Every Woman in the World

Our power went out for nearly two hours last night–we were watching The Housewife and the Hustler, the damning ABC News documentary focusing on the crimes of celebrity lawyer Tom Girardi and his spouse, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Erica Girardi (whose alter-ego is entertainer Erika Jayne, who has had some hits on the dance charts)–and while it was out, I fell asleep in my chair and when it came back on, I was too drowsy and tired to write last night. I had done about two or three hundred words before we started watching the documentary, and was really looking forward to making some more progress on the novella last night. Alas, it was not to be–and I have yet to check the progress of the tropical depression in the Bay of Campeche, which is aiming directly for us and would arrive at some point over the weekend. (note to self: fill car’s gas tank TODAY)

UPDATE: I just checked. Strong possibility it will form into Hurricane Claudette, but the primary threat appears to be heavy rainfall over the weekend as it comes ashore. Sort of relief, not really. What it does mean is errands must be run and completed before the weekend; we could lose power at some point; and probably at least being housebound with the car at risk of being flooded (and ruined) if the street floods.

Oh, well, I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

I had weird restless dreams last night–nightmares, actually–so I am not as well rested as I could be this morning. I also made it to the gym last night, so my muscles are a bit achy and tired this morning. But I am not sorry I went to the gym–and believe me, I had to make myself go–but I could do without the groggy tiredness this morning. I have a lot to get done today and very little desire to do any of it; but am also up way earlier than I usually am on a Thursday so hopefully that will translate into a lovely night’s sleep tonight.

I can dream, at any rate.

Any way, as I walked home last night from the gym, sweating sweating sweating, I continued the Instagram experiment, which is actually going fairly well. I did worry about it a bit last night–thinking to myself you don’t want to get addicted to likes and so forth, and allow your obsessive personality to take over here–but at the same time, if I can subversively slip some promo in, why not? I also love taking pictures–I have literally tens of thousands of picture files saved in various digital storage locations, and since I am never going to ever be a professional photographer, why not share the with the world? At least the good ones? And I do live in a very picturesque area in an incredibly beautiful city. Last night, for example, I took a picture of a house that I used in The Orion Mask; the house in New Orleans my main character, Heath, inherited from his mother the painter–who died from a gunshot wound when he was a toddler; the story being it was self-inflicted–and the actual house was merely a starting place. I loved this house in my neighborhood; still do, it’s one of my favorite houses in the city, actually, but I changed and made alterations to it. I needed the gallery to run all the way around the house, on each side, rather than just in the front (like the original’s); and I have no idea what the house’s floor plan was. In the book I made the entire downstairs one big room, with the amazing ten foot windows and shutters on each side; so that when the shutters were all opened the downstairs would be flooded with light–and her studio was a corner of that room, figuring a painter would want lots of light and lots of windows for views and inspiration from the gorgeous colors of the vegetation in the city.

New Orleans really is a breathtakingly beautiful city.

It occurred to me though, as I was posting the picture of Heath’s inheritance, that I don’t ever really write about working class or poor people, at least in my books (and of course, now that I’ve written that, Heath was from a middle-class background and worked for an airline; the hero of Dark Tide was definitely working class/poor, and the main character in Timothy wasn’t exactly rolling in money either–before marrying the master of Spindrift, at any rate. Likewise, Tony in Sara wasn’t even middle class, either. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be so rough on myself about issues of class) and I can’t help but think I should do that some more. I know that if I ever write Where the Boys Die (and I will; it’s really just a matter of time and when I will get to it; MUST FOCUS ON WRITING) it’s going to be set in a white-flight suburb and focus on families at various levels of the class system in this country; as would You’re No Good, should I ever get to that one as well.

So many ideas to write. Honest to God, I will never have the time to write them all, especially since my work ethic isn’t what it used to be–which is mainly from not having the energy I used to, in all honesty. I keep hoping that going to the gym regularly (if and when I ever get to the point where I have developed a routine that I can stick to) that there will be an increase in stamina and energy for me as I get back into better physical condition. I can dream, I guess.

All right, it’s nearly time for me to head back into the spice mines. Y’all have a great Thursday, okay?

