The Irish Channel

Writing a cozy set in New Orleans seemed, at first, to be a little daunting.

One of the key tenets of a cozy is the sense of community one gets while reading it (see Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series for the perfect example; I love Caerphilly, Virginia, and enjoy revisiting twice a year to see how everyone is doing), and it took me a moment to readjust my thinking from “community means a small town” to “no, you moron, anything can be a community; and you can certainly find community in New Orleans.” And then I remembered Leslie Budewitz’ superlative Spice Shop series, which is set in Pike’s Market in Seattle. Seattle is a city, just as New Orleans is; and sure, it might be easier to just invent an entire new fictional small town to set a cozy series in, but if anything, there’s more sense of community in New Orleans than I’ve ever felt in other cities…and it was really about creating a community around my character, Valerie, and picking a neighborhood for her in which to live took me a while as I weighed pros and cons; the only thing that was definite was she was NOT going to live in the French Quarter (there’s a throwaway line where she thinks about how long it’s been since she’s been to the Quarter, and maybe she and her two best friends should arrange to have dinner at Galatoire’s or Antoine’s–yes, I used two of the better known restaurants in the city and the Quarter for the examples, but I also knew I could mention them without needing to explain them to the reader). I did go back and forth about the Marigny or Bywater, but finally decided to put her into a neighborhood that did not flood during Katrina, which narrowed the choices dramatically.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods used to be so distinct that knowing what part of the city someone lived would automatically create some assumptions–just as how the ever-popular question of where’d you go to high school used to be another way to connect with someone you’ve just met–there are any number of differences between those who went to Newman or Jesuit or Holy Cross or Ursulines or Ben Franklin or Warren Easton or McMain Magnet. New Orleans is a small enough city that chances were, you’d also know (or ar related to )someone else who’d gone to that high school at the same time, or you also knew other people who lived in their neighborhood. Obviously, the French Quarter is perhaps the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans, followed by the Garden District, working down through the Marigny, the Bywater, Mid-city, Gentilly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, etc. (With the gentrification of the city over the past sixteen or so years, realtors have also started creating new neighborhoods–which can be confusing. For example, they are trying to rebrand the Central Business District–the CBD–into SoMa, South of Market, which makes no fucking sense whatsoever as there is no market for the area to be south of; I often will have someone mention one of these new neighborhoods by name to me and I have no idea what they are talking about. They are also trying to rebrand the 7th Ward as the “new Marigny”…good luck with that.)

Scotty lives in the Quarter, and Chanse lives in the Lower Garden District–I’ve also written a lot of stories set in that neighborhood, which is also where I’ve always lived, and is quite distinct from the actual Garden District–I used to joke that we lived four blocks and three decimal points from the Garden District. So having done those neighborhoods already extensively, I wanted to pick a new place for Valerie to live and for me to write about.

I’ve always kind of been partial to the Irish Channel, although we’ve always lived in the Lower Garden District (distinct from the Garden District). I wrote one book about the Irish Channel already (aptly titled Murder in the Irish Channel), and of course, when I needed a place for Valerie to live, I decided the Channel would be the perfect place for her. Twenty years or so ago there will still blighted and crumbling houses in that neighborhood just waiting to be purchased, renovated and gentrified. The stretch of Magazine she lives near used to be one of my favorite parts of the city–I met any number of people for coffee at the Rue de la Course that used to be there, I used to really enjoy the Semolina’s restaurant as well as the Middle Eastern place whose name I can’t remember now (Byblos? it was the last restaurant meal in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina), and of course I sometimes shopped at the A&P or the Walgreens–before I realized Prytania and Tchoupitoulas were the easiest and quickest ways to get uptown; I wasted a lot of time stuck in Magazine Street traffic back in the day. Our friends Carrie and Lisa used to rent half of an enormous Victorian house near Third and Constance; I loved that enormous, drafty and dusty old house (it’s actually where my main character in my in-progress novella Never Kiss a Stranger lives), and was very sorry when they moved further uptown. Paul and I used to have a lot of fun looking for costumes and other home decor in the numerous thrift shops on Magazine; the one for St. Vincent de Paul (at the corner of Robert and Magazine, which eventually closed and became a Vitamin Shoppe; I don’t think the space is currently in use) was amazing. They used to sell handmade wooden tables and bookcases, made by monks in a monastery somewhere in northern Louisiana, and this furniture was not only solid, but it was inexpensive. We still have the bookcases and tables–one of them is my desk, the other is Paul’s–and I don’t think we spent much more than a hundred dollars on the two tables and the four bookcases. We must have bought that all after we moved back here after the year that should be forgotten; we didn’t move much furniture there or back.

But oh, how I would love to get some more of those bookcases. They are sooooo solid…

Plus, putting Valerie in the Irish Channel gives me the opportunity to write about St. Patrick’s Day–which I’ve never done with either of my other series–at some point in the future.

The Irish Channel obviously takes its name from the fact that many Irish immigrants settled there when they came to New Orleans. The Historic Landmarks Commission defines its boundaries as Jackson Avenue to Delachaise Street and Magazine Street to Tchoupitoulas. However, the New Orleans City Planning Commission defines the boundaries of the Irish Channel as these streets: Tchoupitoulas Street, Toledano Street, Magazine Street, First Street, the Mississippi River and Napoleon Avenue.

See what I mean about how confusing the city can be? We can even properly define the boundaries of our neighborhoods. I’ve always considered the Channel to start at Jackson (as does the Garden District proper) and end at Louisiana; with the other boundaries Magazine and Tchoupitoulas.

But I did think having her live so close to Louisiana Avenue–between Seventh and Harmony–would put her right smack dab into the heart of that neighborhood and in walking distance of practically anything she might need. I wanted her to be able to be able to do her errands most of the time on foot, because that also (in my mind) cemented the sense that it was a neighborhood and a community, if that makes sense? And once I’d picked where she lived, I was able to start building her community around her.

But that is a tale for another time.

I love these kinds of double houses!

Not That Funny

I do not recall which was my first story under the name Todd Gregory, and I am far too lazy to wade through everything to try to find out. I used the name the first time sometime between the release of Bourbon Street Blues and Mardi Gras Mambo, so we’re looking at sometime between 2003 and 2006, and I think it was either “The Sea Where It’s Shallow” or “The Sound of a Soul Crying”; I could also be mistaken in my memory. I’m not really sure of much anymore, and when I try to pin down a specific moment in the timeline of my life I am inevitably proven to be incorrect.

Although maybe my CV may hold the answer–hang on, let me check. Okay, per my CV I started using the name in 2004, and it was actually a story called “Wrought Iron Lace,” which was published in an anthology called A View to a Thrill, with the connecting theme voyeurism (the other two stories, to be fair, came out the same year). Ah, “Wrought Iron Lace,” my gay erotica version of Rear Window, in which a gay man in a wheelchair with two broken legs watches someone move in from his balcony across the courtyard, and his balcony also affords him a view into his new young neighbor’s bedroom, with the inevitable of course happening. (The courtyard set up was one I had wanted to use for quite some time; I loosely touched on it in Murder in the Rue Dauphine but I had wanted to do a kind of Tales of the City kind of thing about gay men living around a courtyard in the Quarter and kind of forming a little family group, a la the Maupin novel as well as Valley of the Dolls and call the novel The World is Full of Ex-Lovers. I returned to the courtyard set-up for another story, written and published as Greg Herren called “Touch Me in the Morning,” where I also used two of the characters I thought up for that novel. Another scene I originally imagined for that novel became the short story “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which appeared as a Todd Gregory story in the anthology Dirty Diner.)

But one of the things that had interested me, the more time I was out and around gay people, was how many gay men I knew had been in college fraternities–myself included. Almost every gay man I knew who’d been in a fraternity also had lots of prurient tales of illicit sexual experiences with their fraternity brothers–something that never once happened to me (I never once had sex with any of my fraternity brothers; to the best of my knowledge I am the only gay man to pass through the doors of my chapter), and that eventually led to me doing my final erotica anthology under my own name: FRATSEX.

FRATSEX was a good anthology, but I was not prepared for it to become a phenomenon. It earned out, thanks to preorders and subsidiary rights sales, before it was published, something that has never happened to me since; I got a royalty check for the book a month before it was released–and it continued selling for years. I got substantial checks for FRATSEX every six months until Alyson decided it no longer need to honor its contracts and pay its authors and editors the contractually obligated royalties twice a year it had agreed to, before it finally went belly-up after years of bad management and even worse business decisions. (I should point out that usually erotic anthologies had a very short shelf life; they usually never sold out their initial run, never did additional print runs, and certainly were gone within a year of release. FRATSEX was most definitely not that.)

But when Kensington decided to pass on the next Scotty book, they came back to me with another offer for something else: a gay erotic fraternity novel intended to follow the same sales path as FRATSEX. I had no idea what to call the book–but the money was too good to pass up, and so I signed the contract for a book whose working title was Fraternity Row. (I had suggested A Brother’s Touch or My Brother’s Keeper for titles; both of which icked out Marketing.) I think it was my editor who struck gold with Every Frat Boy Wants it.

