and Tampa (I have written about Florida, but just the panhandle, where I spent of time as a kid).
I read a blog post where you talked about your relationship with the city. How has it morphed over the years and where does it stand now? It sounded like doing promotion and writing about the city reignited your love for it. What’s your writing process? You write in different genres. Is the process different?
As sad as it is to admit, it’s very easy when you live here to start taking New Orleans for granted. As I said before, I usually am so focused on what I am doing–work, writing, errands, chores, etc.–that I don’t pay much attention to my surroundings as I should (I think we are all guilty of this to some degree). About a year before the pandemic, my day job moved. I had worked in our office on Frenchmen Street for well over ten years–right across the street from Mona’s, in that block between Decatur and Chartres, so I was a block outside the Quarter five days a week, and we also used to do a lot of testing in the French Quarter gay bars and passing out condoms during Carnival, Southern Decadence, and Halloween. So I used to spend a lot of time in and around the Quarter. It was lovely–I could go to the Walgreens or the Rouse’s on Royal and there was a bank branch on Chartres Street, too, by the Supreme Court building. Anytime I didn’t have anything in the house to pack for lunch I could just walk into the Quarter and get something not only amazing but inexpensive. I used to walk past where Scotty lives all the time. After we moved into our new building in the 7th Ward, I don’t go into the Quarter much anymore. So I was starting to feel a bit disconnected from New Orleans already before the pandemic shut everything down. But I realized when I started doing promo for this book that I am not disconnected from New Orleans. I’ve just lived here so long that I don’t take as much note of the unusual or the weird as I used to–it’s become normalized to me. I’ve acclimated. It’s still just as weird and wild and crazy here as it always has been, it just doesn’t strike me as weird and wild and crazy the way it used to. I need to take more walks and spend more time exploring the city and checking things out. I don’t know if all the hidden places I used to take friends to eat in the Quarter are still there, either. Maybe after Mardi Gras…
Can you believe I’ve written all these Blatant Self-Promotion* posts about New Orleans and my book A Streetcar Named Murder and haven’t yet written about the most defining thing about the city–the Mississippi River?
Why, we would not be here if not for that mighty river, the Father of Waters.
Sometimes, just for shits and giggles, I try to imagine what it was like for the Europeans to see the Mississippi for the first time. Imagine you’re a colonizer, heading west and hacking your way through the Forest Primeval, and you suddenly come upon this enormous river. Or imagine you’re on a boat powered by the wind, following along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico and suddenly the water becomes muddy and messy and dirty, as opposed to the sparklingly clear blues and greens you’d been seeing since sailing into the Gulf in the first place? And then to come into the delta, trying to find the primary channel, and finding yourself in the fast-moving currents of an enormous river? Spaniard Hernando de Soto was the first European (well, probably one of his men, but he was the leader so naturally took credit for it) to lay eyes on the river inland just below Natchez; a Spanish navigator had already mapped the Gulf coastline by this time. Father Marquette explored the river, as did Joliet later (Marquette and Joliet played a very big role in my learning of History as a child in Chicago; a nearby suburb of Chicago was named Joliet. So learning the history of the Chicago area taught me about the exploration of the river by the French, coming south from Quebec and along the St. Lawrence through the Great Lakes). De la Salle discovered the mouth of the river and claimed it and all the land in its valley for France; Iberville rediscovered the mouth about fifteen years later and began exploring up the river, eventually deciding to settle a port/town/colony on the shores of the river where there was high ground…and that settlement became New Orleans.
For the record, the location was actually the perfect place for a city to be built, despite the climate, the water and the swampy land. New Orleans is the southern-most point on the river that is protected from the sea enough to accommodate shallow water ships but where it’s also deep enough to handle ocean-going ships. (The river is incredibly low right now–too low for barges to make it down here.) New Orleans became a vitally important city as the continent was slowly and gradually colonized by Europeans and later their descendants; water was the easiest mode of transportation before railroads and roads, and you can get almost everywhere within the two mountain ranges of the northern American continent by water. I think you used to be able to actually sail into the St. Lawrence down through the Great Lakes and down the Chicago and Illinois rivers to connect to the Mississippi and the Gulf, but am not sure if that is still true.
Because of the river and the Gulf, New Orleans became one of the most important ports in the western hemisphere and gradually one of the largest cities in the United States, and certainly one of the wealthiest.
