A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

I Forgot That You Existed

Good evening, Constant Reader! Look at this–two blogs in one day! More bang for your buck, as it were. A twofer, as Laura roils the Gulf and dances ever closer to our shores here on the Gulf Coast–although all we’re going to get here is a tropical storm effect; the state line is going to get a direct hit and I worry about Calcasieu Parish and the other Gulf parishes that are going to get hammered. I hope everyone is able to get out safely; I know they were bussing people without the means to evacuate to shelters in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The storm surge–predicted to be at least twenty feet–may come as far inland as thirty miles. Lake Charles could be completely destroyed by morning.

Please, Constant Reader, keep that area in your thoughts tonight.

Hurricane season is always so traumatizing on the Gulf Coast, seriously.

It’s actually weird that New Orleans is a part of the Gulf Coast, since we really aren’t on the coast, technically; we are actually about 100 miles up the river from the Gulf of Mexico. Wow, right? But you also have to remember that’s in river miles; the river doesn’t run in a straight line to the Gulf from the port of New Orleans.

On the other hand, technically  we are on the Gulf coast, because Lake Pontchartrain isn’t really a lake, and neither is Lake Borgne. Lake Borgne is actually a very wide-mouthed bay–its opening to the Gulf is actually wider than the mouths of both Pensacola and Choctawhatchee Bays in the panhandle of Florida, and Lake Borgne opens into Lake Pontchartain through the Rigolets–a very narrow passage connecting the two “lakes” and therefore making Pontchartrain actually an extension of Borgne “bay” (Chef Menteur pass also connects the two ‘lakes’; I always forget about that one because I’ve never actually seen it, but I’ve crossed the bridge at the Rigolets, and of course, the twin spans are close to it where Pontchartrain begins to narrow towards the mouth). So, technically (Pontchartrain is shallow), a low draught boat could sail from the Gulf to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The British attack on New Orleans during the War of 1812 actually sailed into Lake Borgne, because it was faster and easier to get to the city that way than sailing up the river against the strong current. (In fairness, Lake Borgne also used to be more enclosed; those wetlands are sadly long gone.)

New Orleans geography is interesting, isn’t it?

The notorious MR-GO channel (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet), was cut from the river into Lake Borgne as a shipping channel to make it faster for ships to get from the gulf to port in New Orleans. Naturally, no one really used it, and it gained notoriety when it was a channel for Katrina storm surge to devastate St. Bernard Parish and the lower 9th ward–being nicknamed the Hurricane Highway for the devastation it was responsible for, and the fact that it was barely used didn’t help matters. Environmentalists estimate Mr. Go was responsible for the loss of over 27000 acres of wetlands; it’s now closed for good and attempts to repair the damage it caused are still underway. The wetlands always served as a barrier to hurricane storm surges–those wetlands were not only critical for the environment and for fish, birds, etc.; but they slowed storm surge as it came rushing for the dry lands.

But you know, OIL.

I generally don’t waste time on regrets; what I always call the woulda-shoulda-coulda’s. But one thing I do regret is not focusing more in my work on the environmental costs Louisiana has paid over the years; and I also regret not getting to know the rest of the state better. New Orleans is first and foremost in my heart, of course, and always will be, but falling in love with Louisiana took a longer time for me, and I do regret that. I regret the free time I used to have not being used to explore the state more, getting to know it more, understanding the incredible culture and history of this bizarre state built by river silt drained from 2/3rds of the country. I never really had a dependable car before–one that I didn’t take on a long drive without some degree of depridation and fear and crossing of fingers. Now, of course, I have a highly dependable car–but my weekends are always taken up by getting things done and the recharging of my batteries. Maybe the next time I have a three day weekend I’ll take a day and explore; there’s lots of interesting places that aren’t that far away–the old River Road, Jackson Barracks, the Battle of New Orleans battleground, and Houma…there’s so much of interest, and that’s not even crossing the lake!

Heavy thoughts as I await the storm’s outer bands to come to New Orleans–definitely a tourist who isn’t welcome here.

And on that note, I think I’m going to finish reading Lovecraft Country.

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Epiphany

Friday, and day two of a Gregalicious long birthday weekend.