As I walk into the locker room of my high school to get my backpack, I’m aware of the sound of the shower running. Even before I walk around the corner that will reveal the rows of black lockers and the communal shower area just beyond, I can smell that pungent smell; of sweat, dirty clothes and sour jocks. I would never admit it to anyone, but I love that smell. Especially when it’s warm outside—the smell seems riper, more vital, more alive. For me, it is the smell of athletic boys, the smell of their faded and dirty jockstraps. At night, when I lie in my bed alone jacking off in the dark quiet, I close my eyes and I try to remember it. I imagine myself in that locker room after practice, the room alive with the sound of laughter and snapping towels, of boys running around in their jocks and giving each other bullshit as they brag about what girls they’ve fucked and how big their dicks are. I try to remember, as I lie there in my bed, the exact shape of their hard white asses, whose jock strap is twisted just above the start of the curve, and below the muscled tan of their backs. It’s the locker room where I first saw another boy naked, after all—the only place where it’s acceptable to see other boys in various states of undress. The locker room always haunts my fantasies and my dreams.

And now,  as I reach the corner, I hesitate. Who could still be showering at this time? Everyone else has left; baseball practice is long over, and I’d be in my car heading home myself if I hadn’t forgotten my bag and I didn’t have that damned History test tomorrow. Could it be Coach Wilson? I shudder as I have the thought. I certainly hoped it wasn’t him. He was a nice man, but Coach Wilson was about a hundred years old and had a big old belly that made him look like he’d swallowed every single basketball in the equipment room. I take a deep breath and walk around the corner.

Maybe it was—um, no, that was too much to hope for. Just get your bag and go.

The locker room is filled with steam from the hot water in the shower. Wisps dance around the overhead lights, and it was so thick I could barely see the floor and make out the row of black painted metal lockers. Yet, through the steam, I can barely see a tanned form with his back turned to me, his head under the water spigot, hot water pouring down over his muscled back and over the perfectly round, hard whiteness of a mouth-wateringly beautiful ass. I catch my breath as I stare, knowing that I shouldn’t be—the right thing to do is call out a ‘hello’, pretend not to look, get what I need and get the hell out of there. But I am utterly transfixed by the sheer beauty of what I am seeing. I bite down on my lower lip, aware that my dick is getting hard in my pants as I watch. I can’t tear myself away—I don’t want to turn and go or stop staring, the body is too perfect. And with the wetness cascading down over it, the glistening flow of the water emphasizing every defined muscle in the lovely male form that has haunted my dreams and my fantasies ever since I transferred here my junior year and started going to this small rural high school.  Go, hurry, before he turns around and catches you watching—what are you going to say? Um, sorry I was staring at your ass?

But still I keep standing there, continuing to run the risk he’ll catch me, every second passing making it more likely. How long can he stand there like that without moving?

We-ell, that certainly starts off with a literal bang, doesn’t it?

I had no idea how to write this book, or what it was even going to be about when I signed the contract (I always say yes to money and try to figure it all out later). I’d had an idea, years before, for a book about a fraternity while I was actually living in one, and came up with three main characters: Eric Matthews, Chris Moore, and Blair Blanchard. The three were all friends, all pledge brothers, and all different. Eric came from an upper middle-class family, Chris was strictly middle-class and had a job, and Blair was the son of two movie stars, an aspiring actor himself, and was always intended to be gay gay gay. I had originally wanted to write a Lords of Discipline sort of novel about a fraternity and a secret society within the fraternity–still might; I think it’s a good idea–and so I thought, well, you belonged to a fraternity, and you created a fictionalized version of it for this book idea, so start there.

I fictionalized both Fresno and Fresno State into Polk and CSU-Polk, and my fictional fraternity’s physical house was based on the actual fraternity house, as well as the way its parking lot adjoined a sorority’s at the end of a cul-de-sac, with the fraternities’ parking lots on one side of the little road and the sorority ones on the other side, just like at Fresno State. My fictional fraternity house had a two story dormitory wing attached to the chapter room and meeting/party space/cafeteria, and so on. I created an entirely new character, closeted eighteen year old Jeff Morgan, who had just moved to Polk right after high school graduation (his family was transferred) and enrolls in summer school. In the opening sequence, Jeff is actually in his Economics class and bored, having a very vivid and erotic daydream about a boy he’d had a crush on in high school. Jeff is so involved and vested in the daydream he doesn’t even notice that the class was dismissed until a handsome classmate snaps him out of the daydream…that classmate is Blair Blanchard, who befriends Jeff and invites him to come hang out at his fraternity. It’s also soon apparent that Blair is not only openly gay but has no issue with it; he doesn’t really talk about it around the house, but everyone knows. Blair is the first openly gay person Jeff has ever known–Jeff is from Kansas and hopelessly naïve–and thinks he’s falling in love with Blair; but he isn’t sure how Blair feels about him.

Every Frat Boy Wants It is really Jeff’s story, and about how Jeff slowly comes into himself as a person; accepting his own sexuality and embracing who he is–while having a strange relationship with Blair that he doesn’t quite understand. It’s his first relationship of any kind, and he doesn’t understand why Blair keeps pushing him away–leads him on, turns him off, and so forth, on and on and on–and is told really in a series of vignettes, essentially sex scenes with both elaborate set-ups and follow-ups that have lasting impacts on him, with the story of his unrequited love for Blair running through them all. He even winds up shooting a porn film while on vacation with Blair in Palm Springs at Blair’s movie star father’s place. Eric and Chris turn out to be pledge brothers of Jeff’s–he eventually has a three way with them; they don’t identify as gay but “play around with each other”–until, of course, the very end when Blair and Jeff finally get past all their misunderstandings and disagreements and jealousies and commit, once and for all to each other.

The book did very well–that scorching hot cover also didn’t hurt–and they asked me for a sequel.

That sequel became Games Frat Boys Play, and was adapted from another novel idea I’d had lying around for quite some time (never throw anything away!).

My favorite memory of this book, though, is that I had to go to a conference in Atlanta for the weekend for a queer specfic event. (I still don’t know why I was invited; at that point I had edited one horror anthology and that was it, really) and the book was due. I was in Atlanta for four days; I did my panels and spent the rest of the time holed up in my room, writing madly in a desperate attempt to get this damned book finished and venturing across the street for Arbys whenever I got hungry. I set a writing record for myself that weekend–21000 words in three days–and the book was finished before I drove back to New Orleans. So whenever I talked about writing over twenty thousand words in a weekend? This is the book I am talking about.

Vieux Carré Voodoo

Ah, the fourth Scotty.

I know I’ve told this story about a hundred times, but I think it matters to the entire Scotty canon review thing that I’m doing now, and it kind of does shape the rest of the series. One afternoon when I was heading to work at the old CAN office on Frenchmen Street, I always parked on Kerlerec Street, which was one of the few places in the Marigny neighborhood that wasn’t restricted to two-hour parking and a potential ticket (I didn’t get a parking spot until I went full time). I got out of the car, locked it, and saw some people riding towards me on bicycles. I said good morning and they said good morning back and smiled and kept going. I took a few more steps before realizing that was Brad and Angelina and a couple of the kids! I smiled to myself–one of the things I love most about New Orleans is the regular celebrity sightings–and of course, they lived not far from my office at the time. As I kept walking, some thoughts started riffing in my brain: Brad is blond and not all that tall; Scotty is also blond and not all that tall. Brad and Angelina live essentially right around the corner from Scotty. What if Scotty was walking home one night and when he’s in front of their house someone takes a shot at him, mistaking him for a Brad type actor living in the Quarter? Someone is trying to kill him and since Scotty looks like him, they hire him to get to the bottom of it as well as to run interference?

I really liked the idea–Hollywood South Hustle (keeping the “H” alliteration I was going for when the book was going to be Hurricane Party Hustle)–and when I got home that night I wrote the proposal and first three chapters in a fever…spent a few days refining and polishing it, and submitted it to my Scotty publisher–and they turned it down.

Womp womp.

Around the same time, my Chanse publisher–who had yet to make an offer on the next book in the series–suddenly made an offer but gave me a two month turn around on the book. It was do-able, of course, but I thought I deserved something in return for that insane turnaround and so asked for a two book contract and more money; they were clearly desperate since they agreed to both. And I thought, Hmm, I can just turn that Scotty book into a Chanse book and thus it became Murder in the Rue Ursulines (and it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but that’s a story for another time).

