You Got It All

Saturday morning and I literally just rolled out of bed. I cannot remember the last time I slept this late, but rather than worrying about it, I’m just going to go ahead and embrace it. I have to run make groceries today before the LSU game, but it’s at two thirty so there’s still plenty of time for me to get caffeinated, woken up, and maybe even do some cleaning around the house before the Tigers take on Mississippi State.

Last night Paul and I continued watching a show on Hulu from some true crime channel. The series is called The 1990’s: The Deadliest Decade, or something like that; last night we watched two more episodes (we’d watched the first episode, about a murder in Houston, Thursday night). Last night’s episodes were about the torture/murder of a twelve year old girl in Indiana–very grisly–and the second episode was the Club Kid Murder, which I already knew the story of–Michael Alig, the Limelight Club in New York, and the murder of drug dealer Angel; there was a book I’d read called Disco Bloodbath, written by an accessory after the fact who got immunity for testifying, and it was later made into a film, Party Monster, which starred Macauley Culkin. I’ve resisted the allure of true crime for the most part–don’t get me wrong, I do love it, it’s just that since I started writing crime fiction I’ve worried that reading a true crime novel would inspire me to fictionalize the story (“ripped from the headlines!”), and for some reason that felt like cheating in some way to me. But over the years I’ve found that a lot of crime writers draw inspiration from actual true crimes…and yet I’ve continued to avoid it. (I used to love A&E’s show City Confidential, which was amazing)

And being inspired by reading Ethan Brown’s book Murder in the Bayou (as well as by the Showtime docuseries based on the book) kind of proves my point, doesn’t it?

Then again, Garden District Gothic was my own take on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, wasn’t it, only twenty or so years later?

And of course, this whole situation with the Hard Rock Hotel collapse last weekend has my brain working feverishly to spin a plot around it. I already have introduced a shady developer into my alternate New Orleans universe, in Royal Street Reveillon, none other than Sam Dreher. Maybe the collapsing hotel can be the basis for French Quarter Flambeaux, one of the many Scotty titles I came up with recently.

What I really need to be doing is working on Bury Me in Shadows, but I suspect my fevered brain is going to continue to jump around today. I always keep my journal and a pen handy when I’m watching an LSU game, so hopefully after I get the cleaning done and the groceries made and start the grill–we always “tailgate” at home for LSU games; burgers and hot dogs–I’ll be able to work some more on Bury Me in Shadows during and after the game. I don’t know what other games there are today–I’m beginning to care less and less about watching games all day on Saturdays these days–and so it’s entirely possible this will work, you know?

But as always, the Lost Apartment is a mess. There’s a load of dishes in the dishwasher to be unloaded, and a sink full of dirty dishes from last night’s ravioli to clean. There’s laundry in the dryer to be folded, and I really should wash the couch blankets today as part of the general clean-up of the living room. The Saints game tomorrow isn’t until 3:25, which also gives me the entire morning to clean and write and organize. I have an article for Sisters to finish writing, and various other things on my to-do list that definitely need to get done before I head back to work on Monday.

And my throat is still sore.

I also have a lot of computer files to clean up and organize.

It never really ends, does it?

I also want to spend some time curled up with Certain Dark Things today.

And on that note, tis back to ye old spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, all.

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The World Is a Ghetto

Well, Constant Reader, we made it to the weekend somehow, and isn’t that always a really good thing for everyone involved?

I know I’m pleased.

LSU is playing Texas tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I am interested to see how they play against a top-level opponent after last week’s thorough thrashing of Georgia Southern. One thing about last week’s game–LSU has always underperformed against teams they should beat easily, like Georgia Southern, so it was wild to see them score 42 points in the first half against an overmatched team. In the past, it would always be stressfully close until they simply wore the other team down in the second half. But again, the big score doesn’t mean anything because it was a lower-tier opponent. I am certain I’ll be extremely nervous and stressed out during the entire game.

I also decided yesterday to change my work schedule permanently to the afternoon 1-5 shift rather than the 9-1; that really worked well yesterday, and I was able to not only get a lot done in the morning before I went into the office, I got things done there and was also able to stop at the grocery store on the way home. So yes, getting some sleep and waking up without an alarm continues to be a recipe for success for me; you’d think by now I’d learn. I mean, going in early and getting it over with was lovely, as I got my weekend to start early–but if yesterday is any indication, sleeping in a little longer and working in the afternoon makes it possible for me to get even more done; and that’s what is most important.

So, my book comes out in three days officially. So, what can I talk about today to give you some insight, that will make you order or buy it today?

In Baton Rouge Bingo, I introduced a new character to Scotty’s world; Frank’s nephew, Taylor Rutledge. I had a number of reasons for introducing Taylor. First, I wanted to make Scotty suddenly aware of his own age, much the same as I suddenly realized one day that internally I always think of myself as still being thirty-five…but seeing my thirty year old niece kind of blew that to shit. People who have children, or have nieces and nephews and regular access to the next generation in their families deal with their own aging because they can see the next generation growing up. Scotty doesn’t really have that–I really messed up, long ago, by not giving Rain or Storm kids, but I never thought about it. Secondly, I had realized by this time that while we know all about Scotty’s family (the mother’s side, we don’t know much about the Bradley side, which I explored a little in Who Dat Whodunnit) and while I briefly touched on Colin’s past in Jackson Square Jazz (and we still don’t know if any of what Colin told him was actually true), we knew nothing about Frank’s family. Granted, Scotty and everyone could know and it was just never mentioned on the pages of the books, but that felt like a cheat to me…and I realized that making Frank estranged from his family because of his sexuality, and then having to deal with his homophobic sister again because his teenaged nephew has come out, would take care of that–and of course, Scotty and his family would be more than happy to take in a nephew into the family. Taylor was in  Garden District Gothic, but not as much…but he is integral to the plot of Royal Street Reveillon, and what happens to him and his personal story will continue to resonate in the series as it moves forward.