Age of Consent

I slept late this morning–I didn’t even, as I inevitably do, wake up at five and fall back asleep, instead sleeping until almost eight thirty and then taking another fifteen minutes or so to acclimate myself to the idea of getting up. It wasn’t easy, as my entire body was still relaxed and the bed so accommodating and comfortable, but there was simply no way I could stay in be any longer. I have, as always, too much to do and get one today and as lovely as the thought of staying in bed for another couple of hours may have been, it was simply not to be. But the sleep felt marvelous; I don’t think I’ve slept so deeply in quite some time, to be honest, and while you may not be as fascinated as I am by my sleeping, I did feel it necessary to comment on such a good night’s sleep for a change.

I was talking to a friend recently about Lolita–I can’t remember how or why the subject even came up in the first place–butthat conversation put me in mind about how we as a society have changed when it comes to the sexualization of teenagers by adults. I recently watched a terrible show called A Teacher, about a woman in her twenties who teaches high school and ends up having an affair with one of her students, and how this basically ruins their lives on both sides. There has been a lot of that in Louisiana over the past decade–there were two teachers in Destrehan having affairs with male students, occasionally have three-ways with them a while back–and it seems like these kinds of scandals break down here all the time. Teenaged boys and older women have long been looked at societally as not the same thing as the reverse–inevitably triggering responses from adult men things like I wish I’d had some older woman to teach me a few things and so forth, that whole “boys will be boys” mentality that still pervades the culture and society to some degree. This is something I may write about at some point, because it interests and intrigues me–even if it is a bit of a third rail, a dangerous path to follow with lots of potential pitfalls along the way. Teenagers often confuse hormonal responses as love–the whole conflation of sex and love that usually most grow out of it at some point–and of course, teenage boys are easy to manipulate because of their hormones. I think the primary problem I had with A Teacher was I never understood the woman’s motivations; it never made sense to me that she would be so self-destructive; they tried tacking on some back story after the affair was exposed which involved a difficult relationship with her own father, but it didn’t work for me. I also think back to all of the “coming of age” fiction I read when I was a kid, and how inevitably such romances/relationships were always seen as positive things, or depicted that way; there was always some inexperienced teenaged boy falling for some beautiful older woman who inevitably will take his virginity–going back as far as Tea and Sympathy, where the woman did it to “cure” the boy of suspected homosexuality, through Summer of ’42 (I also read the book of this, which impacted me with its tale of loss and longing, and how thirty years after that summer the now adult man still remembers her with love and longing; it would not be depicted that way now) to Class, which really does not hold up well AT ALL. There was a few of these in the early 1980’s–I remember another one called My Tutor, where a wealthy man hires a beautiful woman to tutor his son, they have sex eventually and then the boy (played by Olivia Newton-John’s then husband, Matt Lattanzi, who was stunningly beautiful) finds out his father not only hired her to tutor him but to seduce him (“make a man out of him” is how it was put, how it was always put)–but for a very long time adult/teenager relationships like this were seen as no big deal, at least in films; but I also think it’s pretty safe to say that this was also true societally as well; a father would tend to be proud of his teenaged son for fucking a teacher, rather than being horrified and pressing charges….I think A Teacher missed a beat there, frankly; by having the main male character being raised by a single mom instead of a single dad or at least both parents (or one being even a step-parent) they miss the chance to really address this aspect of toxic masculinity; naturally a mother would think of her child as being molested, whereas a father….that would have been interesting.

It is something I am considering for a Scotty story; it’s all amorphous up there in my brain right now, but it’s slowly forming.

And of course, if the teenaged son was having an affair with an adult male, the father’s reaction would be vastly different than if the affair was with an adult woman.

Yesterday I watched the film version of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, which wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been. The film came across as very cold, and also got off to a very slow start. It was enjoyable for the acting, which was top notch–and one can never go wrong casting Charlotte Rampling–and it was a beautifully done film; a very quiet British style ghost story (I really have been enjoying British ghost stories over the past few years, and now I want to read The Little Stranger, of which I have a copy somewhere), and the film has a very dream-like sense to it that is rather marvelous…but that same sensibility also keeps the viewer at a slight distance, which results in the viewer not getting emotionally invested in the characters or the story. (At least, that’s my takeaway from it.) It also put me in mind of Sarah Waters, who is an enormously talented, award-winning British lesbian writer. I reviewed her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, years ago when I still a reviewer, and was blown away by it completely. At some point since then I stopped reading her–not sure why, and I don’t think it was a conscious choice, to be completely honest; I think she somehow just fell off my radar–but watching this film reminded me of what great writer she is, and perhaps I should go back and read her entire canon, including rereads of the first couple of books–I believe her second novel was Affinity–but…as always, time stands in my way.