And then one day, I was walking from the parking lot at my old office to where the Gay Easter parade was lining up (my office had a carriage and I rode) and as I walked underneath a balcony I barely avoided getting drenched (those who turn their balconies into lush gardens have to water them, after all, and the excess water has to go somewhere; it’s one of those Quarter hazards we’ve accepted) and in a flash, I thought that very thing–walking under balconies in the Quarter can be hazardous–and then imagined Scotty on his way to the Gay Easter parade to ride on his parents’ business’ float when he gets drenched by someone watering their balcony garden. And just as quickly as I had that thought, I thought of course Scotty would be dressed as a slutty Easter bunny in a white speedo and rabbit ears and tail and then it just got really funny to me. The next morning I wrote that scene, which grew into the first chapter, and since I needed to wrap up the personal story left hanging in the previous book, I ended the chapter with him seeing someone in the crowd he thought was Colin–a thought he quickly dismisses as impossible, and we were off to the races.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even pigeons and palmetto bugs are supposed, by some, to dream. New Orleans, not sane, stood by itself inside its levees, holding darkness within; it had stood there for almost three hundred years and might stand for three hundred more. Within, walls continued to tilt, bricks crumbled sloppily, floors were termite-chewed and doors sometimes shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of New Orleans, and whoever drank there there, drank alone.

Yeah, right. People only drink alone in New Orleans by choice.

My name is Scotty Bradley, and I’m a private dick who works the mean streets of New Orleans. I right wrongs. I help the downtrodden find justice. I punish the guilty. I ferret out crime, and protect the innocent while punishing the guilty. Criminals tremble when they hear my name, and get out of town if they know what’s good for them. Dame Justice may be blind, but I see all too clearly. The helpless come to me when everyone else has failed, when hope is gone, and the night seems darkest. I’ve got a mean right hook and never back down from a fight. I drink my martinis shaken, not stirred—because I like my gin like miscreants who cross my path, bruised and a little battered. I am on a never-ending quest for truth, justice, and preserving the American way of life. I rescue dreams and bring nightmares to an end. Don’t call me a hero, because any one of you would do the same if given the chance. There is no case too small for me to handle, and there is no case so large that it is intimidating. I’ve taken down a corrupt political machine, and would gladly do it again tomorrow. I’ve found lost treasures and stared down the Russian mob. I’ve stared evil in the face until evil blinked and backed away in mortal terror. I have—

Yeah, right. And I have a bridge across the Mississippi for sale, if you’re interested.

My name is really Milton Bradley, like the board game company—my parents have a slightly twisted sense of humor. Scotty is my middle name, but it’s what everyone calls me. I really am a private eye—bonded, and licensed by the state of Louisiana. I was born and raised in New Orleans and have lived here my entire life except for two misspent years at Vanderbilt University up in Nashville. I live on Decatur Street with my partner, Frank Sobieski. We’re business partners, and life partners. We met on a case a couple of years back, and it was pretty much love at first sight. Frank is one of the most gorgeous men I’ve ever seen outside of a porn movie. He’s in his early forties, about six foot two, and when he had hair, it was blond. Now that he’s balding, he shaves it down to a little buzz. He has the most hypnotic blue eyes, a strong chin, and a scar on the right side of his face. He also started lifting weights in his twenties—and there’s not an ounce of fat on his hugely muscled, amazingly defined body.

He also has one of the most amazing butts I’ve ever laid eyes on. Woof!

Well, okay—it was lust at first sight. Love came later.

I love treasure hunts, always have, and have always wanted to write one. One of my favorite series when I was a kid (they’re still actually quite fun to read now) are the Three Investigators series; which was originally called the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series as he introduced each case and sometimes even referred potential clients to the boys. Many of those books were treasure hunts, and those were always my favorite books. One of their adventures, which was also a favorite, was called The Mystery of the Fiery Eye and was loosely based on Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, which I read as a teenager and have always remembered fondly. I decided I wanted to do an homage to both books; the treasure everyone is looking for is a stolen, notorious jewel that is very important to a south Asian religious cult, and it’s name was Kali’s Eye, because it was mounted in an enormous statue of her in a temple in a very small, remote south Asian country.

And it was stolen during the Vietnam War, and they’ve been looking for it ever since.

After Scotty gets soaked in his slutty Easter bunny attire, he swears very loudly and the person on the balcony hears him. Turns out to be an old family friend–Scotty wasn’t really paying attention to where he was; his mind was elsewhere as he walked–and gets invited up, so the friend, Doc–he was a professor at University of New Orleans when Scotty’s parents went there–can give him a towel and run his outfit through the dryer quickly. While Scotty is there, Doc gives him an old stuffed toy Scotty had left there years ago, when he was a small child. This strikes Scotty as odd, but he humors Doc and takes the stuffed bunny. When he gets to the parade, his mother is thrilled to see Mr. Bunny, so he gives it to her.

And later, when he is walking home, there are cops at Doc’s. He fell to his death from his balcony, and his apartment was ransacked. Then the new tenant on the top floor of Scotty’s building (he and Colin gave up that apartment after Colin disappeared) wants to hire Scotty and Frank to solve a mystery for him–but soon he, too, is murdered–and also turns out to not be who he had claimed to be. Are these two murders connected, and if so, how?

My absolute favorite part of the book to write was the treasure hunt itself; when Scotty and Frank realize that Doc left clues behind for Scotty to solve and find the missing jewel; which takes them on a trail from the apartment on Decatur Street uptown in the rain. That was so much fun, and of course, when I was polishing the manuscript before turning it in, I had to actually go and follow the trail I’d set out for them to make sure it was accurate and worked and was something someone could actually follow…and of course, it was pouring that day so I did it, like they did, in the pouring rain.

I dedicated the book to my friend Poppy Z. Brite, a writer I’ve long admired and whose friendship I have always cherished. He was always a big fan of the Scotty books, and his support meant the world to me. He was actually the person who convinced me–one drunken night at the House of Blues for a Banned Books Night reading–that I could indeed write another Scotty book, and the boost of confidence was just what I needed to get back to work on this series. (And the Vietnam stuff was a nod to a private joke between us.) And it was, indeed, fun to get back to work on Scotty and produce another book.

And here I am, all these years later, writing another one. Go figure.

Jackson Square Jazz

The unplanned sequel!

That’s not entirely true, you know. Yes, Bourbon Street Blues was always supposed to be a stand alone (I know you’re tired of the story) and they offered a two book series deal and I took it, thinking I would just figure it out later. Well, I did figure it out later; and when I started writing Bourbon Street Blues I already knew there would be a second book and so I had to set it up in the first as well as plant seeds for the next one after that–if there was going to be another one after that. I didn’t know for sure or not whether there would be a third, so when I was writing the first I kept the personal story as simple as I could in case there wouldn’t be a third and I could wrap it all up with the second if need be. But by the time I finished writing Jackson Square Jazz I was already pretty confident there would be a third (the first had just come out and was doing extremely well) so even if the third still ended up not being contacted, everything wrapped up as nicely as possible at the end of Jackson Square Jazz.

I decided the main mystery plot of the book would have to do with the Cabildo Fire of 1988.

When Paul and I had first moved here, sometime within that first year we saw a documentary on our local PBS station (WYES, for the record, thanks for asking, you there in the back) about the Cabildo Fire. I can only imagine how the city reacted to the news that a fire had broken out in one of our most beautiful buildings and recognizable landmarks–especially given its proximity to the landmark of the city: St. Louis Cathedral, and on its other side, the Presbytere. The documentary focused on the remarkable methods the New Orleans Fire Department went to, not only to fight the fire and prevent its spread to other historic buildings nearby, but to preserve the contents of the inside. The Cabildo is the Louisiana State Museum, and it’s filled with all kinds of artifacts and art documenting the history of New Orleans and the Louisiana territory. They brought fire-fighting boats to the levee, and borrowed more from the Coast Guard. They began hosing down the buildings around the Cabildo so they’d be too wet for the fire to spread.

And firemen were sent inside to remove as much of the contents before they turned the hoses on the Cabildo itself.

They literally lined paintings, framed historic documents, and various other historical artifacts with a variety of values along the fence surrounding Jackson Square, delaying until they had no other choice but to turn the hoses onto the Cabildo.

How easy it would have been to walk off with something priceless in its historic value, I thought, thinking of Robin Cook’s marvelous Sphinx and its opening with the tomb of Tutankhamun being robbed before flashing forward to the present day where a young female Egyptologist happens upon a magnificent statue from antiquity; a golden statue of Pharaoh Seti I. I pictured another young woman, in an antiques shop in the Quarter, happening upon something that looks like an artifact lost during the Cabildo Fire (they saved over 80% of the museum’s contents, by the way), and decided upon the Louisiana Purchase treaty. I could also call the book Louisiana Purchase (which also is the name of the state’s food assistance program; you get a Louisiana Purchase card with an amount loaded onto it every month), and possibly weave something about a food assistance program scandal of some sort woven into it as well. I viewed this as a spin-off stand alone for my character Paige Tourneur from the Chanse series (I had always wanted to write about her), and I thought, you know, the Cabildo Fire and some McGuffin gone missing from the museum would make a great plot for the second Scotty book.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

And, being a dutiful writer, I contacted the administrative offices of the Louisiana State Museum and made an appointment to discuss my book and the fire with Executive Director Jim Sefcik.