I’ve even considered giving Taylor his own spin-off; I thought (still kind of half-heartedly think) that it would be fun to see a college student’s thoughts on the weird situation he finds himself in with his uncles and in New Orleans; and it might be fun to see him solve a mystery on his own with a little help from his uncles–although it might be fun to send him on a trip somewhere that he comes into contact with a crime or something.

And now the story’s coming to me, goddamnit.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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It Never Rains in Southern California

Less than a week until Royal Street Reveillon is officially out in the world!

And so far, no current labor pains!

But, in fairness, it took me a good long while to write this book. My memory is so bad, and I’m so constantly and regularly busy, that I don’t even remember when I actually wrote it and turned it in to my publisher. I think it was earlier this year? I don’t remember–and that’s kind of sad. This is but one of the many reasons I don’t think I’ll ever write a memoir; my memory lies to me all the time and I never know what I remember correctly, let alone times and timelines and so forth. For example, when I was writing my essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” for Love, Bourbon Street, I went into it thinking I spent weeks in Kentucky at my parents’ after the evacuation, when it was actually less than three before I returned to Louisiana. That was a shock, believe me…but it’s true: we evacuated on August 28th, and I returned to New Orleans for good in early October after several weeks on the North Shore at my friend Michael’s. Stress and age and everything else combines to make things seem different in memory; and I’ve also noted, many times, how often people look back through a rosy glow of nostalgia. (I’ve always thought people view the past nostalgically because they aren’t happy, for one reason or another, in the present; they think oh, everything was so much simpler and easier back then. It’s usually not that true.)

So, Gregalicious, why did you decide to write a murder mystery built around a reality television show filming in New Orleans?

I didn’t watch An American Family, the first true reality show, back in the 1970’s on PBS, as the Loud family allowed their lives to be filmed for the entertainment of the masses. The show, which was the baseline for everything that came later, was quite controversial–I remember reading in the newspaper that one of the sons came out as gay on camera, which was kind of a big deal in the 1970’s–but in the 1990’s, I was a big fan of MTV’s sociological experiment, The Real World, and it’s sister-show that came later, Road Rules. But as the shows went on, they went from being a sociological experiment (hey, let’s take a group of seven kids from completely different backgrounds, make them live together and work on a project, and see what, if anything, they learn from each other) to being exploitative (hey, if all of them are young and beautiful and damaged, and we encourage them to drink and hook up, drama will ensue!), which was when I lost interest in watching them anymore. I also watched the game show version–The Challenges–primarily because the young men were always hot, often shirtless, and sometimes even less clad than that, plus watching the competitions was interesting. But it, too, eventually paled in interest to me–they were so repetitive, and the producers never intervened when violence broke out, and that was more often than not–and so I stopped watching.

The Real Housewives was different for me. Back in the day, we used to watch Bravo a lot–Inside the Actor’s Studio, Project Runway, reruns of Law and Order and The West Wing–and when they started promoting a new show they were doing called The Real Housewives of Orange County, I sniffed disdainfully at it. At that time, one of the hottest shows on network television was Desperate Housewives, and this seemed to be a rip-off, an attempt to cash in on the success of another network’s show by copying the title and so forth: “oh, if you like that show, here’s the real women of the area who are housewives, and what there lives are like.” The previews I’d see didn’t really encourage me to watch–the women seemed, for the most part, like horrible people, particularly Vicki Gunvalson–but as the show spawned spin-off shows in other cities and regions, I became more than passingly acquainted with them. They usually ran marathons on Sundays, and when it’s not football season Sunday television was pretty much a wasteland. I’d flip on the marathon for background noise while I read a book and Paul napped on the couch–but I also began to absorb the shows through a kind of osmosis. I knew who the women were and what their lives were like–but still didn’t watch regularly until around 2010, or 2011 or so.

And once I started giving Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills my full attention–yeah, I was hooked.

Paul would even watch with me from time to time…and we played a game: if they did a New Orleans version, who would they cast? It was fun, because we also were relatively certain none of the women we thought would kill it on such a show would ever remotely consider doing such a show (Southern Charm New Orleans proved us right), and then I began to think…but such a show here would be absolutely the perfect background for a murder mystery, because of the way everyone here is so connected to everyone else and there would be backstory and history galore.

I always saw it as a Scotty book, but when I turned it into the Paige novella, that changed things. I still wanted to do a Scotty book about a reality show, and I started making notes for one called Reality Show Rhumba. And, if you’re wondering, that’s where the character of Frank’s nephew Taylor Wheeler came from; when I added him to the regular cast of characters for the Scotty series, my intent was to have him eventually be case in a Real World-type show here in New Orleans, and anchor a murder mystery. But then…the Paige novella series went nowhere, and I hated losing such a great idea..so as I went into Garden District Gothic I introduced Serena Castlemaine to the boys, thus planting the seeds for Royal Street Reveillon, knowing I could keep some parts of the story but would have to change others–which was cool, because I always felt that the original novella was kind of rushed, and I didn’t have either the time–or the space (since novellas are by nature shorter)–to make the story what I wanted it to be.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Brother Louie

I’m feeling a little better.