I love the Mississippi River. It’s fascinated me since childhood; this enormous river that divides the country in two. As a child fascinated by history–beginning with US history–the importance of the Mississippi, and how it was linked to how the country grew and developed over the centuries, and how it was vital strategically and economically to a developing nation. The early fall of New Orleans during the Civil War guaranteed the Confederacy would fail. When Thomas Jefferson offered to buy New Orleans from Napoleon, the French conquerer, recognizing that without New Orleans the rest of the Louisiana territory was essentially worthless, threw in most of the North American continent in for a few million more. The primary takeaway for me from reading Mark Twain was his love of the river that I came to share. I also loved that I moved to New Orleans, practically the furthest south you can live on the river, from Minneapolis, practically the furthest north you can live on it. I can remember on a trip to the South from Chicago that we detoured and went to where the Ohio and Mississippi meet; I actually stood on that corner of Kentucky with the Ohio to my left and the Mississippi to my right. (The Ohio used to fascinate me as well; another river pivotal to the colonization and conquest of the continent.) I remember thinking how cool it was that the Ohio was blue and the Mississippi brown; that the wall of blue ended at the wall of brown–but there was a blue streak running down the middle of the brown for a good distance.
I love living here by the river, and one of the things I miss the most about working on Frenchmen Street is I don’t get the opportunity to walk down to Jackson Square, climb the levee, and stroll along the Moon Walk beside the river. It’s so massive that sometimes we forget how truly huge the river actually is; how when you fly into New Orleans over the river you can look from the window and see massive freighters that look like toys in a bathtub. Standing on the levee looking at the big freighters coming in or going out, they do seem almost like toys. I love how the city is below the river level, so when you’re driving down Tchoupitoulas the big ships are higher than the street.
I’d love to read about folk legends about the river, too–the size of the catfish and other creatures in its depths. And I want to write more about the river, too.
*Technically, I should be doing more of them, frankly.
My back, while still a little tight, is more irritating than painful; it’s at that stage where it is so close to not hurting at all anymore that it’s annoying that it hasn’t stopped, if that makes sense at all? I ran errands on my way home from work yesterday–mail and a prescription–and then came home, did a load of dishes, and then collapsed into my chair with the heating pad. I am taking it to work again with me this morning–more heat can’t hurt, after all, and the office is cold–and hopefully will wake up tomorrow morning feeling ever so much better. We got caught up on House of the Dragon last night–it’s getting better, but man was it ever getting off to a slow start–and it’s not as big and epic as Game of Thrones was; it’s more contained, with fewer characters and fewer story-lines, for one thing–and then we watched Archer (it really misses Jessica Walter; Mallory Archer was too great of a character for the show to do without) before calling it a night and heading for bed. I slept well again last night–only woke up a few times–and my back felt better when I got up…but it is slowly starting to make itself known, so yes, definitely bringing the heating pad to the office with me this morning.
I was thinking, last night as I waited for Paul to finish working (whenever he comes home earlier than usual, he inevitably spends a few hours making calls and sending emails once he’s home), about something that has been sticking in my mind for quite a while–and last night it hit me between the eyes.
People talk a lot about crime in New Orleans–it’s usually code for people to be racist without being outright racist; I always laugh at people in the comments section of the local news stations or newspapers, talking about crime in New Orleans and ‘that’s why they left New Orleans’ for the suburbs/West Bank/North Shore, etc. I laugh at this because they will always claim to other people Not From Here that they are, indeed, from New Orleans (bitch, you’re from Metairie) and I always want to ask them, “was it really crime in New Orleans that drove you out of the city, or was it the desegregation of the schools, hmmm?” Every neighborhood in New Orleans, you see, is mixed; the Garden District neighborhood at one time also included the St. Thomas Housing Projects. And sure, crime has been on the rise here lately. But I have lived in New Orleans since 1996, and white people are always talking about crime here and shaking their heads about how the city “has gone downhill.” Um, if you study the history of New Orleans, the city has always been filled with crime; IT’S A GODDAMNED PORT CITY.
Anyway, as I was standing in line waiting to board my flight out of Minneapolis, the woman in front of me turned out to also be from New Orleans (River Ridge). She was absolutely lovely, and we chatted the entire time we waited and as we went down the jetway to the plane–which, for someone whose default is always social awkwardness, was something–and ironically, she was the person in front of me in line for the flight from Chicago to New Orleans. She began talking to me about the crime and I did my usual shrug “there’s always been crime in New Orleans” and when she asked me if I wasn’t afraid, I just shook my head and said “no–no more than usual.”
