Songbird

So, daylight savings time means I didn’t sleep as late as I have the last few mornings–simply because the clocks were turned back an hour. I woke up yet again at ten this morning–I went to bed around ten last night–and slept like a stone yet another night. Sleep really is the best thing, isn’t it? These last few nights of good sleep have been absolutely heavenly, and I feel a million times better than I did before this staycation started. I also can’t help but feel that missing Bouchercon–much as I hated to do so–was probably the smartest thing I could have done; thank you, doctor, for forbidding my travel.

And a belated congratulations to all the Anthony Award winners! I didn’t win for Best Short Story, but couldn’t be happier that Shawn Cosby did! He’s a great guy, a terrific writer, and also supports other writers. His debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, was fantastic; he recently signed a two book contract with Flatiron Books and I can’t wait to see what he does next, quite frankly. The other nominees–Art Taylor, Barb Goffman, and Holly West–are also terrific writers and awesome people who support other writers as well. Being nominated for an Anthony for a short story was one of the biggest thrills of my career so far.

It’s also weird that it’s a Sunday morning and  there’s no Saints game today.  It’s weird that both the Saints AND LSU have bye weeks the same weekend; but next weekend is going to be tough–LSU at Alabama for all the marbles; the Saints playing the hated Atlanta Falcons.

I imagine by the end of that weekend I am going to be quite worn out from emotion and adrenaline.

Angela Crider Neary, who moderated the Anthony Short Story nominees panel yesterday, very graciously sent me the questions she intended to ask me on the panel, so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them today–even though I’ve already lost. 😉

You’ve written in an impressive array of genres – over 50 short stories, two different private eye novel series, young adult novels (some with supernatural elements), and even some erotica as well as some horror and suspense.  Do you like one of these genres or formats (short or long) better than others, and tell us what you enjoy or find rewarding about writing each of them.  Are there any other genres you have written or would like to write?

I’ve also written some romance! I like all the genres I write in pretty equally; I just wish I was better at writing horror than I am. I’ve always had a strong passion for history, so I think historicals is something I’d like to try at some point–it surprises me that I haven’t already. I find writing short to be a lot more difficult than writing long; I always think of ideas in terms of books rather than short stories, and sometimes have to modify the idea down, as I can certainly never write all my ideas as novels unless I have an exceptionally long life. I’ve been experimenting with writing novellas lately–I’m in the process of writing two right now. Of course, there’s little to no market for novellas. I guess I’ll wind up self-publishing them or something.

I love the title of your current Anthony-nominated story, “Cold Beer No Flies.”  Is there a story behind this particular title, and how important do you think titles are for stories or novels?

Thank you, I’m rather partial to that title myself! When I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a bar in the county seat that was very similar to the bar in my story. It was simply called My Place and they had a reader board out on the side of the road and one day it said COLD BEER NO FLIES. That tickled me for some reason, and I never forgot it. About ten years later I wrote the first draft of the story with that title. It sat in my files for a very long time, and about ten years ago I revised it for the first time, shifted the setting from Kansas to the Florida panhandle, and changed the main character from a young woman to a young man. When Florida Happens came about, I revised it one last time and submitted it to the blind read process, and was delighted to have the judges score it highly enough for inclusion. (My story in the Blood on the Bayou anthology also went through the blind read, and was picked.)

You have two PI novel series set in New Orleans.  How would you describe these two series, how they differ from each other, and how you’re able to slip into the separate moods and characters of each of them?

The Chanse series is more hard-boiled than the Scotty series, which is more light and fun. Chanse is a completely different kind of  gay man than Scotty; he was raised working class, his family lived in a trailer park and were evangelical Christians in a small working class town in east Texas. He used football and a scholarship to LSU to get out, and finally came out officially after graduating from college. He’s more scarred emotionally, more bitter and cynical, and has a very low opinion of humanity. Scotty is the polar opposite of Chanse: from a wealthy society family on both sides, he grew up in New Orleans with extremely liberal, progressive parents who never had any issue with his sexuality, and was kind of a fuck-up in some ways, though–flunked out of college, worked as a stripper and a personal trainer, etc. But he has a very positive outlook on life, and has no baggage about his sexuality whatsoever; in fact, he revels in being gay. I’d never read a character like that before, and I felt like there needed to be one. Scotty is much more fun to write than Chanse–I kind of just make up the story as I go, because that’s kind of how Scotty lives his life, up for anything and everything–whereas Chanse is more rigid, more unhappy, and more of a tight-ass, so I have to plan his stories out from the very beginning.