I think part of the problem was just exhaustion, in addition to some stomach upset. I spent most of the day yesterday (other than doing the laundry) pretty much curled up in my easy chair with Scooter sleeping in my lap while I read. What did I read? Nothing I loved enough to talk about publicly, frankly; my rule is to never post about a book that I didn’t absolutely love, or at the very least truly enjoy. I slip up with this from time to time, and have taken potshots at authors from time to time; it’s not something I’m terribly proud of, but reading is, after all, subjective; something I hate may be more to someone else’s taste, and I’ll never denigrate a book or author publicly because I know how much work it is to produce a novel.

At the very least, I like to show respect for a colleague’s hard work. And make no mistake about it, producing a novel is very hard work–hell, just typing  a novel is hard work.

After finishing the disappointing novel, I turned to Anne Somerset’s Unnatural Murder, which is about the notorious murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in the Tower of London during the reign of King James I of England; the murder was masterminded by the wife of one of the King’s notorious favorites. It was one of the most scandalous trials involving the royal court in English history, and the resolution, the revelations in the trial, and the later pardons from the King to both the favorite (Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset) and his beautiful wife Frances Howard, began an undermining of the monarchy, which inevitably led to the English Civil War, the downfall of the Stuart monarchy for a time, and the execution of King Charles I.

King James I, the man who brought the crowns of England and Scotland together in the same monarch, had male favorites rather than female; beautiful men he showered titles and honors on throughout his life. Whether James ever acted physically on his attractions and love for beautiful men is not known; he himself vehemently denied any kind of physicality with other men; but he certainly preferred the company of beautiful men to that of beautiful women. Robert Carr was only one of the many male favorites the King loved during his lifetime; Carr was followed by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who was also close to James’ son, King Charles I. Whether the favorites themselves were gay–they also, like James, always had wives and children–or even bisexual is unknown; certainly in the case of Buckingham the King was the only male he was ever linked with. I do think it’s possible that James never had a physical relationship with any of his favorites; it may have been a “look and love, but never touch” sort of thing for him. He was deeply religious and his desires were, of course, anathema to the church, and he also had a very real fear of being murdered and/or deposed; his mother was deposed and later beheaded (Mary Queen of Scots was his mother), and his father was murdered (Lord Darnley), most likely in a plot masterminded by his mother’s lover. He was less than a year old when he became King of Scotland; he was nearly forty when he followed his mother’s bitter rival Elizabeth I to the English throne.

It is interesting (at least to me) that in this Elizabethan/Jacobean period (and shortly thereafter) produced many royals with same sex attractions; Henri III of France ruled during this time and his affections for male favorites was quite well known; Louis XIV’s brother Philippe Duc d’Orleans was also infamous for the same reason. There have been other sexually suspect kings and royals throughout history; James’ own granddaughter Queen Anne was, if not one in fact, a lesbian by inclination. (See The Favourite.)

This morning I feel much better; my stomach seems settled and I slept well, after resting and relaxing for most of the day yesterday. Today I need to venture out into the stifling heat and humidity, and I also need to write. Oh! Yes, I did spend some time in my easy chair with my MacBook Air going over the copy edits of Royal Street Reveillon, which is inching closer and closer to publication date, which is lovely. It’s been a while since the last Scotty book–Garden District Gothic, which I think was released in 2016? Has it really been three years since the last Scotty book? Then again, it’s also hard to wrap my mind around the idea that my first book was released seventeen years ago.

I also think taking a day away from the pressure of trying to get caught up on the WIP was a smart thing to do. I may try to write a chapter later today. I don’t know. I am wondering if I should just keep plowing through this until the first draft is finished before seeing if i can get the other manuscript revised in what time is left before August 1, when I have to dive into something else entirely for two months. There’s also short stories to write, revise, edit, and so on, and so forth. It truly never ends for me, you know. And there’s still yet another unfinished manuscript in a drawer that needs to be worked on as well. Heavy heaving sigh.

And let’s not forget, I also started writing another Chanse book this past weekend.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Focus, Gregalicious, focus.

I also need to figure out what I’m going to read next, quite frankly. I may take a break from the Diversity Project and read one of the many books in the dusty TBR pile…I don’t know. I’ll just, after getting everything done that needs to be done to day, just look through the bookcases and the piles of books and see what’s there to read.

And there’s always non-fiction, of course. It’s not like I don’t have a massive pile of books on Louisiana and New Orleans history and folklore I could get lost inside.

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

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Upside Down

Tuesday morning, and the week is progressing relatively nicely.

I read those five chapters I’d been putting off yesterday–and there are sloppy messes–but that’s a hurdle cleared. Now on to chapters 10-14. I also started rewriting the beginning of the book, because I was never really happy with the beginning of the book and Sunday night, as I mentioned the other day, I finally thought of the perfect way to open it. Took me awhile, but I am finally there.

One nice thing about this manuscript–as it sits now, it’s over a hundred thousand words. I could, in theory, cut at least twenty thousand and still have a longer book than Garden District Gothic. I’m not quite as hung up on the length of the book as I once was; and who knows? Maybe once I start paring it down and making the sentences and paragraphs flow better, and work out the kinks in the plot and tie everything up and close the gaping holes you could drive a semi-tractor-trailer through, it might even end up that long again.

The great thing about writing is you just never know how it’s all going to turn out.