And when I met with Jim, I discovered, to my great surprise, that not only had he been working there the day of the fire…it was his first day on the job.

“I was sitting in La Madeleine having coffee and a pastry,” he said (where Stanley is now used to be a La Madeleine; I used to get coffee there all the time during the Williams Festival), “when I heard a fire engine. I looked out the window and saw a firetruck pull up onto the pedestrian mall and stop in front of the Cabildo. As I thought that can’t be good another one pulled up from the other direction and THAT was when I saw the smoke.”

He gave all the credit to the fire chief for how everything was saved–“I just kept saying yes yes, whatever you think is best”–and I remember saying, “Well, at least you got it over with on your first day.”

He laughed, and replied, “Yes, now whenever there’s a crisis of any kind I just think well, at least the Cabildo isn’t on fire and that kind of puts things into perspective.”

He even gave me Polaroid snapshots of the aftermath of the fire; they’d scanned the originals long since to archive them. I just found them again Saturday when I was cleaning out cabinets, you can imagine my delight to stumble over them all these years later.

He also explained to me why the Louisiana Purchase treaty wouldn’t work as the MacGuffin (the original is stored in a vault at the Library of Congress; the display in the Cabildo is a copy and it is multiple pages long) and suggested the Napoleon death mask as a suitable alternative–even telling me a wonderful story about how the one in the Cabildo (there were four or five made) disappeared and then turned up in trash dump about thirty years later.

And he was right. It worked perfectly.

Danger is my middle name.

Okay, so that’s not strictly the truth. My middle name is Scott. But when you’re first name is Milton and you’re last name is Bradley, you’ve got to do something. Yes, that’s right, my name is Milton Bradley, and no, I’m not an heir to the toy empire. My parents, you see, are counter-culturalists who own a combination tobacco/coffee shop in the French Quarter.  They both come from old-line New Orleans society families; my mom was a Diderot, of the Garden District Diderots.  Mom and Dad fell in love when they were very young and began rebelling against the strict social strata they were born into. The Bradleys blame it all on my mom. The Diderots blame my dad.  My name came about because my older brother and sister were given what both families considered to be inappropriate names: Storm and Rain. According to my older brother, Mom and Dad had planned on naming me River Delta Bradley. Both families sat my parents down in a council of war and demanded that I not be named after either a geological feature or a force of nature. After hours of arguing and fighting, Mom finally agreed to give me a family name.

Unfortunately, they weren’t specific. So she named me Milton after her father and Scott, which was her mother’s maiden name. Hence, Milton Scott Bradley.

My older brother, Storm, started calling me Scotty when I was a kid because other kids were making fun of my name. Kids really are monsters, you know.  Being named Storm, he understood. My sister Rain started calling herself Rhonda when she was in high school. Our immediate family still calls her Rain, which drives her crazy. But then, that’s the kind of family we are.

So, yeah, danger really isn’t my middle name, but it might as well be. Before Labor Day weekend when I was twenty-nine, my life was pretty tame. I’m an ex-go-go boy; I used to tour with a group called Southern Knights. I retired from the troupe when I was twenty-five, and became a personal trainer/aerobics instructor. The hours were great, the pay was okay for the most part, and I really liked spending a lot of time in the gym. Every once in a while I would fill in dancing on the bar at the Pub, a gay bar on Bourbon Street, when one of their scheduled performers cancelled—if I needed the money. That Labor Day weekend, which is Southern Decadence here in New Orleans, I was looking forward to meeting some hot guys and picking up the rent money dancing on the bar. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be almost killed a couple of times or to have my apartment burn to the ground. I also didn’t expect to wind up as an undercover stripper for the FBI.

It’s a really long story.

The one good thing that came out of that weekend was I met a guy: Frank Sobieski, this mound of masculine, hard muscle with a scar on his cheek, who also happened to be a Fed. They don’t come any butcher than Frank. We hit it off pretty well, and he decided that once his twenty years with the FBI were up, he’d retire and move to New Orleans. I’ve always been a free agent. It’s not that I didn’t want to have a boyfriend, I just never thought I would find one. I enjoyed being single. I mean, young, single and gay in New Orleans is a lot of fun. It doesn’t hurt that people find me attractive, either. I’m about five nine, with wavy blondish hair that’s darker underneath. I wrestled in high school, mainly because the other kids were bullying me because they sensed I was gay. I’ve been working out ever since. Anyone who tells you being in shape doesn’t make a difference in your life is lying. It does.

But I needed a reason for the death mask-MacGuffin to come across Scotty’s path.

So, I turned back to the personal story of Scotty again.

It’s October now, been about five or six weeks since Labor Day and Halloween looms. There’s not been another word from Colin since the end of Bourbon Street Blues and Frank has put in for his retirement while he and Scotty are doing the long-distance thing; Scotty is finding it a bit restraining and having never really wanted or care about being in a relationship, is starting to have second thoughts about giving up his freedom. He has just come back from visiting Frank in DC and that visit has set his teeth on edge and made him even more nervous about Frank moving to New Orleans. David picks him up at the airport, hands him a joint, and Scotty goes on a bender…

…and wakes up with a massive hangover in bed the next morning, realizing to his horror that he is not in bed alone.

How relatable is that? I know I’ve been there more times than I care to remember.

And I realized, the trick is the key linking Scotty to said MacGuffin and the mystery, and as a big figure skating fan I decided to make him a figure skater, in town for Skate America. Scotty doesn’t know he’s a skater until he’s actually at the event and sees him warming up on the ice–and then he gets a note to meet him at his hotel room at the Hotel Aquitaine later that evening, along with the room’s key card–but Scotty shows up only to find a dead man with a knife in his chest.

This one was fun, and having Scotty’s weird ‘psychic’ power allow him to commune with the ghost of a long-dead fireman who knows the answer everyone is looking for was also a lot of fun. (I liked the concept of having Scotty and his mom go down to watch them fight the fire when he was a little boy.)

What a fun book this was to write!

I introduced a very fun Texas millionaire who collects things and doesn’t care how he acquires them (I even brought him back in Baton Rouge Bingo); was able to bring Colin back only to find out he’s not really a cat burglar but actually an international agent-for-hire working for the Blackledge Agency and thus created the “who will he wind up with” romantic triangle; and even had Scotty living in half of David’s shotgun while his home on Decatur Street was being rebuilt (which I had forgotten about until the skim-rereads and changes something with the new book). I also had Scotty get kidnapped again, and this book had the first of his many car accidents. It also contained Scotty’s first trip (in the series) to the West Bank.

One thing I forgot to mention when I was writing about Bourbon Street Blues the other day was how the series (books) were always intended to be insane and over-the-top*; always. The problem I always have with writing this series is stopping myself because something strains credulity and then I have to remind myself, “this series was always intended to be like New Orleans itself: completely unbelievable until experienced personally, and always over the top and ridiculous.”

Which is part of the fun, you know?

*For one example, Bryce Bell, the young skater, lands a quad-axel at Skate America. To put that in the proper perspective, to date no one had landed one competitively, although there’s a young American skater who can land them in practice….eighteen years later.

PS: When this book was released, I got asked a lot if I had posed for the cover; the same thing happened with Bourbon Street Blues; I was always apologizing for not being the cover model. With this book, I assumed it was the same thing…but later I realized they weren’t asking about the guy in front with this shirt open but the guy in back kissing his neck. At the time, I had a goatee and shaved head; this guy also has this and he does kind of look like me. What can I say?

Bourbon Street Blues

It’s Southern Decadence weekend in New Orleans.

It’s probably hard to imagine what Southern Decadence is like unless you’ve actually been to it; even the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken and shared on social media over the years can’t even remotely begin to get the concept of what it’s like across–the same as Carnival, really; it has to be seen and experienced to be truly understood. My first Southern Decadence was in 1995, which was around the twenty-second or third time it was held; my knowledge of Decadence, primarily from urban legend and tales told from one gay to another and passed down over the years, is sketchy and probably untrustworthy (if you’d like the unvarnished truth and read about the history, I highly recommend Southern Decadence in New Orleans from LSU Press, co-written by Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith; I have a copy and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Alas, my memory isn’t what it used to be, but the story is it began as a bar crawl for a friend who was moving away, and grew from those humble beginnings into a massive event that draws queers from all over the world).