You’re the co-founder of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, which takes place in New Orleans every spring.  Tell us about it.

Well, way back in 2002 my partner, myself, and Jean Redmann went out for dinner and drinks one night, and over the course of conversation the subject of writer’s conferences came up–and how queer writers were often not included, and if they were, were put on what we call a “zoo panel”–a panel where all the non-straight writers are gathered together which, no matter the good intentions, always felt like we were zoo animals people came to see and point at, and those panels inevitably devolved into “let’s teach the nice straight people about homophobia.” We thought it would be lovely to have an event of our own–open and welcoming all who wanted to participate–where being queer wasn’t the topic of discussion. We also thought it would be good to stress the importance of queer literature and its importance in its response to the AIDS epidemic, and try to honor the many writers we lost to the plague years. We figured we might be able to pull it off maybe once or twice before interest died down…and here we are, seventeen/eighteen years later, still going strong. I have less to do with the organizing now than I did in the beginning–most of it is my partner and his team–but I still get credit for it.

Your Lambda Literary Award winning Murder in the Rue Chartres was described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as “the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published thus far.”  There was such overwhelming personal and community devastation after the hurricane and flooding.  Why did you choose to write about the hurricane and what was that like for you?

It’s so weird to me that it’s been over fourteen years now. But even now, it’s impossible to describe, or talk about, everything that happened because of Katrina. 90% of the city was rendered uninhabitable, and for awhile we weren’t even sure if the city was going to come back–or if we would ever be able to come home. We were lucky, we were able to evacuate when so many couldn’t–and that guilt lasted a really long time. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving New Orleans to die. It’s very difficult to describe how New Orleanians feel about New Orleans, that deep love that runs through, and colors, everything. The entire time I was gone I felt unmoored, unanchored, unsure about the future. I also knew I was going to have to write about Katrina, and I didn’t really want to. I was one of the first to come back–I returned to New Orleans on October 11th, about six weeks or so after it happened. I had been blogging at that time for not quite a year–but I was blogging extensively throughout that time, describing what I was feeling and what I was seeing. (I only wish technology had advanced to the point where phones had cameras–I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was unable to document everything with pictures; all I have is memories and the blog.) Katrina was such an enormous event, that the entire world was aware of–I didn’t see how I could possibly continue to write fiction about New Orleans without acknowledging Katrina, but at the same time I didn’t want to write about it, either. The Scotty series–I’d finished and turned in the third book in that series, Mardi Gras Mambo, about three weeks before the storm and I’d intended to start writing the fourth almost immediately, after taking about a month off to rest and regroup. Ironically, the idea was called Hurricane Party Hustle and I wanted to write a book set in the city during an evacuation with another near-miss hurricane–which I’d already experienced three or four times at that point. Needless to say that idea was scrapped. I also didn’t see how I could write a light, funny book about New Orleans when we were still in the midst of everything.* I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a Chanse book. My editor at Alyson Books, Joseph Pittman, kept after me, telling me I was the perfect person to write such a book, and so on and so on, and I finally agreed to write it–but only on the condition that Chanse, like me, had evacuated and returned on the same day I did. I didn’t think survival stories from Katrina were mine to tell.** Writing the book itself was incredibly difficult, and I found myself drinking a lot whenever I finished for the day. But in the end, it was incredibly cathartic to write the book and I am very grateful, to this day, that Joe wore me down and convinced me to write it.
*Of course, now, all these years later, I can actually see how a funny book could be written about New Orleans in the aftermath–particularly in the way New Orleanians who were here reacted. The ruined refrigerators, for example, that everyone dragged out to the curb for disposal and sealed with duct tape–people decorated their refrigerators or wrote slogans on them; some of them were enormously funny. New Orleans has always had a sort of gallows sense of humor about itself; we always laugh, no matter what, and I do regret that I wasn’t in a place where I could examine that.
**I did eventually write a survival story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (my story in Blood on the Bayou, it was nominated for a Macavity Award a few years ago), and while I still didn’t think I had the right to tell a survival story–I kept questioning myself the entire time I was writing it–I based a lot of it on survival stories I’d been told, and given the response to the story, I think I got it right. I have another idea for a noir story set in the aftermath as well–it came to me on a panel at Raleigh Bouchercon several years ago Katrina Niidas Holm was moderating, and she keeps pushing me to write it–and I think I’ll someday get to it.
I also think sometimes I might go ahead sometime and write Hurricane Party Hustle–probably enough time has passed to write a story about an evacuation and near-miss , and sometimes I think I might go back and write a Scotty book set during that time as well…maybe.
And on that note, back to the spice mines. Thanks to everyone who voted for my story for the Anthonys so it made the short-list; that meant a lot, and I appreciate it.
And here’s hoping I won’t miss Sacramento next year.