I am getting further into Pet Sematary, and I’d completely forgotten about Victor Pascow, the university student/jogger who is hit by a car and dies in the student medical center in front of Louis–and before he dies, when they are alone, warns him about going to the pet cemetery, and then his ghost appears to him again that night, and walks him out there to warn him again. It’s a terrific scene, scary and creepy yet not totally terrifying; tightly written and so suspenseful you can’t look away. The foreshadowing is strong, of course; the title of the book, the problems his wife has with death, etc. and the nearby availability of said pet cemetery makes it fairly obvious some bad things are going to have to be faced, and Louis might be making some very wrong decisions when the time comes. I mean, it is a Stephen King novel, after all. I’m enjoying the book ever so much more this time around. I don’t remember if I enjoyed reading it the first time–the actual reading of it. I just remember being so uncomfortable and disturbed by the subject matter that I was never driven to read it again; which makes me wonder if the subject of death was too much for me in my early twenties? Perhaps.

I also watched another episode of Titans last night. It’s starting to pick up steam; I also realized last night that building a television show around a team of heroes makes getting started difficult, as you have to introduce most of the characters as well as get a bit of their back story. Episode Two brought in Hawk and Dove, two lesser known DC Universe heroes I’ve alway liked who never had the marquee appeal of say Superman or Wonder Woman, which is a shame. I also noted last night while watching that all the Titans introduced thus far (with the exception of Starfire) have bird names: Robin, Raven, Hawk and Dove. The actors playing Dick Grayson and Hawk are very attractive; and of course the women are beautiful. I’m looking forward to watching another episode tonight when I get home from work.

Today is the second of my two long days of work; I slept well last night and don’t feel tired this morning. Tomorrow I’ll get to sleep a little later, which will be lovely. It’s always lovely once I get through Monday and Tuesday each week.

And on that note back to the spice mines

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Wishing on a Star

I prefer not to speak in anger, and always try not to do so. I am not always successful, to my great shame, and I am still tortured by memories of times when I let my anger get the best of me and yelled at a stranger. I will never have the opportunity to apologize to those people, and I know I ruined their day for them; they may also remember being made to feel anger of their own, or shame, or whatever bad emotion my anger caused them. I don’t like it when I lose my temper with Paul, or with friends, or with co-workers. Nothing positive ever comes of it, and I always, always feel bad afterwards; even if it was satisfying at the time.

But anger is also different from outrage, and I will speak out when I am outraged. Outrage and anger are similar but not the same; I will say things in anger I would never say when I am not angry, and will often try to contain those angry sentences to my brain. Outrage comes from a different place, a place that doesn’t burn hot, but is icy; the freezing coldness that comes from utter moral contempt. What I call my Julia Sugarbaker moments come from a place as cold as outer space; my words may be strong, my voice might even quiver with emotion, but make no mistake about it: there is no heat in my outrage.

Injustice outrages me more than anything else; the notion that fairness and decency should only be allowed to the select and denied the rest is one of my many triggers. Over the course of my life I’ve been cold in outrage far more times than I would like, far more times than I wish were necessary, far more times that I ever wanted. There were many points in my life that I thought, ah, this is it. This is the place where fairness and decency is going to kick in, and going forward things are going to be better.

Instead…on and on and on it goes, world without end, amen.

I’m tired from fighting. It seems like I’ve been fighting my entire life. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve paid for them, I’ve done stupid things and embarrassing things and things I wish I hadn’t.

But I never regret being wrong. I don’t like being wrong, but I never regret it completely.  You learn from being wrong. You grow and you change and you see life, the world, people, in a different way when you realize you’re wrong. I’ve grown and changed, I continue to grow and change, and I hope I never stop growing and changing.

But you have to want to grow and change, and one of the sadder things I’ve seen and had to grow accustomed to is seeing how many people have no desire to grow, to learn, to change. I don’t understand it. I try to wrap my mind around it but I can’t. I can’t imagine not questioning, not wondering, not researching, not learning.

I don’t ever want to stop growing and evolving. I can’t imagine wanting to stop, and resisting it stubbornly.

As a writer I tell stories. To tell stories I have to have characters, setting, place and plot  and dialogue. To write about them honestly I have to understand them, and writing sometimes is my way to try to come to understanding. I sometimes funnel my outrage and my anger into my writing as ways of divesting myself of that energy; writing is always where I go when I want to make sense of an insensible situation, a problem, something I can’t quite understand. In my stories I know my characters intimately, who they are and what they like and what they don’t like and whether they are ticklish or not and whether they know how to swim or not and why and if they can cook and if they have a clean house and do they enjoy grocery shopping. You can never know another human being as completely as you know the characters you write about.

I have always thought that my Chanse series was the darker toned one and more political by nature. I’ve tackled hate crimes and murder and homophobia and self-loathing and politics in the Chanse series. I’ve always thought of the Scotty series as fluffy and fun and entertaining; the books enjoyable entertainments for an afternoon or two at the beach and nothing more. But as I address some issues in this current Scotty manuscript, I found myself wondering is this more of a Chanse book than a Scotty? Scotty books aren’t supposed to be dark and heavy.

And then…I start remembering the previous Scotty books. The neo-Nazis allied with the far right politician in Bourbon Street Blues, and what their plan for the Southern Decadence weekend in the French Quarter was. The difficulty of being a world class athlete who has to stay in the closet and having a homophobic mother in Jackson Square Jazz. The inhumanity of the Russian mob in Mardi Gras Mambo. Religious fanaticism and the corruption of the Vietnam War in Vieux Carre Voodoo. The homophobic hysteria of the religious right over same-sex marriage in Who Dat Whodunnit. The corruption of Louisiana state politics in Baton Rouge Bingo. The horror of being tried in the court of public opinion in Garden District Gothic.