The actual birthday yesterday wasn’t too bad. I ran by the office and got my prescriptions, ran to the post office and got the mail, and then stopped at the Tchoupitoulas Rouse’s to make groceries. Of course, when I left the house it was sunny and humid, and by the time I made it to the Rouse’s parking lot it was pouring rain–like always whenever I go make groceries. Heavy sigh. But then I lugged everything in, and by the time I had everything put away I was completely exhausted. I wound up hanging out in my easy chair, getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and then Paul and I started watching something neither of us really cared for–a comedy series, which seemed to think bigotry with a smidgin of homophobia is still uproariously funny and should be played for laughs. Needless to say, I didn’t find it engaging or particularly funny. It was a high school thing, and after watching Never Have I Ever, Sex Education, and various other teen comedies that didn’t need to stoop to such sophomoric levels to be engaging, funny, and charming–how this other shit got on the air is a mystery to me. We won’t be watching any more of that, believe me. I was pretty tired for some reason last evening, so I retired early and found myself waking up terribly late this morning–much later than I usually get up (oooh, I slept in a WHOLE EXTRA HOUR, alert the media! Then again, given my occasional bouts of insomnia, this was a quite lovely development.)

So, overall it wasn’t a bad day. I am going to have my scroungy day today, where I don’t shower or shave and spend the whole day in dirty yet oddly comfortable sweats that should be going into the laundry but I’m willing to wear one more time first–oh, don’t sneer. We’re all basically slobs at heart, and imagine how disgusting we’d allow ourselves to get if we didn’t have to clean up. Oh, is that just me? Never mind then. Although I am also thinking I should probably shower to just wake up, if not for hygienic purposes. And while it is Friday and day two of Gregalicious Long Birthday Weekend, I fully intend to keep up the Friday tradition of laundering the bed linens. I am going to spend some time being sluggish today–I want to spend some time with Lovecraft Country, and I am weeks behind on The Real Housewives of New York–but emails and so forth have been piling up during my exile from doing anything of consequence yesterday, and so I am going to have to start doing something about that today, little as I want to. The Lost Apartment is also a dreadful mess.

There are two tropical storms out there, with another tropical something forming off the coast of Africa. Laura has already formed, and her track has New Orleans on the outer edge of her Cone of Uncertainty; the other in the Gulf, forming off the coast of the Yucatan, will be named Marco when and if he becomes anything. Currently both are slated to hit the Gulf Coast merely as Category 1’s, but those are no picnic, and I do hope they all miss Puerto Rico (isn’t it odd how no one ever talks about, or reports on, the Puerto Rican recovery?).  Interestingly enough, both storm tracks show that they will hit landfall on the Gulf Coast within hours of each other, and each, as I said, have New Orleans on their outside track. So, Laura could be hitting anywhere from New Orleans to Pensacola at around two in the morning on Wednesday, while Marco could be coming ashore at around the same time anywhere from Corpus Christi to New Orleans. 

Talk about a one-two punch. And if ever there was a base for a Scotty story, simultaneous hurricanes would be it–although I do think Tim Dorsey did this in one of this Florida novels, and if I recall correctly, the eyes converged somewhere over central Florida. As I have, in recent years, come to a greater appreciation of Carl Hiassen (I have a PDF of his next one in my iPad; and I really should read more of his work), I should give Dorsey another go. Back in the day, the genre I’ve come to call “Florida wacky” never appealed to me, but once when I was on a work trip to DC I finished reading all the books I’d brought with me and went to a nearby Barnes and Noble, and Hiassen’s Bad Monkey was on the sale table for $2.99 in hardcover and I thought, oh, why not, and bought it–and couldn’t put it down. It also made me laugh out loud numerous times, and I went on to read several more of his with great appreciation–so perhaps I should give Dorsey another go. Dave Barry, the columnist, also wrote a couple of novels that fit into this category, and I know I read his first and really enjoyed it. 

Florida–at least the panhandle–played a part in my childhood and shaping me as a person; I also lived in Tampa for four years as an adult, and I have spent quite a lot of time in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Miami over the years. I had originally intended to set Timothy in Miami; I eventually went with Long Island because same-sex marriage was legalized there long before it became national, and I didn’t really feel quite as comfortable writing about Miami as I did about Long Island. It also made more sense to set it on Long Island–although I found the perfect house on one of the Miami islands to base the mansion on. I eventually had my main character meet his future spouse in Miami–South Beach, to be exact–but it really made more sense for it to be based in New York City and Long Island and the Hamptons. I’ve written a little bit about Florida in my fiction; “Cold Beer No Flies” was set in the panhandle, and I have innumerable other ideas that would be set either in the panhandle or my fictional version of Tampa (Bay City), but New Orleans is still my center and still where I inevitably set everything I write.