That first Decadence I came to was also one of the hottest, temperature wise, or perhaps it was simply because I wasn’t used to the summers in New Orleans yet since I didn’t live here. I just remember being in Oz one afternoon and just soaked in my own sweat, and going down the back staircase from the second floor–the staircase that opens out onto the dance floor–and having to hold onto the railing because the steps were slick and wet. The railing was also wet, and when I touched the walls so were they–all the humidity and body heat and sweat–but at the same time it was so much fun. Gorgeous, flirty and friendly men everywhere, everyone scantily dressed and getting wasted and just having a good time. This was during the height of the circuit parties, most of which have died off over the years–there’s no longer a Hotlanta weekend in Atlanta in mid-August anymore, for example–but back then, it seemed like every month if you had the time and the money there was a circuit party somewhere you could fly off to and be yourself and have fun being in an entirely gay environment for a few days. That was, for me, one of the primary appeals of circuit parties and gay bars–they were safe havens for everyone to be out and proud and loud…and after a few weeks navigating the straight world for work and play and life in general…it was lovely to let loose in, for want of a better word, a safe space.

Circuit parties also had their downsides, don’t get me wrong–Michelangelo Signorile detailed some of those in his book Life Outside, which got taken out of context an awful lot–drug use and rampant sex and bad choices also led to other problems, not to mention the spread of HIV and other STI’s; the very first time I ever went to a circuit party–Halloween in New Orleans, 1995–there was a very Masque of the Red Death feel to it; here were all these gay men crowded into a riverfront warehouse, doing drugs and dancing and having a great time while the plague raged outside the doors. I even wrote about that in my diary on the flight back to Tampa a few days later.

But Decadence was always my favorite, out of all of them, and it was something I looked forward to every year. My workouts were always planned so I would hit peak physical condition for Decadence and maintain through Halloween, before starting to work on the Carnival body. It feels weird to talk about it that way, but that was my mentality and my schedule for years. Bulk up for a couple of months, then lean down leading into the event.

I had always wanted to write about Southern Decadence, and I know I’ve written about how I came up with the idea for the book numerous times; standing on the balcony at the Pub watching one of the strippers fight his way through the mob of gay men to get to the Pub so he could work, Paul saying you really should write a book about Southern Decadence and seeing a scene vividly in my head as I looked down at the sea of sweating gay men. I’ve also written about where the idea for the character and his family came from. So what is there left for me to say about Bourbon Street Blues?

The new cover for the ebook edition.

The name’s Dansoir. Dick Dansoir.

Okay, so that really isn’t my name. It’s my stage name from the days when I was on the go-go boy circuit. I started when I was in college, at Vanderbilt up in Nashville. As with almost everything that goes on in my life, I became a go-go boy on a fluke. The Goddess brings interesting experiences into my life all the time. Sometimes I don’t think it’s all that great, to tell the truth, but she always seems to be watching out for me.

I was working out at my gym one day when this guy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to make some easy money.

Like I hadn’t heard that one before.  

I was twenty-one at the time, just turned, but I wasn’t some wide-eyed dopey innocent. I was raised in the French Quarter, after all, and by the time I went off to college at age eighteen I had pretty much seen everything. French Quarter kids have a lot more life experience than other kids their age. You can’t really help it. The French Quarter is like Disneyland for adults, and growing up there, you get used to seeing things that other people can only imagine.

Anyway, this guy said he was a booking agent and scout for this agency that booked dancers in gay bars throughout the deep South. The troupe was called Southern Knights.

“You can make a lot of money this way,” he said to me above the sounds of people grunting and weights clanging. “You’ve got the look we like.”

I looked at myself in one of the mirrors that are everywhere in gyms. I was wearing a white tank top and a pair of black nylon jogging shorts. I was pumped up from lifting, and if I did say so myself, I looked pretty good. I’m only about five-eight—nine if I have thick-soled shoes on. I have curly blond hair that’s darker underneath. The sun does lighten it, but that darkness underneath always makes people think I dye it. I don’t. I have big, round brown eyes. I am also one of those blonds lucky enough to be able to tan. I’d gotten a good tan that summer and it hadn’t faded yet. The white tank top showed the tan off nicely. I also have a high metabolism and can stay lean rather easily.

But scam artists are everywhere. I wasn’t about to fall for a line from some stranger in the gym. For all I knew, it was a trick to get my phone number, or an escort service, or something else I didn’t want to be involved in.

Not that I have anything against escorting. People go to escorts for all kinds of reasons—loneliness, fear of commitment, whatever—but they do fulfill a need in the gay community, and more power to them. I just never saw myself taking money from someone for having sex. I like sex. I enjoy it. So, it just never seemed right for me to tale money for doing something I like.

Besides, taking money for it would make it work. I prefer to keep my status amateur.

I got a copy of the book out yesterday and skimmed/read it again, to get another look and remind myself of Scotty’s roots and beginning. I realized yesterday, as I turned the pages of an ARC (yes, I still have ARC copies of Bourbon Street Blues available), several things: one, that the reason I always hate reading my own work is because my brain is trained to read my work editorially, to fix and edit and correct and look for things needing to be fixed (and I can always find something) and that second, it’s really been so long since the last time I looked at this book–or any of the earlier Scottys–was four years ago, when I was writing Royal Street Reveillon. So, by making the obvious effort to flip the editorial switch off, and having so much distance from the book that it almost seemed like something new to me, I was able to skim/read the entire thing without wincing in horror or pain or embarrassment.

The original cover, which always makes me smile.

Bourbon Street Blues was also the last novel I wrote that didn’t have an epigram of any kind, let alone Tennessee Williams: I started that practice with Jackson Square Jazz with a line from Orpheus Descending: “A good-looking boy like you is always wanted.”

Reading the book took me back to the days when I was writing it. The Greg who wrote Bourbon Street Blues is still here, I’ve just been through quite a bit since then and have changed because of my experiences. There were some sentences in the book I would change now to make better, but there are still some jewels in there, and well, I can kind of understand now why the character is so well-liked. He’s charming and humble and kind; sure he talks about “being irresistible” a lot, but that’s part of the charm. Guys find him attractive. He doesn’t necessarily see it, but is more than willing to accept it and not question it. He enjoys his sexuality and he enjoys having sex. I wanted Scotty to be unabashedly sexual and to have no hang-ups, carrying no stress or issues about being a very sexual gay man.

As I read the book again, I also started seeing something that had been pointed out to me over the years a lot–and began to understand why this was pointed out to me so much; an old dog can learn new tricks, apparently–but I still think other people are wrong. The book isn’t “all about sex,’ as some have said. Rather, Scotty sexualizes men; he sees them as potential partners and appreciates beauty in men. His friend David also loves to get laid, so they cruise a lot–whether they are at the gym (either the weight room or the locker room), a bar, wherever they are–and so people get the idea that the book itself is incredibly sexual, even though there is literally only one sex scene in the entire book and it’s not graphic; Scotty’s weird mish-mash of spirituality and beliefs and values make the act itself a sacred ritual, and that was how I wrote the scene; from a spiritual, commune-with-the-Goddess perspective. It’s also funny in that people are so not used to seeing world through the Gay Male Gaze that it’s jarring, and puts sex and sexuality into the minds of the reader.

The question is, would people think the same if this was done through the Straight Male Gaze, in which women are sexualized? Since this is the default of our society–literature, film, television–is flipping the script to show the Gay Male Gaze so uncommon and so unheard of that it triggers such a reaction from some of the readers?

There’s also so much innocence in the book, and it’s also interesting to see it as a kind of time-capsule: Scotty doesn’t have a computer; his rent (on Decatur Street in the Quarter, with a balcony) is $450 a month (ha ha ha ha, that’s what the condo fee would be now monthly); and he also doesn’t have a cell phone. The whole point of the book was to do a Hitchcockian wrong place/wrong time now you’re in danger kind of story; and that is precisely what Bourbon Street Blues is. I’d forgotten that one of the running gags in the book is that he never gets a chance to sleep much throughout the story so he’s tired all the time and just wants it all to be over so he can go to bed.

Another thing that’s dated: even in 2002, in my naïveté and innocence, the evil politician running for governor–when described by Scotty’s brother Storm as problematic–even he doesn’t support an outright ban on abortion–he wants to ban it but with the rape, incest and health exceptions.

Even in 2002 I couldn’t conceive of anyone running for statewide office calling for an outright ban on abortion.

How things change.

It was also interesting that I got two things very wrong in the book, too: for one, I was thinking for some reason the swamp on the edges of Lake Pontchartrain on the way to Baton Rouge on I-10 was the Atchafalaya (it’s the Manchac/Maurepas), and while I had always remembered I’d given Scotty’s mom a name in this book but forgotten it later when I needed a name for her in a different book–I had the name wrong. I thought I’d called her Marguerite in Bourbon Street Blues then named her Cecile in a later book; I had actually called her Isabelle. (I’ve even told that story–about the names–before on panels and been WRONG ALL THIS TIME!)

It was also interesting and fun to remember–as I read–that Scotty was also not looking for a boyfriend. He was perfectly happy and content being single (which was also something important I wanted to write about–a gay man who didn’t care about finding a life-partner, figuring if it was meant to be it would happen). I also presented him with two potential love interests–Colin the cat burglar and Frank the hot daddy–with that actually being resolved without him having to make a choice between them. I also had the book end with Scotty being slowly persuaded into becoming a private eye.