I’ve been doing it all along.

Even now, I laugh at my naivete. The Scotty series is about a gay male ex-stripper in the French Quarter whose parents are far-left progressives and is in a three way relationship with a former FBI agent and an international gun-for-hire. They took in the ex-Fed’s gay college-aged nephew after he came out to his parents and they disowned him in Baton Rouge Bingo.

When you write gay characters, tell gay stories, focus on gay themes and ideas, when you show the world what it looks like through the prism of the gay gaze, it absolutely is an act of politics, of defiance, of seeing the society mainstream heterosexual has been building since Romulus and Remus founded Rome from an outside glance.

This makes the work political. It’s very existence is political.

My existence is political. People who don’t know me hate me for simply existing, for not fitting into the world the way they want it to be. My existence challenges core beliefs for some people: those who think we should all be drones living a cookie-cutter existence in the suburbs with 2.5 children, a dog, and a white picket fence.

But got some bad news for you folks: I ain’t going back in the closet. I’m not done fighting. I may be old and tired now, but I’m not finished.

I’ll still be fighting as they shove my body into the crematorium.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

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Freedom

Thursday. I don’t have to go in until later today, which is nice; it gives me the morning to slowly wake up and get going. I didn’t sleep well last night for some reason so I am going to be really tired this evening; which is fine, I suppose. Maybe I’ll sleep well tonight, who knows? Paul came home just as I was getting ready to go to bed, which was nice. Normality, such as it is, has returned to the Lost Apartment. I started reading William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood. It won the Edgar several years ago for Best Fact Crime, and I’ve been wanting to read it for years. I’ve know Bill for years–I was also there at the Edgars the night he won–and have always enjoyed his work.

I started writing that short story “Burning Crosses” yesterday, and am trying really hard to not allow fear to stop me from working on it. I think it could be a really good story, but…it’s also potentially a dangerous one to try to tell. but I can’t let fear of reaction stop me from working on something. That’s just not a good thing, you know?

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“Everyone in Venice is acting,” Count Girolamo Marcello told me. “Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythim–the rhythm of the lagoon, the rhythm of the water, the tides, the waves…”

I had been walking along Calle della Mandola when I ran into Count Marcello. He was a member of an old Venetian family and was considered an authority on the history, the social structure, and especially the subtleties of Venice. As we were both heading in the same direction, I joined him.

“The rhythm in Venice is like breathing,” he said. “High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all attuned to the rhythm of the wheel. That is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide, and the tide changes every six hours.”

Count Marcello inhaled deeply. “How do you see a bridge?”

“Pardon me?” I asked. “A bridge?”

“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle–as just another set of steps tp climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over a bridge. We cross from one reality…to another reality. From one street….to another street. From one setting…to another setting.”

I love Venice. We spent a mere twenty-four hours there on our trip to Italy several years ago, taking the train from the magnificent station in Florence through the Italian countryside north and then across the lagoon to the Venetian station. I walked ahead of Paul through that Italian station, unable to wait to catch my first glimpse of the city from the top of the stairs rising from the piazza and vaporetto station on the Grand Canal.

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I was enchanted from that first glimpse.

I’d always wanted to visit Venice–ever since reading Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant story “Don’t Look Now” and seeing the film version, which is incredible–and also Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven. Seeing Venice, even if was only for twenty-four hours, was wonderful. We were also incredibly lucky because Venice wasn’t crowded; apparently that’s become a huge problem (goo.gl/ePMQjT). It was even a problem when Berendt was writing The City of Falling Angels.

The title comes from a sign Berendt saw one day while strolling around Venice, near an old church that was crumbling and in need of restoration: BEWARE OF FALLING ANGELS. Apparently, the statues of angels on the sides of the church and along the rooftop had become loose with the rotting of the masonry, and one had fallen, almost hitting a pedestrian. The book reminded me so much of Venice, and why the city had enchanted me during my all-too-brief visit. I want to write about Venice; I’ve been toying with a story for years, and as I am just now starting to write my Panzano story, maybe I will soon write the Venice story.

Anyway, Berendt is best-known, of course, for his book about Savannah: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I read decades ago when it was new. I enjoyed it; it was an examination of the quirks and curiosities of the city, built around the lens of a murder committed by a member of Savannah society. The City of Falling Angels is the same type of book, only viewed around the lens, not of a murder, but the burning of the Fenice Opera House. It did turn out to be a crime; two men were convicted of arson, but Berendt uses the fire, the investigations, and the subsequent trial, to view Venice; and along the way he takes a look at the quirks, eccentricities, and curiosities of a place that, like Savannah, is quaint and historic and beautiful–yet also very small. A lot of the things he talks about in the book–the concerns of locals that Venice is no longer for the Venetians, that the city is losing its neighborhoods to tourism; that poorer and middle class Venetians are being pushed out in the name of tourism–are concerns that we locals now have about New Orleans, so that made the book even more interesting to me. When we were there, we stayed overnight at a wonderful little family run hotel just off the Rialto Bridge and on one of the side canals; the Hotel San Salvador. We, too, had a lengthy conversation with two of the young women working there–members of the ownership family–who told us the same thing: Venice is no longer for the Venetians. Their family can no longer afford to live in the city, despite owning a hotel there; they live on the mainland and commute into the city. Most of the city’s apartments are being bought up by foreigners who then rent them out to visitors, so it is also affecting business for establishments like the Hotel San Salvador. I loved the hotel, it was charming and quaint and cozy; I loved the second floor lounge overlooking the canal below, and the family who owned and operated it were so nice, friendly, and charming. If and when we return, we will undoubtedly stay there again.