That, of course, started a thread in my head about why are you not afraid of the rising crime in New Orleans and I realized, as I had also said to the nice lady, “I’m just always hyper-aware of my surroundings and what’s going on around me.” And then last night it hit me: as opposed to the nice straight white people of New Orleans, the rising crime rate doesn’t really bother me because I have never felt completely safe anywhere or anytime in my life–that’s what life is like for queers in this country.
I had to train myself as a kid to always keep my eyes moving and always be aware of what’s going on around me–I look ahead, I look behind, I always am looking from one side to the other and am always on hyper-alert because you never know when the gay bashers are going to come for you. I’m no more afraid now than I have ever been throughout the course of my life, and I had decided a long time ago that I would not live my life in fear anymore–but to always be vigilant.
Straight white people aren’t used to not feeling safe and they don’t like itwhen they don’t.
Welcome to what it feels like to be a minority in this country–and let’s face it, I still have white male privilege; I can’t imagine what it’s like to navigate this world as a black lesbian or transwoman.
But straight white people? This is their world and it is the world they made. While straight white women are oppressed terribly by straight white men, many of them have been gaslit into thinking they are less than straight white men and it is simply their lot in life, and they accept that in exchange for protection by the patriarchy. So while it is true that for women, car-jackings and muggings are just one more thing to add to their backpack of oppressive fears–usually sexual assaults (physical or verbal) or harassment. Interesting, right?
But for those Stockholm Syndrome suffering straight white women, crime is outrageous and horrifying to them because the system is theoretically set up to protect them from crime.
And what’s a little sexual harassment if it means you won’t get mugged or carjacked by that scary Black man? Boys will be boys, after all; they’re just wired that way.
I’ve always wanted to write from the perspective of someone like Brock Turner, the Stanford swimming rapist–but I don’t think I can. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so blind about your own child, especially since I don’t (and never wanted) any of my own.
And yes, this is yet another subject for an essay.
But the fog of exhaustion seems to finally be lifting from my head–hallelujah–and so I think–if I am not too tired when I get home tonight, that is–I am going to be able to get back to work on my writing either today or tomorrow. I also want to start reading my new Donna Andrews novel, and I want to read Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side before October, when I have to turn my attention to the horror genre again for Halloween.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.
Well, today’s title isn’t entirely correct, as I am actually returning to Minneapolis for the first time since late July, 1996, when Paul and I loaded a moving van and drove my red 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier onto one of those towing trailers and headed south from the twin cities. And here we are, some twenty-six years later, boarding a Southwest jet and changing planes in Chicago on our way up there again. It’s going to be exhausting–Bouchercon always is, and then add in that I never seem to be able to sleep when I travel, and there it is, you know: a recipe for tired old Greg.
I am mostly packed, and we don’t really have to leave for the airport until elevenish; we have to take Scooter to the Kitty Spa for his vacation while we are gone first, and there are some odds and ends I have to take care of this morning before we leave. I’ve already started getting my carry-ons packed; really, all that’s left is to throw my phone and my charger in the backpack–and I need to take out the trash, maybe clean the dishes in the sink, wipe things down, shave and shower–and then we’ll be ready to hit the road for the airport.
I ran some last minute errands last night to pick up prescriptions and the mail–so much mail–and it’s going to be kind of nice to turn my brain off a bit for a few days. I am really itching to get back to work on Mississippi River Mischief–now that I’ve figured it out a bit more, I really want to start getting into the weeds with this draft and see how far I can get before I run out of steam yet again–and I am kind of excited about writing again, which is a lovely feeling and one that I am sure has something to do with coming to Bouchercon for the first time in four years today. I feel rested this morning, and I think that’s a good thing. I don’t feel stressed or anything this morning either. I am comfortable, relaxed, and in a good mood, given I have about eight hours of travel ahead of me (not just the flight times but getting to and from airports, waiting, etc.) but I will have Gabino Iglesias’ marvelous The Devil Takes You Home to read, with the new Laurie R. King (Back to the Garden) on deck. I also feel relatively certain that I’ll be picking up even more books while I am up there, too.
Because I can never have too big of a TBR pile.