Originally I had conceived it as a stand alone novel, but the publisher offered me a two-book contract, so when I was writing Bourbon Street Blues I knew there was going to be a sequel. This freed me to leave some personal things open for him; I knew I was going to bring Colin back in the next book so he was going to have to choose between them, and I also knew the personal story needed to be wrapped up by the end of the third book, which was going to be the end of the series with everything resolved. That changed when I wrote Mardi Gras Mambo, but that’s a story for another time.

Bottom line: it’s a good book and I am proud of it. It’s only available now as an ebook from Amazon, but I hope to eventually make it available through every service as well as get a print-on-demand version for those who might want one.

Warm Ways

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all is well in the world. Southern Decadence is raging in the French Quarter–if someone would have told me as recently as ten years ago I would have ever reached the point where I didn’t care about going down there and diving into the sea of mostly undressed gay men from all over the country I would have laughed at the absurdity, but one gets older and things and priorities change. Do I have fond memories of years of going and having an amazing time? Absolutely. Do I miss those times? Somewhat, but I am also aware that I am older and that kind of wild-ass partying is too much for my old body to handle anymore.

I slept really well last night, which was a delightful and pleasant surprise. When I got home from the office yesterday–running errands on the way home–I was tired, of course, but still managed to do all the bed linens, get the rest of the laundry done, and did two loads of dishes in the dishwasher. There are still some odds and ends around here that need to be taken care of, but other than that, the Lost Apartment is sort of under control. For now, at any rate.

College football is also back this weekend (GEAUX TIGERS!) with LSU playing tomorrow night in the Super Dome. Monday of course is Labor Day, Tuesday I have to go into the office, and then Wednesday it’s off to Minneapolis. Huzzah! As such I will probably get no writing done at all while I am gone–I’ll be too busy running around everywhere–so it would be nice to make some good progress on everything I am working on this weekend. Of course, the temptation to be lazy and simply spend the weekend relaxing is, of course, always going to be there–will probably win out more often than not–but that’s okay. I am done beating myself up for not working every minute of every day every week of every month of every year. Everyone needs down time, and it’s absurd to think otherwise.

My reading is all picked out for the flights/airport time: Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, Donna Andrews’ Round Up The Usual Peacocks, and Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home, if I don’t finish it this weekend, with Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side on deck. I’ll probably get some books while I’m at Bouchercon, too–the book room is always too big of a temptation for me to avoid completely–and I am pretty overall excited about the trip, and neither flight requires getting up at the break of dawn, either, which is lovely. We also got caught up on Bad Sisters last night, a fun show on Apple Plus–but the one I am really looking forward to is The Serpent Queen, as I love me some Catherine de Medici, and I have long wondered why this fascinating, complex and extremely intelligent woman has never been deemed worthy of a film or a television series (it would have been a great role for Bette Davis back in the 1940s; she would have chewed the scenery like nobody’s business and gotten another Oscar nomination).

This morning’s coffee, by the way, is da bomb. Delicious and hitting the spot, which tells me yet again that I slept incredibly well.

I am feeling particularly good this morning, which is also nice. It’s always nice when you feel rested. Oh! I’ve also been invited to speak on a podcast about Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, which gives me an excellent excuse to reread it!

Alert Constant Readers will have noticed by now that I’ve been making posts about my stand alone novels over the last month or so (maybe just the last couple of weeks? I am not sure of anything anymore and I certainly don’t trust my memories); I am currently working on Timothy and The Orion Mask, after which I will most likely move on to some of the pseudonymous work I’ve done–the Todd Gregory novels, for example–but I should also, in honor of Southern Decadence, talk about Bourbon Street Blues this weekend; but I’ve already done plenty of writing and talking about Scotty and how he came to be, and how I came to write the book and where the idea for it came from, so I’m not entirely sure there’s anything left to say about Scotty and Bourbon Street Blues that I haven’t already said; I’m sure I just don’t remember everything I’ve written on my blog about that book. But it won’t hurt to revisit the book; I know there are some things about the books I’ve never talked about before. but we shall have to see.

And then should I do the short stories? The novellas? Why not? It is my blog, after all, and I can do whatever I please with it, can’t I?

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee before heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in again later.

New Orleans

Twenty-eight years ago I came to New Orleans for my birthday weekend, and my life changed completely. Earlier that month I had already taken a cold, hard, long look at my life and I didn’t like what I saw. I had been wrapped in misery for years, wallowing in it, and diving so deep into the misery that I allowed it to erase my dreams and any hopes I had for the future. It was, after all, very easy to blame outside forces for my miserable life, and when you dig deep down into the misery, well, it’s a lot easier to just wrap yourself up in self-pity than take any responsibility for your own happiness; making excuses not to try rather than reasons to better myself. I worked for Continental Airlines at the Tampa airport–most times not a bad job for the most part, but the bad days were horrible–and didn’t make much money. I was broke all the time and yes, I wasted a lot of money treating myself to things–like buying lots and lots of books every payday–in an effort to make me feel better about myself and my miserable life. I was horribly lonely.

A bad experience with someone I was romantically interested in was the impetus for the changes I made to my life, because for whatever reason that night everything just bubbled up to the surface; I hated everything about my life, I hated where I was at, I felt trapped and like nothing good was ever going to happen to me. I stayed up the entire night, feeling sorry for myself and unable to sleep, tossing and turning and occasionally crying. At seven o’clock the next morning (it was a day off) I went into my bathroom and took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror. I never want to feel this way ever again, I thought as I looked at red swollen eyes, the unshaved face. the dark purplish circles under my eyes. I then repeated it out loud. I went back to my desk, sat down and opened my latest journal and wrote the words: I hate my life. I stared at the words for a few moments, and then added, I have no one to blame for this but myself. I am the only person who can change things for me. I want to be a writer. I want to be published, and I don’t want to work for Continental for the rest of my life in this job that makes me miserable. I am lonely and it’s probably too late for me to find a life partner. But I have to stop being afraid of everything, and I can’t go the rest of my life NOT living because I am afraid of dying. Other men are not attracted to me because I am overweight–no one ever looks at me twice when I go to bars. I cannot change my face but I can change my body. I will eat healthy. I will drop some of this extra weight. I will do crunches and push-ups every day from now on, and if by January I have been consistent with the workouts and the diet, I will join a gym. I need to start figuring out who I am and how to get what I want because no one is going to knock on my door and just give it to me. The only person who can change the things in my life is me, and I am going to work on being the best possible me that I can. And that means taking the steps necessary to change who I am and what my life is so I can become a writer.

Three weeks later, my birthday weekend rolled around and I flew to New Orleans with a friend for the weekend. We were staying with his on-again off-again boyfriend–who turned out to be one of the nicest gay men I’ve ever known. I really liked him. thought he was a good person–but once they broke up for good that was the end of that; I guess he associated me with his ex and so couldn’t be bothered anymore (or he did a great job of acting the part of the generous host; I am not sure how the invitation to stay with him came about; all I knew was we were going to New Orleans for my birthday and staying with this guy), which was always a shame. I was always grateful to him–have been for twenty-eight years–because coming to New Orleans that weekend was yet another key piece to the puzzle of Greg’s future, a piece I didn’t even now I needed.

I think at that point I may have lost five pounds or so. My friend was gorgeous; one of those perfect gay men with golden skin and very little–if any–body fat; his boyfriend was his counterpart, only with much bigger muscles, bluish-black hair, and that gorgeous gorgeous olive toned skin darker Italians have. They looked beautiful together, too, and I was in some sense a third wheel that weekend, but it was okay with me. They were totally into each other which left me with time on my own to think and reflect. He picked us up at the airport and took us to his apartment (which was in a complex on Sophie Wright Place that Paul and I eventually moved into when we returned from DC in August 2001), we showered and cleaned up, and headed to the Quarter.

I had been to New Orleans before that particular trip, and while I had always felt drawn in some ways to this city since I was a child, I’d never before felt the sense of belonging I felt that weekend. When we stepped out of the cab that night at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann, I felt this enormous emotional release, as though tension I didn’t know I. had in my shoulders and brain were suddenly gone and a big burden had been lifted from my shoulders. It was as though my soul was saying at last you’ve come home, and I knew then, before we paid the cover charge to go into the bars there at the corner–Oz and the Pub/Parade–that I was going to someday live in New Orleans…and all of my dreams would come true once I did.

I have never been sure what was different about that trip than previous ones. On my brief, previouos visits to the city before, I’d never gotten a real sense of the city before–we stayed in motels by the airport or on the West Bank–and so it wasn’t really possible to get a sense of New Orleans. Waking up in the spare bedroom in the morning, walking out onto the balcony and looking around at the roofs and unique architecture of the lower Garden District, I felt like I was at home. It was also the first time I’d ever come to New Orleans to hang out with other gay people and in the gay section of the Quarter, and maybe that was the difference? I don’t know for certain, but I do know that was the magical trip when everything coalesced in my head on that trip here. I knew New Orleans was my home, and I needed to live there, and my dreams would finally all come true once I’d moved there.