I’ve met John Berendt exactly once; he was very nice, and I liked him. I like his books, too. My character, Jerry Channing, who appears in both The Orion Mask and Garden District Gothic, and whom I’ve considered spinning off into his own series, is based on him only in that he writes the same kinds of books and articles Berendt does; kind of a cross between Berendt and Dominick Dunne. (I still might spin Jerry off; a lot of my short stories, which have first-person narrators who are never identified, are told in what I imagine Jerry’s voice to be) In fact, Jerry’s biggest success is a book called Garden District Gothic (very meta of me), which is about the quirks and curiosities and eccentricities of New Orleans, viewed through the lens of a society murder in the Garden District. The Scotty novel that bears the same title is an investigation into that case twenty-five years later, in fact (again, very meta of me).

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Anyway,  I highly recommend The City of Falling Angels. I think I enjoyed it a lot more because I’d been to Venice, but it definitely made me want to go back. It’s very well-written, and a lot of fun to read.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

New Moon on Monday

I made it to the gym again yesterday, which felt fantastic–despite the fact that I added a set to everything, and upped the speed of the treadmill by .2 miles per hour. The stretching helps; I can’t believe I worked out all those years without bothering to ever take the time to stop and stretch (okay, yes, I was naturally flexible, but I wouldn’t have lost the level of flexibility I had if I’d been stretching all those years). I also organized a bit, did some chores around the house, and wrote the first draft of a story for an anthology with a deadline of February 15th. The story’s not quite there yet, but I think it’s not only a good idea but one that revisions and rewrites will only make stronger. Huzzah! And yay for me!

It was also in the seventies (!!!) yesterday; considering just three days ago we had a hard freeze…yeah, the weather in southeastern Louisiana might be a bit bipolar. I also had a breakthrough on how to revise the first chapter, not only of the WIP but of the Scotty as well. Hallelujah! I really think this focus and positivity mantra might actually be working. Granted, it’s still only January, but between the working out, and the writing…yeah, this is turning into a much better year already than last.

I also read some short stories!

First up was “Music for Chameleons.” by Truman Capote, from his collection Music for Chameleons:

She is tall and slender, perhaps seventy, silver-haired, soigne, neither black nor white, a pale golden rum color. She is a Martinique aristocrat who lives in Fort de France but also has an apartment in Paris. We are sitting on the terrace of her house, an airy, elegant house that looks as if it was made of wooden lace: it reminds me of certain old New Orleans houses. We are drinking iced mint tea slightly flavored with absinthe.

Three green chameleons race one another across the terrace; one pauses at Madame’s feet, flicking its forked tongue, and she comments: “Chameleons. Such exceptional creatures. The way they change color. Red. Yellow. Lime. Pink. Lavender. And did you know that are very fond of music?” She regards me with her fine black eyes. “You don’t believe me?”

During the course of the afternoon she had told me many curious things. How at night her garden with filled with mammoth night-flying moths. That her chauffeur, a dignified figure who had driven me to her house in a dark green Mercedes, was a wife-poisoner who had escaped from Devil’s Island. And she had described a village high in the norther mountains that is inhabited entirely by albinos: “Little pink-eyed people white as chalk. Occasionally one sees a few on the streets of Fort de France.”

I love Truman Capote’s work–I reread In Cold Blood every few years or so, and his short fiction is also pretty compelling. I started reading this story before, but never finished; but in reading it now I realize I kind of borrowed the opening of this one for the opening of a chapter of Garden District Gothic, when Scotty goes to see Vernita Godwin, who is sitting on her front gallery in the Garden District sipping absinthe. I really love that image, of two people on a gallery sipping absinthe while ceiling fans turn overhead. The story isn’t really a story, in the classic definition of what comprises a story; this is more of the slice of life school of short stories, because it’s really just about a conversation between two people after dinner, about life in Fort de France, Guadeloupe. Part of the conversation is about a homophobic hate crime that had occurred on the island in the past; surprisingly, justice was actually served because, as the lady puts it, ‘we don’t tolerate murder here.’ But the strongest image of this poetically written story is the lady, sitting at the piano playing classical music for the iguanas, who listen in the doorway to the terrace and bob their colored heads in time with the music. That’s what I read Capote for–those poetic images.

Next up was “The Intoxicated” by Shirley Jackson,  from The Lottery and Other Stories:

He was just tight enough and just familiar enough with the house to be able to go out into the kitchen alone, apparently to get ice, but actually to sober up a little; he was not quite enough a friend of the family to pass out on the living-room couch. He left the party behind without reluctance, the group by the piano singing “Stardust,” his hostess talking earnestly to a young man with thin clean glasses and a sullen mouth; he walked guardedly through the dining-room where a little group of four or five people sat on the stiff chairs reasoning something out carefully among themselves; the kitchen doors swung abruptly to his touch, and he sat down beside an enormous white enamel table, clean and cold under his hand. He put his glass on a good spot in the green pattern and looked up to find that a young girl was regarding him speculatively from across the table.

“Hello,” he said. “You the daughter?”

“I’m Eileen,” she said. “Yes.”