I also was thinking of revisiting some Agatha Christie; Catriona McPherson posted on Facebook the other day about a talk she is giving for a public library (I believe in South Carolina?) about Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, which put me in mind of Christie again–sending me own a rabbit hole of memories of her novels–in particular my personal favorite of hers, Endless Night–and how I came to read Agatha Christie in the first place. (I picked up a copy of Witness for the Prosecution off the wire paperback racks at Zayre’s; I knew it had been a movie and I knew who Christie was, but had never read her and was beginning to transition from kids’ mysteries to adults. I also didn’t catch the smaller font words beneath the title reading and other stories; I thought it was a novel and was most startled to discover it wasn’t. So the first adult mysteries I read were Christie short stories, which blew me away. The first actual Christie novel I read was The Clocks–after which I was hooked. Remembering this made me also remember the great mass market paperback publishers of the day: Dell, Pocket Books, and Fawcett Crest. Almost every paperback I read as a teenager was from one of them, and I do remember those publishers very fondly.) I have some Christies here in the Lost Apartment,–I was thinking of rereading either A Caribbean Mystery or Nemesis. I always, for some reason, preferred Miss Marple to Poirot; still do, to this very day. I read the first few paragraphs of Nemesis last night, and was, as always, entranced. So perhaps for this weekend I shall reread Nemesis and some short stories, around working on the book.

Because I absolutely, positively, must work on the book.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and don’t forget there are panel discussions for Saints and Sinners up on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel.

This Time of Night

It rained pretty much all day yesterday; it was grim and gray until the sun went down. It continued to drizzle overnight, and it’s gray and cold and wet outside this morning. When I first woke up (I stayed in bed for at least another hour) it was still raining; I could hear it pelting the windows, which were also rattling with the wind. But now I am awake, Scooter has received his morning insulin shot, and I am sitting down at my computer with my first cup of coffee sort of ready to face this blustery day. I managed to get a lot done yesterday–I even worked on the book last night!–and then we got caught up on both Servant and The Stand. I have to say, I had high hopes for this remake/reboot/whatever-want-to-call-it of The Stand; it’s long been one of my favorite Stephen King novels, if not the absolute favorite, and I greatly enjoyed the original television miniseries from the early 1990’s, even if it was flawed. This version? I give them props for telling the story in a completely different, non-linear way, and the casting was very well thought out. But…I suddenly had some misgivings about the plot, the story, and how it was being depicted on the screen; “New Las Vegas”, in both book and both adaptations, was supposedly a new wicked city, on the lines of the great Biblical cities of sin like Sodom, Gomorrah, and Babylon the Great; and as I watched the so-called debauchery of this new edition of the Biblical cities of sin, I began thinking about the queers, and how we are completely missing from this narrative; also, about how “sinful debauchery” was being depicted on the screen.

And it didn’t really sit well with me, to be completely honest. There’s I think maybe one more episode left, and we’ll watch as we are completists; we generally don’t finish things that we don’t like but if we don’t absolutely hate something or think it’s completely terrible, we tend to finish watching. Servant is far superior; dark and demented and twisted, and getting even worse with each successive episode as Lauren Ambrose’s descent into madness grows worse and worse with each episode, and her brother and husband’s consistent enabling of her demented fantasies “to protect her from a truth she cannot handle”–well, good intentions and all that, you know. It’s fascinating to watch, frankly; just when we think it can’t get any more insane it laughs in our faces and yells, “Watch this, bitches!” Really, it’s quite extraordinary.