My friend’s boyfriend was a great host. He made sure to take me to see Anne Rice’s home at First and Chestnut (which was also the home of the Mayfair witches in The Witching Hour, a book I’d loved that had only heightened my sense of need to come to New Orleans), and showed me (us) around the entire weekend; we went to Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, ate amazing food, and then at night we’d head down to the Quarter to the bars and danced the night away.

That was also the weekend I did Ecstasy for the first time, but that’s a story for a different time.

The entire weekend was a whirl; I have pictures somewhere (or lost many years ago during the course of a move or something) of all the places we went and things we did; the amazing food, dancing all night and going to the Clover Grill in the morning (or La Peniche, over in the Marigny) and then sleeping before going roaming again throughout the city. I fell for New Orleans hard that weekend, and have never really fallen out of love for the city, really, since. We broke up once (that dreadful year Paul and I spent in DC), but we came back and New Orleans forgave us for our desertion and welcomed us back home.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard about New Orleans, but I do remember Nancy Drew came to Carnival (called “the Mardi Gras” in the book, eye roll to infinity) in The Haunted Showboat (she also visited briefly during The Ghost of Blackwood Hall), but I don’t really remember much else. I think everyone in the country has a sense of Carnival/Mardi Gras, and always associates that with New Orleans–but New Orleans, obviously, is so much more than that. I was a kid when I watched the James Bond movie Live and Let Die–which whetted my interest in New Orleans and Louisiana–later movies like The Big Easy and Angel Heart and Tightrope expanded that interest, as did Anne Rice’s novels and the Skip Langdon series by Julie Smith. Whenever I had been to New Orleans previously I hadn’t felt anything but a sense that the city was different than everywhere else, and that difference felt alien to me.

But that entire weekend was different. That weekend in the city changed me and changed my life. I’d never felt like I’d belonged anywhere before–I always had felt out of place wherever I lived; part of it was being gay, part of it was being a creative, and the rest had everything to do with being raised by Southern parents with a Southern mentality but not living in the South (not a complaint, I am very grateful to have not been raised down here)–so New Orleans felt special to me; I’d finally found my place or, to quote Pippin, I’d finally found my corner of the sky.

Within a year I’d met the love of my life–who also was in love with New Orleans and wanted to live there–and on August 1, 1996, I drove the U-haul truck with all of our stuff and towing my old car into the city to start the rest of my life. I had already started dipping into the waters of writing–I got a gig with a gay paper in Minneapolis that actually paid me, and had started writing the book that would eventually become Murder in the Rue Dauphine. Within three years of moving to New Orleans I had a book contract and had sold my first ever short stories. Twenty-eight years to the day of that most important visit to New Orleans, and look at me now.

I live in the city I love with the man I love doing the work I love. I’m glad that I didn’t know at the time how important that weekend was going to prove to be; that it was, indeed, really the first day of the rest of my real life, when I finally stopped just enduring my life and actively started living it. It’s not always been easy to live here and love the city; New Orleans can be a hard place a lot of the time. We’ve endured hurricanes and floods, disease and injury, poverty and horror. But even the bad things are made bearable because we live in New Orleans.

I’ve written millions of words about New Orleans. One of the best compliments I can receive is being told that I’ve depicted the city so vividly and lovingly that it’s a character. I do laugh when people call me a “New Orleans expert”–I am anything but an expert; you could fill the Great Library of Alexandria with what I don’t know about New Orleans; every day I discover something new about this wondrous and bizarre place, the only place on earth I’ve ever felt at home. I will never run out of material to write about this magical city, and every day, more ideas and thoughts for stories and characters and essays about New Orleans comes to me.

So, my favorite part of my birthday is the fact that it is also the anniversary of me finding, at long last, where I belong.

And thank you, New Orleans, for always, no matter what, being New Orleans.

I’ve always rather blasphemously called this statue “Drag Queen Jesus”, for reasons that should be fairly apparent.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Thursday! Somehow we have managed to make it to Thursday, Constant Reader, which is definitely something to cheer about. Huzzah! This week has been a bit challenging, but I feel pretty good today (yesterday was one of those I slept well but never seemed to completely wake up days, which are getting harder and harder to deal with); I slept decently and I feel like I’m awake this morning, which is better than yesterday at any rate. I ran some errands on my way home from work last night, and then was tired. Paul was working on a grant so I just sat in my easy chair with my journal, trying to outline some projects that are currently in progress and get a stronger idea on where to go with the stories.

I’m not going to try to write that story whose deadline is the end of this month. As deep a wormhole as I’ve gotten into for the lost town of Freniere in the Manchac Swamp and Julia Brown the witch–which I am definitely going to write about at some time–I still don’t have an idea for a story, and I have another anthology I want to write something for by the end of the year that’s going to need some serious thought and consideration. The other contributors are very impressive names–it’s going to be another one of those one of these things is not like the other or why am I up here with these people? I was thinking about this same thing last night as I was telling Paul about my Bouchercon panels–in almost every case, I was thinking, what am I doing on these panels with these incredibly smart and talented people? Oh, well, the audience will be there for the other people and I’ll just be sitting up there, afraid to say anything for fear of proving that I don’t belong up there.

Ah, Imposter Syndrome. Such a delight at all times. Woo-hoo!

But as this month continues to slip through my fingers and everything I have to do continues to pile up with more and more things for me that I need to do–triage triage triage–and I am making a to-do list to try to make sure nothing gets overlooked or slips through the cracks. That’s always my fear; not that I won’t get everything done in a timely manner, but that I’ll forget something if I don’t write it down. That terrifies me. But I am pretty happy that I got a rough start to the Scotty book, have gotten some other things done, and am really hopeful that I’ll get to finish reading my book this weekend.

I continue to be endlessly fascinated by the Great Hurricane of 1915–in no small part because I wrote a New Orleans story set in 1916 (“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”) that makes no mention of it at all. This is one of the pitfalls of writing historical fiction–I am not an expert on New Orleans history and it never occurred to me to check to see what the hurricane situation in the preceding years was. On the other hand, I have read some New Orleans history for that period and NO ONE mentions the Great Hurricane of 1915. NO ONE. And considering it wiped some towns off the map (Ruddock and Freniere, in the Manchac Swamp), you’d think it would have merited a mention in some of these Storyville/French Quarter histories? It was a Category 3 or 4, so it had to have done some serious damage in New Orleans, and in the fall of 1916 the city would have still been rebuilding, one would think. Anyway, I picked a book on the hurricane from the library yesterday which I will also peruse this weekend to try to figure out how I want to write my story “When We Die” (yes, I already have a title for the story, I just don’t know how it’s going to go or what it’s going to be about or if it will even ever turn into anything…but now I also want to write a Sherlock Holmes story involving a hurricane….this is why, in case you were wondering, it’s so hard for me to get shit done because other ideas are always crowding their way into the front of my brain which is really annoying….)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Friday Eve, Constant Reader!

Sweet Mary

Preparing for a workshop on writing sex scenes is not as easy as one might think. And of course, I have to do it today since the workshop is tomorrow morning, but I am going to have to do it around appointments and driving all over the metropolitan area of the city and it looks like we’re going to be having a shitty weather day on top of it all. Huzzah. I did sleep in this morning–I suspect my Fitbit, which I am not so sure I trust anymore is going to tell me that I didn’t sleep well (oh, there was some thunder!) and in just now checking the weather I see we are going to be having thunderstorms during the entire time I will be out dashing around the city. Huzzah.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Last night after Paul and I got home, I finished (I’d started the night before while I was waiting for Paul to come home) watching the first episode of The Real World New Orleans: Homecoming, or whatever it’s called. We used to watch The Real World religiously; I think we stopped watching during the Austin season, and never went back. But we were very excited back in the day when the New Orleans show was announced, and of course, even in those pre-Internet days stories about the cast and the filming used to break in the newspaper. They also were living in the Belfort mansion, which isn’t far from where we lived then (and now), but in the years since it’s turned into a boutique hotel. (The owner–mentioned but not by name–used to work out at my gym.) I am not sure where the house they are living in for this taping is, but I think it’s on Esplanade Avenue; I don’t recognize it from the exteriors. I never really had put a lot of thought into the shows before it filmed here–but once it started, I started to understand that “reality television” wasn’t really reality. They weren’t on camera 24/7, like the show claimed, and they also set up shots and maybe there wasn’t a script, per se, but it wasn’t “real”–we used to see the cast walking around the neighborhood, followed by a film crew that wasn’t filming them. They also filmed in places we knew; Danny the gay one worked as a bartender in one of the gay bars (I want to say Oz? I could be wrong, it’s been over twenty-odd years), and of course we used to see them and the signs on the doors of businesses announcing that the show would be filming there, the time they would be filming, and being present inside during those times meant consent to being filmed unless you advised the crew otherwise (those people who are pixilated out in background scenes didn’t give consent). The “job” the cast did while here was to produce a talk-type television show on local public access which began airing while they were still filming; Paul and I actually caught it by mistake flipping through the channels, and as we watched it, we both said, “Oh, this isn’t going to go over well here”–they were being hypercritical of the city, and yes, as you can imagine, it didn’t go over well. Places began denying them the right to film there, they were criticized everywhere–from all the local newspapers to all the local media–and they eventually had to apologize in order to get places to let them film. (I actually kind of felt sorry for them–they were kids, for Christ’s sake.) The reunion show is weird to watch–again, they were going to places I recognized (the drag show was at the Bourbon Parade, the dance club above the Pub), but it’s also weird to see how they look now, who they’ve become, and hear their stories about the impact being on the show had on their lives.