I’m also a huge fan of Shirley Jackson who, as Stephen King once said, ‘never had to raise her voice.’ This story, like the Capote, is a slice of life type story, with a bit of a bizarre twist to it. The drunk party guest and the teenaged daughter have a lengthy conversation about how his generation has ruined the world and how it is up to hers to burn everything to the ground so it can start over, and be the better for it. It’s unsettling, but the end–when he returns to the party a little more sober than when he left it–leaves you to wonder what is going to become of Eileen–and what that story would be like.

I haven’t read a lot of Jackson’s short fiction–I’ve not read “The Lottery,” although I’ve seen the short film made of it in grade school and in an Acting class in high school we did the play, but I intend to remedy this grave error and lack in my reading history during this Short Story Project.

The third story I read was “Pastorale” by James M. Cain,  included in Best American Noir of the Twentieth Century, by editors  James Ellroy and Otto Penzler;

Well, it looks like Burbie is going to get hung. And if he does; what he can lay it on is, he always figured he was so damned smart.

You see, Burbie, he left town when he was about sixteen years old. He run away with one of them traveling shows, “East Lynne” I think it was, and he stayed away about ten years. And when he came back he thought he knowed a lot. Burbie, he’d got them watery blue eyes what kind of stick out from his face, and how he killed the time was to sit around and listen to the boys talk down at the poolroom or over at the barber shop or a couple other places where he hung out, and then wink at you like they was all making a fool of theirself and nobody didn’t know it but him.

This was Cain’s first published story, and it is not only a macabre, dark little story but it also, as the editors point out, contains themes Cain would return to again and again in his short novels; amoral man has affair with beautiful woman and they plan together to kill her husband. “Pastorale” though, isn’t told from the point of view of the amoral man, like The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity; the story is told by a third party, someone who knows what happened and is telling the story to someone–the reader, but it’s told almost entirely in vernacular and in that man’s voice, which is arresting and very strong and very rural; the voice reminded me a lot of his Appalachian saga of incest and murder, The Butterfly, and it also reminded me of Faulkner. The tale teller passes no judgment on Burbie or his lady love for their adultery and murder; if anything, he thinks they were fools because Burbie’s own vanity is what wound up bringing them down. It also gave me some thoughts about voice, and point of view, and story-telling.

If you cannot tell, Constant Reader, I am greatly enjoying my self-education in The Art of the Short Story, and I hope you are enjoying following me on this path half as much as I am enjoying going down it.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow

Sunday morning and I have a rather full plate today. I need to finish cleaning the downstairs, and I have to get back to work on the revisions. This should all be easy enough to do–my office is in the kitchen, which is also the last part of the downstairs that needs cleaning, so I can go back and forth between the two. Also, while I am waiting for the kitchen floor to dry, I can repair to my easy chair and get back to reading Tomato Red, which is fantastic. I am behind on the revisions; I had hoped to be working on the last, final polish over this weekend; instead I find myself finishing the fourth draft; four chapters to go until it is all done and ready to move on to a final polish. I am hoping that I can get that done today, take tomorrow off, and then focus on the final polish on Tuesday before returning to work on Wednesday.

It’s a good plan, anyway.

I’m still recovering from the enormous shock of the Macavity nomination for “Survivor’s Guilt.” As Constant Reader knows, I don’t have a lot of self-confidence with short stories; I struggle with writing them and I often wonder if even the ones that get published are any good. I remember one anthology I was in, early in my career, in which the editor wrote a lengthy afterward to the book, discussing every story in the anthology in great detail–except mine. He discussed the fifteen or so other stories at great length, marveling about their themes, characters, and the language–pointedly not saying a word about mine. I had been extremely proud of being accepted into that anthology; and once I read that afterward–I never even bother putting the contributor copies in the bookcase reserved for my own work. It was such a stunning slap-in-the-face, and I–always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt even while I am being slapped across the face–could not, and still cannot, come up with any logical or kind explanation why an editor would do such a thing.

How do you discuss all the stories in the collection and leave out ONE?

I’ve never been able to decide if it being deliberate is worse than it being a careless mistake; both, in my mind, are equally bad.

I’ve never spoken to that editor again, either–didn’t respond to emails, didn’t help promote the book, etc. Maybe a bit childish, but that was so rude and so nasty, and I was so early in my career…I considered, and still do, that insult along the same lines of the creative writing teacher who told a nineteen-year-old me that I would never be published. I sometimes wonder if that is where my insecurity about writing short stories comes from; as though in my subconscious my slight success with writing novels didn’t really disprove that teacher’s smug, smiling and ever-so-condescending comments to me; since he was basing his opinion on a short story I’d written for his class, I had to get some kind of success with short stories in order to finally put that damage to my psyche to rest.

“Survivor’s Guilt” was a story I never thought I would write, nor should, to be honest. It’s a Katrina story; and the kind of Katrina story I certainly didn’t think I should ever write, or try to write. I’ve not done a lot of Katrina writing, which may surprise some people. My story in New Orleans Noir, “Annunciation Shotgun,” is a post-Katrina story that doesn’t really address the disaster at all; Murder in the Rue Chartres is the only novel I wrote that dealt directly with the aftermath. My essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” is the only one I’ve published about my own personal experience, and what I observed before, during, and after. After Rue Chartres, I pretty much put the disaster in the rear-view mirror and only mentioned it, in my New Orleans novels, slightly in passing from there on out. Scotty never really dealt with Katrina and its aftermath much; just some passing references and so forth, finally having Scotty deal, slightly, with his past issues and his own PTSD a bit, in Garden District Gothic  a little.