As I sat in my easy chair watching the LSU-Auburn gymnastics meet (before we moved on to our shows) I found myself writing notes for not just “The Rosary of Broken Promises” but for “To Sacrifice a Pawn” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” last night. It dawned on me during the uneven parallel bars performances by LSU that the primary problem I’ve had with “Never Kiss a Stranger” when writing it was because I was starting the story in the wrong place; my main character has just retired from the military after twenty years of service–he was tipped off that he was most likely going to be caught up in the next “gay sweep” before ‘don’t ask don’t tell” takes effect, so he filed the papers and got out. With nowhere really to go to start his life anew, he comes to New Orleans (around 1994/1995) and as he starts living as an our gay man, he rents an apartment from a widow whose only child died of AIDS the year before, begins coming to terms with who he is and what he wants from life while working as a barback at Oz, and meets a young man he begins to have feelings for…but he can also feel the presence of his landlady’s dead son in his apartment, and there’s a serial killer in New Orleans praying on gay men, the city itself is crumbling and decaying and dying, and how I want to pull all those separate threads together. Obviously, it’s fairly complicated, but I was starting the story with him arriving in New Orleans on a Greyhound bus and renting a room at the Lee Circle YMCA and looking for a place to live….and it dawned on me last night that that is all backstory, and the story should open with him finding the apartment and renting it….and then voluminous notes followed before I jumped into the other two stories. So I am feeling creative and getting stuff finished on that level; which is very cool and pleases me. Today I have some errands to run, some cleaning to do and as always, of course there is writing to be done because there is always writing to be done. But if I can get these next chapters done that I want to get done today, I can have an easier day tomorrow doing edits on the hard copies of the finished chapters and plan what else needs to be done this week. I am taking Lundi Gras off, so next weekend will be a lovely four day weekend following two work-at-home days, which will be really nice–and should help me get very much further on this book being completed. Huzzah!

Yesterday while I was making condom packs I decided to view my first film in what I call the 80’s Teen-sploitation Film Fest. I’ve always thought there were a clearly delineated line between movies directed for a younger audience prior to the 1980’s and those that came after; I, as always, have an uneducated film student type theory that has probably already been deeply explored, debunked, and argued about endlessly. My theory is that the one-two punch of Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High forever changed the face or youth movies; Porky’s was all about the raunchy teen sex comedy, all about sex-crazed teen boys; Ridgemont High showed that girls were just as obsessed/concerned about sex as the boys, and the idea that breaking the rules for kids–drinking, having sex, experimenting with drugs–required punishment of some sort–they needed to suffer for the experimentation, was kind of thrown out the window (although slasher films targeted at the youth market were also on the rise during this time; and as was pointed out so brilliantly in the Scream movies–the victims often were being punished for breaking the rules; another interesting theorem branching off from the original). So, I decided to revisit a film I saw in the theater and actually enjoyed at the time–and did also on subsequent viewings on cable: Class.

Reader, it does not hold up at all–if it ever did, frankly; the misogyny is so deeply embedded in this film that it’s hard to imagine there being anything left if the misogyny is removed. Class is really two movies combined into one: a coming of age movie about a young scholarship student who bonds with his wealthy roommate, which is kind of a sex comedy; and a deeply tragic story about the wealthy student’s mother. The always exquisite Jacqueline Bisset plays the mother opposite Cliff Robertson as her austere and cold husband–there was a lot of story there the screenwriters sadly chose to ignore at the expense of the teen sex comedy they were aiming for. The result is the movie doesn’t really work, and Bisset’s character, Ellen, never really makes any sense other than “oh she has psychological problems, takes drugs and drinks too much.” This is basically shrugged off like it’s nothing, nor is the damage this bad marriage has inflicted on their son ever explored or thought about or even discussed. The son is played by a young and incredibly beautiful Rob Lowe; the scholarship student is played by Andrew McCarthy in his debut film. The friendship between the two is the core of the movie; but even it never makes sense. Rob plays Skip–extroverted, beautiful, young, and rich– as an immensely likable asshole with an over-the-top sense of humor. There are some funny scenes, but the core of the movie is based in the hormone-riddled sex fever dreams of teenaged boys who drink and smoke pot and try to get laid and spend most of their time figuring out ways around the rules and partying. There are some funny moments–but for the most part the movie can’t make up its mind as to whether its supposed to be comedy or drama. One of the fun things about the movie is seeing any number of young stars of the future in small roles–John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Virginia Madsen, and Casey Siezmansko all are in the movie, as well as it being McCarthy’s debut and an early film in the Lowe canon. The retread plot, which has Jonathon (McCarthy) going to a bar in Chicago (sent by Skip) to try to get laid, being humiliated by a woman who also looked familiar, and then finally Ellen (Bisset) taking pity on him and seducing him, beginning an affair in which he meets her in Chicago every weekend. She of course doesn’t know he’s a high school student; even as young as he looks, one would assume a man you meet in a bar would be over eighteen–and it’s on a trip to New York for the weekend that his wallet falls open while he’s trying on close and she sees his student ID. She flees, and that’s the end of the affair. Later, when Skip brings Jonathon home with him, he discovers he’s been sleeping with his best friend’s mother–and then it turns truly tragic. Ellen is for some reason now obsessed with Jonathon, calling him all the time at school and begging him to meet her until he finally agrees–and of course, Skip and his buddies crash the hotel where they have gotten a room (somehow finding out their room number) and bust in on them. The rest of the movie has Skip choosing not to reveal a secret of Jonathon’s about cheating on the SAT, the two of them getting into a brutal fist fight–and once it’s over, they are friends again. Roll credits.