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Papa Was a Rolling Stone

Wherever he laid his hat, was his home…and when he died…..all he left us was alone….

I do love that song. It’s always fun when a song title pops up for use that’s a song I really love.

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning. I’m not sure what it is. I had another not-good night’s sleep last night–two days in a row, actually–and this morning my stomach is really bothering me. I’m not sure what it is, but yesterday was terrible. I was so tired and blood sugar was ridiculously low most of the day, which also didn’t help very much. I did manage to get the major project done, and this morning I am glumly looking at about a gazillion emails in my inbox that must be dealt with. I’d hoped that tired as I was yesterday, I’d sleep well–and was very sleepy throughout most of the evening, until, of course, I went to bed.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I was so tired yesterday I forgot it was the anniversary of the evacuation in 2005, which makes today the Katrina anniversary. Lovely, particularly as there’s a storm in the Atlantic targeting Florida–just the same way Katrina did fourteen years ago, before crossing over into the Gulf, speeding up and heading for Louisiana. My thoughts are naturally with everyone in Florida; but I am also keeping a wary eye on this storm’s progress. We may have tickets for the LSU-Georgia Southern game on Saturday night (GEAUX TIGERS!), which is another reason I don’t want to be sick for the weekend. A conundrum, really, and a quandary; should I stay home and rest today, dose myself liberally with–I don’t actually know what, to be honest. It’s my stomach, combined with exhaustion; what do you take for that? I guess one could simply lie down and read, or something. I don’t know. I also hate to use up my sick-time this way; but I need to decide sooner rather than later, don’t I? But all I have to do tomorrow is pass out condoms for four hours tomorrow night, which means I have the whole day free to sleep in and rest and all of that; and then it’s a three day weekend.

Decisions, decisions.

Okay, well, now that I’ve eaten something we’ll see what happens next. I’m personally hoping my stomach settles down, because I would rather go to work than stay home, to be perfectly honest.

Since I finished the big project again yesterday–some more work from it will show up, in dribs and drabs over the next week, I suspect–I can now focus my energies on these last two chapters of Bury Me in Shadows’ first draft, which I would like to be done with by Sunday, which is September 1st. I also want to start reading Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, and Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows.

Well, I’m still feeling terrible and it’s about time to start getting ready, so I think I’m going to stay home. I hate skipping work for sickness; I also hate being sick in general. As I’m getting older that’s one thing I’ve noticed–I’m more susceptible to being sick than I was when I was younger, to go along with all the newfound aches and pains; it seems like every morning there’s a new one. I honestly don’t mind getting older–I certainly never thought I’d make it this far–other than being betrayed by my body and my health. About the only thing I’d want back from being younger is energy and the ability to sleep deeply and well every night. I know that my body is changing–and not for the better–but every time something happens–like when my back wrenches from picking up the laundry basket wrong, or I turn my head too quickly and my neck gets sore–I think to myself, yes, you really can’t fool yourself into thinking you’re still a young man anymore, can you?

Sigh.

Well, I’m going to go lay back down. Hope you have a better day than me, Constant Reader.

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Walk Away from Love

Wednesday and I am being betrayed, left and right, by idiotic technology.

I had to take my fucking phone back to factory settings because despite updating my phone the other day, last night my computer didn’t fucking recognize my phone again. (You can certainly tell Steve Jobs died…the quality of Apple’s overpriced products has gone into steep decline since his death. This kind of shit never happened on his watch.) And my email inbox is also having some issues today as well.

I don’t have time for this nonsense.

Seriously.