“Survivor’s Guilt” was originally inspired by a story I was told sometime in the months after Katrina, after I’d returned, and was at a cocktail party at a friend’s home. In those months after Katrina, we all had a bit of ‘disaster-fatigue’; one of the hardest parts about coming back as early as I did was that as others returned, you had to relive your own experience in conversation while listening to other people’s stories. This went on for over a year before finally, it was happening less and less.  It’s very hard to recover from PTSD when you are constantly being forced to relive the events that led to your psychological scarring in the first place. I kind of refer to the years 2005-2009 as My Crazy Years–emotionally raw and on-edge, never knowing what would trigger a manic episode or a breakdown of sorts.

But I digress. We all saw the images of people trapped on their roofs, begging for help, begging for rescue; those images are seared into the collective American consciousness. But the pictures, those images, didn’t tell the whole story; yes, they were horrifying and heart-breaking, but we couldn’t really get a true sense of the suffering being endured; the unbelievable heat, the humidity from the presence of all that water, the smell, the sense of hopelessness and despair. But it also occurred to me, even then, in my horror–not even sure I would be able to return to New Orleans, not sure if I would ever be able to write again; that such a disaster was also the perfect cover for people to get away with murder, or to cover up one. I sketched out an idea for a short story in a hotel room sometime in early 2006, about just such a thing. I thought of it as a horror story, more so than a crime story, frankly; because I couldn’t imagine having to endure something like what those who didn’t evacuate did without losing my mind. I saw the story as being told by a narrator rendered unreliable by what he was enduring; what was real, what was a figment of his breaking mind? But I put the story aside, because I didn’t think I could write it (certainly not at that time) nor did I think it was my story to tell; I evacuated and watched it all happen from a distant remove.

When I was asked to contribute to New Orleans Noir, I immediately thought of that story and was going to write it; but the authors were all assigned to a neighborhood, and my assignment was my own neighborhood, the lower Garden District, which didn’t flood. So, instead I conceived of “Annunciation Shotgun,” which is still one of my favorite stories of my own, and once again, put the rooftop story aside. A few years later, there was a horror anthology submissions call, and I decided that the rooftop story was a good fit for it. I sat down and wrote it, calling it “Blues in the Night,” which was always what I thought was the right title for it. I wrote it, submitted it, and didn’t get into the anthology. I took that as a sign that I’d originally been right; it wasn’t my story to tell, and it went back into the drawer.

When I got the opportunity to edit the Bouchercon New Orleans anthology, Blood on the Bayou, I wondered about whether or not I should write a story for it myself; there seems to be a school of thought out there that a writer/editor, when doing an anthology, shouldn’t include one of his/her own stories and take a slot from someone else. I have gone back and forth on this myself; and usually my policy is to simply write a story for it, and if someone drops out or I don’t get enough stories turned in, then I put my own story in the book. (The fact that almost all of my anthologies include one of my own stories stands as proof that someone always drops out at the last minute.) But I decided, as I rewrote “Blues in the Night” and changed the title to “Survivor’s Guilt,” that I was going to go through the same process as everyone else who submitted a story: a blind read by a small, select group of readers who would rank the stories. I was enormously pleased that the readers chose my story, and so felt a bit vindicated there. When the book came out, some of its reviews singled out my story as good, which was also lovely.

The story’s opening was cribbed from a draft of another short story called “Sands of Fortune” that I never did anything with; it’s still in a folder and I may do something with it, but that opening sentence: The sun, oh God, the sun, just really seemed to fit in “Survivor’s Guilt.”

Of course, my story was disqualified from various crime story awards for any number of reasons (I didn’t get paid since it was for charity! I edited the anthology so it was really self-published! etc. etc. etc.), and so the Macavity nomination was something I wasn’t even thinking about as even a remote possibility. When I got up Friday morning and the first thing I saw on-line was being tagged on a post of the award nominations, I just assumed Blood on the Bayou had been nominated in the anthology category; as it had been already nominated for an Anthony Award as well. It was quite a shock to scroll through the list and see that there actually wasn’t an anthology category; I was terribly confused, so I started going through the categories one by one and there I was, in the Short Story category, of all places.

I still can’t believe it, frankly; I am not the best judge of my own work, and maybe am far more critical of my own work than I should be–but there were so many damned great stories in Blood on the Bayou that I thought if any stories from it were short-listed for awards, mine was at best a long-shot. (Awards, though,  are also always a long-shot for everyone; they aren’t something you can count on or look forward to; all you can do is hope. So much crime fiction is published every year, and so much of it is fantastic, so you can just do your best work and then it’s out of your hands.)

You can only imagine what a thrill it is to be nominated against such amazing writers as Lawrence Block, Joyce Carol Oates, Art Taylor, Paul D. Marks, and Craig Faustus Buck. (Not a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, either–so I can just enjoy the thrill of being nominated and not get uptight about winning.) The class of 2017 Macavity nominees, all over, includes some incredible writers; people whose work I love and enjoy and respect. I am still processing that, to be honest–that, and having to show up for two award ceremonies at Bouchercon in Toronto this October.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Oh! One of the things I did yesterday while cleaning the living room was put all my author sets on the same book shelf. Don’t they look nice there, all together? The blue ones to the left of the Steinbeck set, which you can’t read the spines on, are the Daphne du Maurier set: Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn.

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And yes, that is one of our collection of Muses shoes on the shelf above.