It will be weird coming home from this weekend, I think. I will certainly be exhausted, there’s no question of that. Fingers crossed that one Gregalicious will be able to get some sleep on this trip–ugh, I have a panel tomorrow morning at nine, which means getting up at seven so I can get cleaned up and showered and forage for coffee so I can be (slightly) coherent on this panel, which has some really big names on it. I’m not sure why I am on this panel with these incredibly important writers, but I can certainly listen and learn and hopefully, leech some talent and creativity out of these marvelous writers.
Sorry, not particularly bright or insightful this morning as I try to get ready!
Not sure how much I’ll be around over the next few days–early panels! Oh my! But we’ll see how it goes.
Sunday morning and there’s an LSU game tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!). There’s no way of knowing how good LSU is going to be this year, so I guess tonight’s the night we find out. I watched some of the games yesterday–Georgia certainly looked impressive, and good for Florida and Ohio State winning their big games yesterday, but again, it’s also too early to know anything for sure. Were the two top-ranked teams from the PAC-12 (Oregon and Utah) overrated, or will they rebound (although that shellacking the Ducks got from Georgia had to sting) to make a play-off run after all? The only thing you can ever be sure of in college football is Alabama will be a contender.
Yesterday was a very good day. We had a downpour and flash flood warning for most of the afternoon, but fortunately I had already run the errand I had to run; this morning I have an errand to run as well, and then i am going to come home and order Costco for delivery (just a few things we need) and I intend to spend the day writing. I spent the day organizing and cleaning (which is always an incredibly pleasant way for me to spend the day) and cleaned out kitchen cabinets in order to throw away a lot of items that I had purchased for single, one-time use and had never used again. My cake carrier, for example; I bought that to carry birthday cakes I’d made to work. I used to make our nurse a red velvet cheesecake for his birthday every year–but he’s left the agency and it is highly unlikely I’ll ever make another cake that needs to be transported; if I do, I guess I can just get another one. I also was throwing away things I don’t use but take up space in the kitchen–the big metal salad mixing bowl, the big plastic salad container, muffin tins, etc.–and then reorganized the shelves and made more room for things. I also cleaned things off the tops of the cabinets. It now looks a lot less cluttered in the kitchen and when I open the cabinets.
There’s still some work to be done on the cabinets, but I feel very good about the progress made yesterday. I also did the floors.
I also spent some time revisiting Bourbon Street Blues yesterday. I didn’t give it a thorough read, more of a skim, but it had been a hot minute since I last read the book and…Constant Reader, it wasn’t bad. The book came out nineteen years ago, and I of course wrote it twenty years ago. It’s had to believe it’s been that long, isn’t it? I wrote it when we lived in the apartment on Sophie Wright Place after we moved back to New Orleans in 2001; it’s the only book I wrote there, because I wrote the next two after we moved onto this property and were living in the carriage house. I also realized that the reason I am so hard on myself when I read my own work is primarily because I have trained my mind over the years to read my stuff critically and editorially, with an eye to revision–and that doesn’t change once the book is actually in print. Bourbon Street Blues is not a bad book at all–there’s even some really clever lines in it. Someone had actually responded to one of my blog posts about the stand alone books that they’d like to see me do the same for the series book; I feel like I may have done that already, but it’s not a bad idea. I need to revisit the Scotty series anyway in order to write the new one (which was part of the reason I picked up Bourbon Street Blues yesterday) and since I have trouble focusing enough to read other people’s work at the moment, why not reread the entire series from start to finish? It certainly can’t hurt.
I have been bemoaning how bad the writing is for this new Scotty book I am writing and yesterday, as I cleaned and organized and reread Bourbon Street Blues, I began to see why precisely the work I’ve already done isn’t good and what precisely was/is wrong with what I’ve already done. The bones are there, of course, and it can be saved, which is what I am going to do today. I know precisely know how to make this book work, how to structure it, how to introduce the new characters and the plots for the book, and it’s a marvelous feeling. After I finish this–and then write my entry on Bourbon Street Blues–I am going to go run that errand, come home and get cleaned up, place the Costco order for delivery, and then dig into redoing the initial three chapters of the book and maybe even dive into another. I also am going to spend some time today with Jackson Square Jazz; I may bring the iPad with me so I can keep reading the Scotty series during Bouchercon–but then again, I have other things I am taking with me to read, too. But those are for the airport and the flights primarily; I can lug my iPad around in my backpack and then between panels or when I am sitting alone in the lobby I can pull it out and scan through another Scotty book quickly. It’s also not a bad idea for me to start working on (at last) pulling together the Scotty Bible I’ve always said I needed to pull together. (I also kind of need to pull together all the information on the Gregiverse; the world in which all of my books are actually set, from Alabama to New Orleans to California to Kansas to Chicago’s suburbs…)
I also have a short story submission I need to look over before sending it in for the blind read–next year’s Bouchercon anthology is the market–but I am not sure I’ll have the time or if I know precisely how to fix it.