It is only recently that we as a society have begun to view the older woman/teenage boy sexual dynamic as abusive rather than as a fantasy; there were a rash of these type films in the early 1980’s (another that comes to mind is My Tutor, with gorgeous Matt Lattanzi being seduced by a beautiful woman hired by his father to tutor him–sexually as well as academically, and Weird Science also had the same premise–but I don’t think the boys ever had sex with their creation) which was part of the weird “boys are studs/girls are sluts” mentality that has been so pervasive in our society for so long–I’ve never seen it, but I also believe Tea and Sympathy falls into this category, as does Summer of ’42–and as I said, it is only recently, with several high profile cases, that we as a society have begun to look a little askance at this idea (we came to the conclusion that older men/teenaged girls was abuse much, much sooner). I hated A Teacher as we watched it, but now…having seen Class again and remembering these other films, which portray these kinds of relationships as something to be desired…I might have to rethink my opinion of how heavy-handed A Teacher was in its “this is a LESSON we all need to learn” stridency. There have been a score of these types of court cases in Louisiana–the Destrehan one where two young female teachers were fucking a student comes to mind–and it’s something I would really like to explore in a book sometime.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. So much to do, so much to get done….and so little time in which to do it all. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

Killin’ Time

As Constant Reader is aware, on 2019 I embarked on something I called The Diversity Project for myself; an effort to read books by authors who were not straight or white or cisgender. I had hoped to use 2019, and this project, as not only a way to broaden my reading and make up for years of lost time, but also to broaden my mind, my knowledge, and my experience.

It does not escape me that it’s kind of shitty that I actually had to make an effort, make in into an actual project, to ensure that I read outside of my own privileged experience. I don’t deserve a cookie or praise for doing something I should have been doing my entire life. It’s horribly shitty that my entire reading life could best be described as a mayonnaise sandwich on Wonder bread. I’ve also been trying to remember something, anything, other than Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird that I read as a child that had people of color as characters (and frankly, those two problematic books don’t count). Bayport and River Heights and Rocky Beach and Sleepyside and all the other towns and villages in the teenaged sleuth series for kids I read were all lily-white.

Several  years ago, Brash Books brought the entire Blanche White series by Barbara Neely, all four of them, back into print. I had never read Ms. Neely’s books; I’d never, to be completely honest, even heard of them. But the concept sounded fantastic, and unlike anything I’d ever read before, so I went ahead and ordered Blanche on the Lam, the first book in the series, which proceeded to languish and collect dust in my (massive) TBR pile. Mystery Writers of America recently selected Ms. Neely as a Grand Master, and as I was heading up to New York for the board retreat/orientation for 2020, I thought to myself, self, take Ms. Neely’s book with you on the trip to read–it’s serendipity and meant to be, and also far past time.

And that’s exactly what I did.

blanche on the lam

“Have you anything to say for yourself?” The judge gave Blanche a look that made her raise her handbag to her chest like a shield.