I’ve always wanted to send Scotty on an adventure in the panhandle–Redneck Riviera Rumble–and perhaps I still might. There’s an amorphous idea in my head for such a tale, which would involve Frank’s retirement from professional wrestling and his final show somewhere in the panhandle, sex trafficking, and drug smuggling; if I can ever pull it all together, you can bet I will be writing it.

And on that note, I need to get to work being a slug. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

 

 

Up and Down

Tuesday morning and here we are. Life continues to move forward, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, and I continue to wake up every morning…which, let’s be fair, some mornings is a victory in and of itself.

I managed to get the Secret Project sent off yesterday, so we now we play the waiting game to see if it’s actually wanted. It was, quite actually, a lot of fun to do (I say now that it’s done) and I actually wound up taking 8000 words, polishing and revising, and wound up with 16,000. That was a lot of work to get done in one weekend, if I do say so myself, and I am feeling rather smug about it right now, thank you very much; it’s been awhile since I’ve felt smug about writing, so bear with me and let me have this for today, thank you very much.

And now, of course, I am free to get back to work on those pesky unfinished manuscripts that are just lying around, thank you very much, Baby Jesus.

I was exhausted yesterday and so slept really well last night; so I think today will be a better day than yesterday was. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se, but I was tired all day and when I’m tired I’m more prone to being emotionally on edge, which means I am constantly biting my tongue because I don’t want to snap at people for something that I wouldn’t ordinarily snap at someone for when I am not tired, which is a rather long run-on sentence. When I got home from work I retired into my easy chair to relax, which is what I pretty much did the entire evening (other than some filing, which I did when I got home). Dark Desire took a sudden turn in the episodes we watched last night, which was cool as I was beginning to get bored with its Fatal Attraction-type plot; these turns made it into something entirely different, which was very cool, and sparked my interest in watching again.

So, now it’s back to Bury Me in Shadows this coming weekend; this week I’m going to rest up my creative novel energies while messing around with some of the many short stories I’ve been thinking about but haven’t finished writing. It’s actually been a lovely year or so (not calendar, twelve months) of short story writing for me; even since I started the Short Story Project several years ago, where I decided to seriously focus on my short story writing while reading as many as I could, I’ve been doing fairly well with my short story writing–so much so that when I start thinking about the stories I’ve sold and published since turning in my last collection to my publisher, I inevitably forget some; I know when I was listing them the other day I forget a couple that were published last year–which puts me even closer to another collection than I thought I was. Maybe I’ll start making a more comprehensive list of those stories this week; and then go through the unfinished ones to determine which to include, so I’ll have a starting place and a plan–and you know, Constant Reader, I am all about having a plan.

And having the proposal finished has felt enormously freeing; I certainly feel as though a burden has been lifted from me this morning (I was too tired to really feel the relief yesterday) and I am excited to get back to my other writings again. I want to finish reading Cottonmouths so I can move on to the new book on the very top of my TBR pile: S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which I’ve been dying to read since its publication was first announced. I loved his novel My Darkest Prayer, which I read last year and thought was quite marvelous; and this new one has been getting raves everywhere, which is most exciting.

There are tropical things out there forming; one off the Texas coast, one deep south in the Caribbean Sea, and one out in the Atlantic. We’re going to feel their effects here in New Orleans undoubtedly; we always get something from them if they enter the Gulf of Mexico. One of the things I always dislike intensely about hurricane season is how it exposes our innate selfishness; we always want the hurricanes to go somewhere else–which means we are wishing death and destruction on faceless others. I’ve never been comfortable completely with that, nor with the relief that comes when a storm turns into a direction that means we’re out of danger.

But that’s all a part and parcel of life in the storm zone; the hurricane belt or whatever you want to call it (I don’t recall at the moment if they’ve ever given those of us on the Gulf Coast who are always in danger during the season a name, like Tornado Alley) and God knows I certainly am not in the mood or have any desire to deal with an evacuation of any kind this season–although it’s always a possibility. This year is the fifteen year anniversary of Katrina.

And yesterday was Paul’s and my twenty-fifth anniversary, which we celebrated by doing absolutely nothing other than bingeing episodes of Dark Desire.

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