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I’d like to have another productive day today, so…lots to do before the LSU game tonight.
Wednesday and the middle of the week and the countdown to Bouchercon continues. I think we leave two weeks from today? I booked my parking at the airport for the trip reservation yesterday, so it’s starting to feel like it’s actually going to happen. I am looking forward to this trip–I can’t believe I’ve not seen some friends since 2018–even though it’s going to be completely and totally exhausting. We have to change planes in Chicago both directions (because that always makes trips more relaxing and less stressful, you know) and then of course there’s the to-and-fro with the airport up there and…no, I am going to focus on the fun aspects of the trip rather than the hassles and irritations that come with traveling (I am also in denial over my usual travel insomnia).
Yesterday was okay. I got tired right around lunch time, and ran my errands on the way home (I did, however, cut one errand out that will have to be run today after work). By the time I got home, my mind wasn’t in a focused place, so rather than trying to read anything I did chores–laundry, dishes, straightening up, filing–and when Paul got home we watched the finale of Only Murders in the Building, which was fun, and the final episode of that Woodstock 99 documentary we’d been watching whose title I can’t recall at the moment (we enjoyed it so much we might actually watch the documentaries about the other shitshow festival, Fyre) but it was enjoyable before we retired for the evening. And it was really nice getting up to a relatively clean kitchen this morning. Hopefully, tonight I’ll have the energy to do the floors before doing some reading and writing.
I realized last night the reason I’ve been so reluctant to go back and revise these first two chapters of Scotty (as well as fix the problems in the four chapters of the other book) has been primarily because I intellectually know that they are terrible and need a lot of work, and I haven’t really been in the mood to examine just how terrible of a writer I can be (hush, you there in the back) when I writing a first draft and the story is still gestating in my head. I also keep defaulting to Mississippi River Bottom as the title of this book, which it’s not–it’s Mississippi River Mischief. Mississippi River Bottom was the working title for Jackson Square Jazz, and that flashed back into my head this morning as I referred to the book as “bottom” rather than “mischief.” In JSJ, Scotty meets the young figure skater at a seedy gay strip club–which I dubbed “the Brass Rail”, and I’ve used ever since as a stand-in whenever I need a seedy gay strip club for either Scotty or Chanse or a short story or anything I am writing where I need a seedy gay strip club. Most people assume “the Brass Rail” is the Corner Pocket, but it wasn’t originally. There used to be a seedy gay strip club in the lower Quarter–I don’t remember exactly where it was–called MRB’s, that had a stage AND a pole, should one of their dancers be so inclined. When I was new to New Orleans, I asked someone what MRB’s stood for, and they replied, “Mississippi River Bottom”–which amused me to no end; what a perfect name for a seedy club! It wasn’t until later that I learned it actually stood for Mr. Boudreaux’, which makes more sense…but in my heart I always kept thinking “it’s Mississippi River Bottom”, and when it came time to write the second Scotty. I decided to use that as a title. My publisher didn’t like it and suggested I do something alliterative, to mirror the first, which is how the Scotty titles began. Most of the book centered on the Cabildo fire on Jackson Square, so Jackson Square Jazz made sense to me as a title, and the publisher loved it. I’ve kept using the Brass Rail since then–it played a pivotal role in Royal Street Reveillon–and it’s going to appear in the new Scotty as well. Continuity alert! When the Brass Rail made its first appearance in my fiction, like MRB’s, it was located in the lower Quarter…however, whenever I’ve used it since it migrated to the Upper Quarter; which, of course, is always possible–businesses in New Orleans change locations quite frequently, and certainly much more frequently than anyone might think. It’s going to remain one of those unremarked-upon continuity errors in the series–why bore the reader by trying to come up with a backstory for the change in location, especially when no one has even noticed?