“Your Honor…I’m sorry…I…”

“Sorry? It most certainly is sorry! This is the fourth, I repeat, the fourth time you’ve been before this court on a bad-check charge. Perhaps some time in a jail cell will convince you to earn your money before you spend it, like the rest of us! Thirty days and restitution!”

“But, Your Honor…” Blanche’s legs were suddenly weak. Her hands were freezing. Beads of sweat popped out on her nose. She wanted to tell the judge that a jail cell was cruel and unusual punishment for  a person who panicked in slow elevators. She also wanted to ask him where the hell he got off, lying about her like that! This was her second, not her fourth, charge. Furthermore, just as she’d done the last time, she would have made good on the checks even if she hadn’t been summoned to court. Hadn’t she already covered three of the five checks she’s written? And right here in her handbag she had the forty-two-fifty she still owed, plus fifty dollars for the fine–same as the judge had made her pay last time. But last time she’d had a judge with his mind already on the gold course. He’d hardly bothered to look at her. There’d been no talk of jail that time.

From the opening sentence, Neely is being completely subversive to her readers–not only is she writing about a woman of color, front and center, that woman is also working class and struggling to make ends meet. She is dealing with–in even a small way–with the criminal justice system that is tilted against her–poor, working class, of color–and sure enough, she gets screwed. And while some might argue she shouldn’t have bounced checks (it’s not really clear whether she deliberately wrote bad checks, or if she wrote them thinking she was going to get paid, and then didn’t), I think everyone can agree that thirty days in jail–and a judge sentencing her based on a false premise that she was a more habitual offender–is excessive.

Blanche’s voice is one that is rarely, if ever, heard in crime fiction, either before or after this series, and that’s a shame. The book itself is thoroughly enjoyable, as Blanche manages to take advantage of a distraction at the courthouse and walk out, unimpeded…thus going “on the lam”, and not knowing what to do or where to go, remembers that she was supposed to take a temp gig as a housekeeper, and goes to that address. She winds up going out of town to work at a wealthy family’s vacation home, and it soon becomes very apparent that there is something really wrong with the family.

It’s also next to impossible not to root for Blanche, to want her to do well, and somehow get herself out of the predicament she’s found herself in. After all–there is a murder, she’s a fugitive from “justice,” and of course she’s a woman of color in a corrupt, racist place–it would be incredibly easy for law enforcement to simply pin the murder on her and wash their hands of the entire mess. It’s an absolute joy to see Blanche–with her own heart and compassion, not give in to impulses she shouldn’t, and to think her way out of everything, and not only exceed the reader’s expectations but subvert them completely.

Read this book. Read the entire series. There’s seriously no question that Barbara Neely is a grand master. None whatsoever. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Crocodile Rock

Oh, Louisiana.

My beautiful, beautiful state. Louisiana is basically a lush, fertile state chock full of important natural resources, and also sports the nickname “Sportsmen’s Paradise,” because outdoor sports–hunting, fishing, etc.–are abundant here. Lots of hunting, lots of fishing, that sort of thing.

But Louisiana also is known for corruption, being backwards in many ways, and some truly bizarre politics/politicians. It’s easy to say that Louisianans have a very cynical view of politics and politicians–no one is really surprised when one of our elected officials is caught doing something criminal or morally questionable; the basic presumption is that they’re all crooks and liars unless proven otherwise. We can never forget that one gubernatorial election featured bumper stickers and campaign slogans that read Vote for the crook, it’s important–when Governor Edwards, convicted for taking bribes in office, was running again after serving time and his opponent was notorious racist and former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

And for the record, that election was in the early 1990’s–not that long ago.

As I said yesterday, I watched a four hour documentary on Hulu this past week called Murder in the Bayou, about what is called the “Jeff Davis 8”–eight women murdered over a period of less than three years in and around the Jefferson Davis Parish village of Jennings. The women all  had issues with drugs, and also came from really poor backgrounds. The documentary was interesting, and seemed geared to the idea that there was a serial killer operating in the parish–and for some reason, the cops simply couldn’t track said killer down, and eventually the killings stopped.