I’ve not written hardly at all this week, because I got sucked down into a rabbit hole regarding the crime fiction community these last two days–yet another train wreck I can’t look away from. I hope to get back in the writing saddle again today, though; fingers crossed there won’t be any more developments of nonsense! But the way things have been going…it certainly wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

I watched another episode of Chernobyl last night, and seriously, this is some extraordinary television. It’s depressing and horrifying as all  hell, but like the crime fiction kerfuffle or a train wreck, I simply can’t stop watching. The fourth episode–if you’re a pet lover, do not watch. The show is doing a terrific job of showing the disaster from the point of view of every day citizens affected, and what the disaster has done to them and their lives; episode four is particularly ghoulish and while true, it was awful and heartbreaking to watch: you see, all the people had to be evacuated out of the hot zone, but they didn’t take the contaminated animals with them…including pets. So, a team of people were assigned to go around and shoot all the cats and dogs the citizens had to leave behind–they were contaminated and it was a mercy, rather than letting them die a horrific, slow painful death from radiation. The part of the episode dealing with this was all shown from the point of view of an eighteen year old newly inducted soldier who volunteered to help out in the hot zone. I had to pause and get up and walk away several times during the episode because it was, frankly, too much. There’s one scene in particular…Christ, I can’t even write about it.

Chernobyl, despite the incredible acting, writing, and production values, is not an easy thing to watch. It’s filmed like a horror movie–very bleak and hopeless–and what makes it worse is something I realized after Hurricane Katrina; that no matter how bad something looks on television or in a film, the reality is so much worse. I will never get the images of what the lower 9th ward looked like that October of 2005, and how television didn’t even capture a fraction of the actual horror and devastation.

And on that note, I am heading back to the spice mines.


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Too Funky

Well, last night’s Saints game was quite lovely, and more than made up for the disappointing LSU loss this weekend. Drew Brees broke the record for most yards passing in NFL history, which was very cool, and the Saints won, as well, defeating Washington handily. 40-23? And he’s still going. The weird love affair between New Orleans and the Saints, New Orleans and Drew Brees. As I watched the game last night, I realized that there are a lot of people living here now who didn’t live here when the Saints were, for wont of a better word, lackluster. For that matter, who didn’t live here when the Saints won the Super Bowl. That saddened me, because that was all such a lovely bonding experience for the city after Hurricane Katrina and the flood; how much the Saints meant to all of us as we rebuilt our lives and the Saints rebuilt themselves. And Drew Brees, rebuilding his career when there were plenty of doubters and naysayers, came to symbolize our city, down but not quite out.

It all seems so long ago now, but how nice that he is still playing, the Saints are doing great yet again, and now he is on his way to holding practically every individual record a quarterback can have; how nice to hear the rousing ovation from the fans in the Superdome when he broke the record.

Absolutely lovely.

The revision is swimming along nicely. I fell behind again, and need to get caught up sooner rather than later, but I am happy with how it’s going and how well things are turning out. I still think I can make the November 1 goal for submission, and then I can figure out what I am going to work on next. More short stories, perhaps? A new y/a? The WIP? We shall see.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Take Me to Heart

Being an LSU fan is not for the faint of heart.

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, after my panel, Paul and I retired to our room and flipped on the television to see if we could see the LSU-Auburn game up there. There was a CBS station from Buffalo, so we were able to do so; the primary problem being that when we turned the game on, it was late in the first quarter, the score was 17-0, and Auburn had the ball.

We both sighed resignedly and collapsed onto the bed.

I was raised on college football. My dad’s family are Auburn fans, my mother’s Alabama. I’ve had relatives play for both teams; bestselling author Ace Atkins also played for Auburn, and we bonded many years ago over our lifelong fandom of the Auburn Tigers. The rules in my family were very clear: we rooted for Alabama when they played everyone but Auburn. I always liked LSU, though–I thought the whole “Death Valley” thing and having an actual live tiger mascot was kind of cool, and of course I’ve always loved the colors purple and gold. After we moved down here to New Orleans, Paul started watching college football with me on Saturdays, and he started rooting for LSU; the same way we both rooted for the Saints. I followed the same rules I’d grown up with: root for Auburn, root for Alabama when they play everyone else but Auburn, and added root for LSU when they play everyone else but Auburn and Alabama.

Paul, of course, always rooted for LSU.