Then Paul came back downstairs and we watched the first two episodes of the new Queer as Folk, which was filmed here and is also set here. New Orleans is a beautiful city, and that’s one thing the producers and editors decided to play off; the show is beautifully filmed, and they made sure they showed off the city’s beauty at every opportunity they had. It was kind of choppy at the start–uneven, but first episodes when you’re launching a new series often are; it is the rare show that pulls off the first episode perfectly, especially when there’s a large ensemble cast. I love the cast, by the way; it’s mixed and diverse and displays a broad spectrum of the community, as opposed to the original (with its focus on white cisgender men, with the token lesbian couple thrown in just for fun). Paul and I watched the original primarily to be supportive; we knew it was a groundbreaking show and we needed to support it so networks would see there was value in queer programming, but neither of us were really fans of the show itself. It was very earnest, very ABC Afterschool Special and preachy when it came to important topics; and then would veer off into the ridiculous. For me, it was this weird mix of a Very Special Episode and silliness, and it is virtually impossible to do both. Daytime soaps make it look easy, but it’s not that easy to do–we always kept saying, “they need to either decide if they want to be a serious drama or gay Melrose Place” (obviously, we were hoping they’d go the Melrose Place route), but it seems like this reboot–despite the shaky opening–is off to a good start. We will continue watching, and hoping for the best (my supervisor at my day job filmed with the show; he does drag as Debbie with a “D”–his outfits and lewks are fucking amazing, so I am also hoping to see Debbie on the show)–and as Paul said, (and is why I’ll keep watching that awful Homecoming show) “at the very least, the city looks beautiful.” Babylon, the queer bar in the show, was actually in the neighborhood of my old office; it sits on the corner of Frenchmen Street and Chartres, and that neighborhood you see in the show isn’t the Quarter but the Marigny (I miss my old office on Frenchmen Street). We will probably continue watching it tonight, and I am kind of oddly looking forward to it. I am definitely here for all the queer rep on television lately, even as the trash continues to come for us and our rights.

Yes, I said trash, even though the word hardly expresses my deep, abiding, and utter contempt for those who hate me and my community and wish us dead.

And there’s the rain.

AND the obligatory flash flood warning came right after it started, of course.

Heavy sigh.

I did work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday some; it’s now about twenty-four thousand words, for those who are keeping track. I am really liking the story and I am really enjoying working on it, for those who were wondering. It’s nice to be writing again and enjoying it–it’s been weird this past year how that has gone; but I’ve also come to recognize that I have had periods of my life where I was going through depression and didn’t realize its extent until it had passed. I feel like I’ve been experiencing at the very least low-key depression since March 2020–the kind where I am tired all the time, not sleeping well, and even when I look back at that period, I’ve either forgotten everything and what I actually can remember…it’s through a bit of fog, with darkness around the edges…and I’ve not really been enjoying writing since March 2020, if I’m going to be honest. I am enjoying it again–good thing, since it’s compulsive for me and I always will do it, regardless of how I feel about it–but my writing has always been a source of joy for me, and having that not be the case has been very unpleasant. I’ve really not been finding much joy in anything since March 2020, but I also feel like I’ve kind of turned a corner, somehow–my brain snapped or something and it snapped back into the place where it should have been all along.

And on that note, best get ready to head out to Metairie in a thunderstorm in flash flood conditions. Woo-hoo!

Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

Thursday morning and my last day in the office of the week–tomorrow I took the day off for miscellaneous appointments and things (and yes, a trip to Metairie is required, sigh) which will be nice. I don’t have to get up super-early to go, for one thing, so I can allow myself to sleep in a bit, and then I can leisurely enjoy my coffee throughout the morning before it’s time to head out there. I am also going to stop at Costco on the way back home, so it’ll be a big day for one Gregalicious. I imagine by the time I get home I will be hot, sweaty, crabby and ready to spend the evening inside with the air conditioning.

Such an exciting life I lead!

I slept really well last night–an enormously pleasant surprise, given the questionable sleep I got the previous two nights–but according to my Fitbit, it was yet another bad nights’ sleep. I am beginning to think my Fitbit doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to my sleep, you know? I feel rested and a bit groggy this morning, which hopefully the coffee will take care of (fingers crossed) but I will say yesterday I felt a bit out of it for most of the day. I didn’t get nearly us much accomplished as I’d intended when I got home from the office last night–I didn’t really do much of anything, to be honest. I wrote for a little while before retiring to the easy chair, where I fell into a spiral of videos about French history, which is always fun for me. When Paul got home we watched Obi-wan Kenobi, which I am really enjoying, on-line haters be damned, and the little girl who plays Princess Leia is fantastic–it’s completely believable she would grow up into Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, and props to Disney Plus for pitch-perfect casting. The show is also doing a really great job of filling in some gaps in the story of Star Wars, too.

Today hopefully will be a good one. I want to get some more writing done–for whatever reason, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is finally taking shape the way I want it to, although now I am worried that its going to wind up being far too long, and far too melancholy, than I want it to be. Its a melancholy story, really, so that’s probably a really good thing, but…I don’t suppose melancholy is the right mood; I am thinking I want to go for a Daphne du Maurier tone (which I love); I don’t want to call it gothic either, but if you’ve read du Maurier you know what I mean. Hmmm, perhaps I should dip into her collection Echoes from the Macabre again, to get a better sense of what I am talking about here…that is actually a really good plan, now that I think about it.

You can never go wrong rereading du Maurier.

One thing that is interesting/kind of fun about writing this novella is that it is set in a place that no longer exists–New Orleans in 1994. I was talking to some of my younger co-workers (ha ha ha, they’re all younger now, I am the old man of the department by a LOT now) about how different New Orleans was when I moved here in 1996 than it is now; and I was thinking about that some more last night. Gentrification hadn’t really gotten started in the city yet; it was a crumbling, dying city whose glory days were in the past. The Lower Garden District was considered a bad neighborhood back in those days; we moved in just as it was started to regenerate…but there was still a crack house next door, and of course the Camp Street on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection was still there, about fifty yards of concrete climbing into the sky and just ending (if you ever watch the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise version of Interview with the Vampire, there’s a scene when Louis–Pitt–leaves a movie theater in New Orleans that is showing Tequila Sunrise. That was the Coliseum Theatre, which was closed but still there when we moved into the neighborhood. It burned to the ground a few years later. Anyway, as Louis/Pitt walks out, the camera pans back and shows a highway on-ramp with cars going up–that was the old Camp Street on-ramp, still in use when the movie was filmed but not when we moved here two or three years after the movie’s release). I also imagine that on-ramp, when it was still connected to Highway 90, was a bitch for traffic in the neighborhood, since the bridge backs up all day now; I imagine there were times when that ramp backed up all the way down Camp to probably the Garden District. Where it was now is a lovely neutral ground that separates Camp and Coliseum Streets, beautifully designed and landscaped so it seems like a perfect extension of Coliseum Square. That’s why I want to write about that time period, when gay bars still occasionally got raided by the cops, when there were still two bathhouses in New Orleans, when many of us could only be openly gay when we went to the bars in the Quarter on the weekend, and how frenetic and wild and crazy those weekends were; all the gay bars in the Quarter were packed every weekend, and of course, deeply closeted gays from the surrounding areas–the rural parishes and Mississippi–would come into the city so they could let go and be free.

But even that wasn’t a guarantee of anything, either. Death stalked the gay bars back in those days–another reason I want to write about that time–and you couldn’t really trust the cops and sometimes it was dangerous to walk back to the lower Quarter or Marigny where you’d parked your car. There was this weird sense of being an outlaw; despite the Lawrence v. Texas decision there’s still a sodomy law on the books here in Louisiana, and once this Supreme Court gets to decide Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided (because make no mistake, this Supreme Court is definitely going to dial us back to 1900, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take the right to vote away from women, too), once again my sex life will become an enforceable crime in Louisiana yet again.

Sigh.

Well, writing that last paragraph certainly made me melancholy. Too bad I don’t have time to work on the novella before heading into the office. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.