I also remembered that there was a book about the murders, with the same title, by New Orleans journalist Ethan Brown, and I had a copy. So, after I finished watching the documentary Friday afternoon, I got the book down from the shelves and looked to see if there were any photographs included. There weren’t–just the flyer with the reward posted, with photos of all the victims on it. I started reading…

murder in the bayou

On May 20, 2005, Jerry Jackson, a soft-spoken slim African-American retiree with a short salt-and-pepper Afro, prepared to cast a fishing line from a hulking bridge over the Grand Marais Canal on the outskirts of Jennings in southwest Louisiana. Jackson peered down at the muddy rush below, the corroded, cylindrical rain pipes along the canal belching water, the collapsed pedestrian bridge far out in the distance. As he prepped his fishing line, Jackson imagined the catch that day, white perch, a small bass with a strong spine that’s so abundant in Louisiana it’s the state’s official freshwater fish. In low-lying southwest Louisiana, where rain is constantly siphoned to prevent flooding, drainage canals are as common as the perch. These canals provide sustenance for poor Louisianans for whom fishing is both a generations-old tradition and a day-to-day necessity. For hobbyists such as Jackson, who made the approximately ten-mile trip to Jennings from his cramped trailer on a dead-end street in nearby Welsh, drainage canal democratize fishing. Expensive shrimp boats and fishing equipment aren’t necessary–all one needs to do is drop a line into the water.

As Jackson peered deeper into the Grand Marais Canal, he spied the outline of a human body. “It had come up on the news that someone had stole some mannequins,” Jackson told me, “so I thought that one of the mannequins ended up in the water somehow.” Jackson focused his eyes on the figure. “I saw flies, and mannequins don’t attract flies.”

It didn’t take me long to get into the book to realize there was information, crucial information, about the victims in the book that wasn’t included in the documentary; in fact, the documentary left a lot of important information out. Yes, the women all had addiction issues, but they also were sex workers–turning to sex work to either get drugs, or to get the money to buy drugs. The police didn’t cooperate much with Mr. Brown, and the sister of one of the victims played a very prominent role in the documentary; she was only mentioned by name once in the book. Brown also shared the information that many of the victims were witnesses to other crimes, and theorized they were all killed to silence them–and that it wasn’t a serial killer after all. Brown also isn’t convinced completely that the police were so inept and incompetent to handle these kinds of investigations (something that came up a lot in the documentary), but that the parish police were actually corrupt, involved in the drug trade, and connecting all the dots also led to a peripheral involvement by a powerful politician. Naturally, the police and the politician disagree with Mr. Brown’s theories and conclusions…but he also includes, in the book, other crimes in the parish that may or may not have been connected to the murders, as well as corruption within the police department; things that were not in the documentary.

One of the things that struck me, while watching and again when reading the book, is how tragic the cycle of poverty is in these small towns, not just in Louisiana, but across the country. The class divide–marked in Jennings by literally railroad tracks that separate the good part of town from the bad–is truly staggering; I would imagine it’s much the same in big cities only not as obvious. The poor and uneducated people in places like Jennings are trapped in a terrible cycle of poverty that they cannot seem to break, which is truly sad, and the disruptive nature of the families they were born into doesn’t help much, either. And once someone starts spiraling down into drug addiction, there’s nowhere to turn to for help getting off the drugs…and there’s no money for rehab, which is incredibly expensive.

I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to stuck like that, with no hope for the future.

The book is very well written, and it’s not terribly long; I read it in one day, and it’s a terrific read. I do recommend it, and I also recommend watching the documentary as well. I’m curious about why they chose to leave some stuff out of the documentary that’s in the book–perhaps it has something to do with both using the same title but not adapting the book or using it as source material, or something along those lines–but it’s very interesting to see the two very different takes on the murders.

And yes, learning more about these murders did, in fact, give me an idea for another Chanse novel; the first idea I’ve had for a Chanse novel since I wrote Murder in the Arts District. I can easily see fictionalizing this story, with Chanse as the investigating private eye…or someone else, really; it doesn’t have to be Chanse, and the issues at play here–the disposability of drug addicted sex workers, class distinction, and corruption in the parish power structure–are things I would love to explore in a novel.

Like I don’t have anything else to write already, right?