I remember one night a year or so after we moved here, we were out with friends at Lafitte’s and I happened to notice that the Clover Grill’s television was tuned into the LSU-Florida game. Florida was riding the nation’s longest winning streak, hadn’t lost an SEC (Southeastern Conference) game in a couple of years, and was ranked Number One in the country; LSU wasn’t given much of a chance. I wandered across the street with my beer to watch the kick-off and was stunned as LSU jumped out to an improbable 14-0 lead early in the first quarter. I only walked back across the street to get more beer or go to the bathroom or when it was half-time; I watched that entire game without sound through the Clover Grill’s windows and improbably, upstart LSU managed to hang on and win the game 28-21. It was probably the biggest upset in LSU football history, and Death Valley went crazy–I could also hear people yelling around the Quarter every time LSU scored.

Everyone knows about the great Halloween game between LSU and Ole Miss back in 1959, when LSU was ranked number one and Ole Miss number three, and LSU won on the great Billy Cannon punt return, 7-3. I watched the Auburn-LSU game in 1988, when LSU upset 4th ranked Auburn 7-6 on a last minute touchdown and the fans were jumping up and down so much it registered on the LSU’s geology department’s Richter scale (my cousin was playing for Auburn then, and in full disclosure–I wasn’t thrilled to see that Tommy Hodson pass completion). That game is now known as the Earthquake Game, and clinched a tie for the SEC title that year for LSU with Auburn.

I switched fully over to LSU after Hurricane Katrina, during the evacuation and the return, watching the LSU games because watching those games was something about Louisiana that was normal; when everything else seemed to be disrupted there were the Tigers playing in Death Valley. I didn’t have the Saints that year because they weren’t playing in the damaged Superdome, and there was talk about them being moved to San Antonio. Tiger Stadium had been a triage center as FEMA and the Coast Guard and the Marines air-lifted people out of New Orleans; many of the players were from the city and had relatives and friends and neighbors crammed into their apartments with them. LSU and the campus were instrumental to the rescue efforts, and essentially, a life-line for the city I loved so much. That year LSU moved to Number One in my heart, and they have stayed there ever since.

And the games! My God, LSU games are nail-biters almost always. and from 2005-2007 LSU seemed to almost always pull the game out at the end with some kind of insane end. LSU won the national championship in 2007; the only time a two-loss time did so, and were the first team with more than one loss to be able to lay claim to the national title in over forty years. There were so many great moments that year–including the insane come from behind win over Auburn. With time running out and the ball on the thirty yard line, one point behind…quarterback Matt Flynn threw a pass to the end zone that was caught to win the game 30-24 with one second left on the clock.

There have been many games like that since–the Tigers don’t always pull them out, but they do more often than they don’t. Last year’s Auburn game was the same–a touchdown pass completed to win the game as time ran out, only to have the officials rule the ball was snapped after time ran out and nullified the touchdown.

Coach Les Miles was fired after that game.

This year’s LSU team hasn’t looked good. Paul and I went to watch the lackluster win over BYU in the Superdome to start the season; we went to the season opener in Baton Rouge to see another lackluster win over a second-tier team. LSU was blown out at Mississippi State, but still managed to stay ranked….until they lost two weeks ago against Troy in Tiger Stadium; the first loss for LSU against a non-conference opponent since 2000. Somehow they managed to upset Florida 17-16 the next week in Gainesville…but this weekend, Auburn was ranked Number 10, rolling over everyone they played. Mississippi State, who had beaten LSU by thirty points, lost to Auburn 49-10. No one had high hopes…even though Auburn hadn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999.

That year, after beating LSU 41-7, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and some of his players walked out onto the field to the tiger eye at the fifty yard line to triumphantly smoke cigars. It was an insult no one here has forgotten….and Auburn has lost every time they’ve played here since.

After forcing Auburn to kick a field goal to go up 20-0, LSU scored to make it 20-7. Auburn managed another field goal, but LSU scored in the closing seconds of the first half to make it 23-14, and were getting the ball back first in the second half. A comeback wasn’t out of the question….but on that first possession they had to punt, and despite keeping Auburn from getting a first down, a stupid penalty gave Auburn another set of downs and it was time for us to go.

I was certain the game was over.

I checked my phone later in the lounge as we ate hors d’oeuvres and drank wine in the lounge while waiting for it to be time for our dinner reservation–and lo and behold, the score was now 23-21 with about ten minutes left. I kept hitting refresh and BOOM! LSU kicked a field goal to finally go ahead 24-23.

They held on, kicking another field goal with just seconds left in the game to go up 27-23…and somehow pulled it off.

I still can’t believe I missed seeing it.

Geaux Tigers! I hope to see a replay of the game at some point.

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Death Valley: where dreams come to die.