*eye roll to infinity*
I’m also thinking a lot about the book lately. I have some odds and ends I really need to clear up this week, but I also have been thinking about the book and what its story should be and how to make it all make sense. One of the great stressors of my life is not being able to write as often as I would like; my spare time is becoming more and more limited, and there’s always something else I need to do–that has nothing to do with my writing, which I resent, and I am growing more and more resentful of the time I spend doing things besides writing, which isn’t a good thing.
And on that note, I need to make a to-do list, I need to start getting things done and cleared off my itinerary, so I am going to head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely day, okay?
I honestly don’t know why I am so weird about edits and so forth. Both my editorial letter and the copy edits this time around were practically nothing–incredibly easy fixes that literally required very little thought or effort– yet in each and every instance I put off doing them because I was just so goddamned sure that navigating them would be a nightmare. But now I can finally put A Streetcar Named Murder into the “finished” folder (I will still have to proof pages, of course, but for all intents and purposes this manuscript is pretty much finished; I won’t be working in Microsoft Word on it anymore and so I can close the file) and give all my attention to the things I am working on now. I need to get through the copy edits on the Bouchercon anthology and I need to edit/polish a short story this week before submitting it for an anthology call that is due this coming Friday.
I had to run an errand last night–which required me going into Mid-city during rush hour (the horror of it all!) before coming home. It actually didn’t turn out too badly; I took the highway and got there in no time at all, and it was shockingly easy to get home as well. There was some massive rain in uptown yesterday–it sprinkled at the office–and I could tell there had been flooding in my neighborhood. I suspect our street–which has only flooded once in the nineteen years we’ve lived there–is going to flood more in the future since the hideous condo building went up over two empty lots (where the water used to spread out; something I think is going to continue to be problematic for the entire city as our green spaces and empty lots disappear because there’s money to be made in real estate why should anyone be concerned about flooding in a city below sea level?) on my block…I really need to finish that story about killing a greedy real estate contractor, don’t I?
But in the wake of finishing the copy edits of my book (huzzah!) I am now trying to figure out what I need to get done next and how to best utilize my time. My new glasses have arrived, so I can go pick those up on Friday (I am taking the day off to do that and some other things that need doing) and I get to pick out a new, more current author photo. Sleuthfest gave us the option to pay to have new headshots done, and as little as I wanted to do this…I also recognized my black-and-white author photo is from 2008 and the one of me with the stacks of books is from 2014 or so. I mean, I look the same as I did then–if not as thin, at any rate–but some of these photos are good. and I’m also getting to the point in life where I just don’t care that much anymore. I spent so much of my life worrying about how I looked–the curse of vanity coupled with insecurity–and how my body appeared that it’s rather freeing to not really be so concerned about it anymore as I used to be. I don’t know if the insecurity was put to rest by getting older, or whether the vanity fell by the wayside, or some combination of the two, but now I want to get back to the gym not because of the cosmetic effect but to make my muscles and body feel better; I definitely need to get stretched out at some point. I just wish I had a dedicated open space in the Lost Apartment where I can sit on the floor and stretch everything.
We continued watching Stranger Things last night, which we are really enjoying–but I could do without the Russian subplot, quite frankly. It’s weird seeing how much older the kids have gotten since that first season, but time waits for no one. I do enjoy my 1980’s nostalgia, even if it was a hellish decade and one that on a personal level I would love to completely forget like it never happened, but I still like a lot of the cultural stuff from that decade–music, books, movies, television shows, etc–but I don’t know that I would ever write anything set during that time period. I have lots of ideas for stuff set in the 1970’s–I gravitate toward that decade, methinks, because it was so formative and it was my adolescence for the most part–and “Never Kiss a Stranger” is even a 1990’s story…but it never crosses my mind to write anything about the 1980’s. The decade simply doesn’t inspire me, and I am sure a lot of that is me not wanting to revisit the personal angst I went through then. (I have been thinking a lot about my novella “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which is a Corinth County story and is set in the 1970’s lately, as well as my 1970’s Chicago suburbs story Where the Boys Die, which is a great title but I don’t think I want to use it for this particular story, to be honest; but it’ll do as a working title because, as we all know, I cannot write anything if it’s not titled.)
But I am looking forward now to getting back in the saddle and writing again. Mississippi River Mischief is developing nicely in my head; another project I am working on is also starting to coalesce, and I need to plan out the next few chapters of Chlorine. Feeling pretty good about things–I assume that will last about another hour.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.