And now back to the spice mines.

I Feel for You

Adam Rippon is going to the Olympics as the first openly gay American figure skater to compete in Olympic history.

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Let’s not be coy, though–there have been plenty of gay male figure skaters throughout the history of the sport–but most came out (or were outed) after their Olympic-eligible careers were over. (And Adam Kenworthy–not a figure skater– is also out this year, but he wasn’t out when he competed in Sochi.)

One of the things that has always fascinated me about figure skating is the contradiction evident in its gender roles. Men are, while being artistic, also supposed to read as masculine and not feminine; likewise the women (it’s still called Ladies’ Figure Skating, for the record) are supposed to be feminine, graceful and lady-like, rather than athletic; a feminine and graceful skater would always win over someone who wasn’t as graceful but was more of an athlete than a ballet dancer. This bipolarity at the heart of figure skating kept gay male skaters deep in the closet, particularly if they were American men; Russian men had no problem with wearing gloves and performing ballet on the ice–but at the same time, those Russian men (Viktor Petrenko, Alexei Urmanov, Ilia Kulik, Alexei Yagudin, and Yevgeny Pluschenko won every Olympic gold medal between 1992 and 2006) clearly were athletes, flying across the ice in footstep sequences with their feet and blades changing directions and edges as rapidly as a machine gun fires; dizzying fast spins with beautiful positions; and of course, landing quad and triple jumps with the greatest of ease, and almost always on the beat of the music they were performing to.

There was also an unspoken understanding that being openly gay would hurt a skater in the marks, which were often subjective, frequently unfair, and, according to the ISU, above reproach. Rudy Galindo was the first openly gay American skater to win US Nationals in 1996, and went on to win a bronze medal at worlds that year; the next openly gay skater to win the US title was Adam Rippon, some twenty years later. Between them was flamboyant Johnny Weir, who didn’t come out until after his Olympic-eligible career was over… (I might add that, despite being US champion and a world medalist in 1996, the USFSA chose not to send Rudy to any of the Grand Prix events the following season; a clear indication to him that his Olympic-eligible career was over, and he went pro.)

Rippon, incidentally, finished fourth at the Olympic trials this year, but was chosen to go to the Olympics anyway; selected over a heterosexual skater who finished with the silver medal. Have things changed with male figure skating since Rudy’s big win in 1996?

As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve always wanted to write a book about a gay figure skater. I did in Jackson Square Jazz, with the character of Bryce Bell, a US Olympic hopeful who is introduced to the reader as someone a very drunken Scotty picked up at a French Quarter gay bar, only to see him competing that same night at Skate America, being held in New Orleans for the first (and clearly fictional) time. (As a joke, I also had Bryce become the first skater in history to land a quad axel; this has still not happened in real life, and may not ever happen.) But Bryce’s skating was relatively unimportant to the story and plot of the book; although his remaining closeted as a skater was.

I never felt that I was able to truly explore the issues of being a gay, Olympic-eligible, American figure skater in the book; Bryce was a supporting character, and the story wasn’t told from his point of view (I’ve been tempted to bring him back, but can never figure out a way to do it organically; just forcibly grafting him onto a story because I want to just feels wrong).

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Ironically, Adam didn’t win Nationals until after he came out. Coming out–and being able to truly be himself for the first time–paid off. He’s a much better skater than he was before; but I do remember thinking at the time he came out, well, you’re never going to win nationals now. But by embracing himself for who he really is, he changed; he found a look and costumes that work for him–he used to have this mop of blonde curls–and his short program this year, to what Paul and I immediately recognized as a gay techno dance remix from back in the day–is one for the ages.

So, does the central premise of the noir figure skating novel I’ve wanted to write–a skater being forced into the closet and not allowed to be himself so that I can explore not only the dynamics of what masculinity is but the class issues inherent in figure skating (I still haven’t posted about my thoughts on I Tonya, which have everything to do with femininity vs. athleticism and class); the masks skaters are forced to wear in order to play the game and get the marks they deserve to win–does that premise still exist today? As far as I know, Adam and Rudy are the only American skaters to come out and skate at the Olympic eligible level; are there others? Is coming out still a risk to your career as a male skater?

Probably so.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.