Umbrella Man

And just like that, it’s once again Friday. I think over the course of this weekend, things will start to readjust to some semblance of normality again; I will probably, most likely, go into the office on Monday in an effort to readjust and reestablish some sense of being normal–or whatever passes for that–again. I am going to swing over there this morning to drop some things off that I’ve been working on, and just check things out in general. I also have to swing by and get the mail today as well, and I am going to go to the gym for a resurrection of Leg Day after I am finished doing my work today. Yay?

There still has been no trash pick-up in my neighborhood since before Ida, and our cans, with all that ruined food rotting in the early September heat, are beginning to smell quite ripe. There’s still a lot of debris on our sidewalks and along the gutters. Over all, not really much to complain about, and given so many people have lost everything, or have nowhere to live, or are still suffering without power in the heat…it seems like parsing and pinching things in order to find something to complain about. I’d forgotten that aspect of hurricane recovery–that sense of you can’t complain because other people have it far worse than you do rings in your ears every time you start to even slightly feel bad for yourself about your situation, or start the downward spiral of stress and aggravation and frustration. It makes adjusting and mental health integrity that much harder; one of the lessons from Katrina, really–knowing that it’s okay to complain and be frustrated and aggravated at the situation, while still recognizing your own good fortune (even if it seems like it’s a backhanded gift of a sort).

Last night, Paul and I got caught up on The Other Two, Archer, and Titans. I’m still enjoying the shows–even if the latter two aren’t quite as good as they were earlier in their run–and I think The Other Two is probably one of the better, most undervalued comedies airing on streaming right now. It’s certainly fun watching the gay brother–and the show is touching on comedic aspects of being gay I’ve really not seen covered anywhere else. As I was stripping condoms out of condom packs and doing other, various, “busy work” (it still needs to be done–these things would need to be done if the clinic was open and I was seeing clients three days a week, like pre-Ida) yesterday and watching television (I did watch this week’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills–I am going to have to devote an entire entry to my reality shows at some point, particularly about how they are slowly starting to lose their appeal to me); although I cannot really remember what else I watched yesterday? Oh yes, some documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel, even if I cannot remember which particular ones, and I also rewatched the Brendan Fraser The Mummy–the original, which I realized I’d never actually seen; I’ve seen the sequel, but never all the way through from start to finish, which I may rectify today.

I am hearing noises from the street that sound like a garbage truck–the only inconvenience we are really experiencing at the moment is the stench of the cans when I walk out to the car–so the return of garbage pick-up would certainly serve as another indication that New Orleans is slowly coming back to what passes for normal around here.

I’m also finding it difficult to want to read again, which is weird. I’ve not written anything since Ida, and I’ve not read anything since we left town to find relief from the heat in Greenville, Alabama. I’m hoping this will change over the course of this weekend, but then…you never know. Maybe I read too much while we didn’t have power and I sprained the reading muscle in my brain. Stranger things have happened, after all. I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t enjoying Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s book, because I most definitely was; there’s just something off with the creative side of my brain–reading and writing both have been struck down by whatever this malaise is; but it’s more along the lines of being unsettled and not feeling like I have a strong foundation under my feet–this weird not knowing the day/date thing was very disorienting; and of course, there was all that tightness and tension built up in the muscles of neck, shoulder and back (which, oddly, going to the gym cleared up completely; obviously I am hoping going over there today after work will also be a great experience physically for me). I also still have two blog entries to write about books I read during the outage (Dead Dead Girls, A Letter of Mary) which I hope to get around to this weekend, and maybe–just maybe– I may do some writing. I know, I know, stranger things have happened, but I really need to figure out where I am with things and how much time is left in this year and when the deadlines for things are.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you soon.

I’m Here, You’re Here

I really have no concept of days and dates anymore. And since my office at the day job is closed and without power–at least thus far; I’ve not checked the Entergy map yet this morning–there’s no telling when I will start remembering the dates and what day of the week it is for the foreseeable future, honestly. I’m sleeping better than I was (anything is better than the powerless sleep of last week)yet my energy reserves still seem to be a little on the low side. Yesterday I hit a wall around five, but pushed through the final hour of work-at-home duties; we’ll see how long my energy lasts today before it starts flagging.

I stopped by Rouse’s yesterday; very picked over and the whole building was condensed to half it’s size; fruits and vegetables moved from their usual section over to where the dairy and bacon is usually stored on the river side of the store–but the bakery was operating and they had bread and milk, which was important, but were low on Cokes and Gatorade, which was a bit disappointing, but to be expected. There’s no telling when the trucks to restock will have the gas to get in or out of the city, so am rather glad we bought some things in Greenville to bring back home. Today I have more things to do at home–we still can’t get into the office, per yesterday (I’ve not checked yet this morning as to whether we can get inside or not, as I already mentioned)–but am worried about running out of things to do at home before we can get back inside the office.

Last night Paul and I caught up on the shows we missed during the evacuation–Ted Lasso, American Horror Story, and Archer–before retiring for the evening; as always with a power outage our a/c is now messed up, with it hovering in the high 60’s/low 80’s upstairs and mid-to-low 60’s downstairs, but seriously, am just so happy cold air is coming out of the vents I don’t even care in the slightest that the thermostats are fucked up again. I was laughing yesterday as I did the last load of power outage/evacuation laundry; my tights were in that load, and I remembered that the thermostats had gone all fucked up before the power outage, so I was wearing layers downstairs because it was so cold. I laughed because of the extremes–one day I am wearing layers downstairs because it’s so cold, the next I am sweating to death and can barely breathe. New Orleans is definitely not for the timid of heart.

Driving around yesterday was weird. There’s still a lot of debris out there being cleaned up, but there’s still a lot that hasn’t been as of yet. The streetcars aren’t operating yet–no idea when they will be rolling again–and it’s rained off and on a lot, which leads to water pooling because most of the catch traps or gutters are blocked with debris. The enormous live oak branches are the ones that make me sad; I hate seeing damage to live oaks, but I’ve only seen one or two of our beautiful trees uprooted and down, so that’s something. It seems like we lost more of them during Katrina than we did during Ida, but that may not be true; it’s just how I see it, and of course, my post-Katrina memories are in the foggy recesses of my brain any way.

And of course, now that I am home, I cannot focus on reading anymore. The Internet came back yesterday, so obviously we have television streaming capabilities again (thank you, Cox), so I was able to get my phone hotspot turned off and can also use my work laptop now to actually do the day job stuff–I try to keep my computers free from other uses; I try not to do dayjob stuff on personal computers and personal stuff on the dayjob computer, although it’s not always possible, frankly.

My plan for this week is to slowly get the apartment and the outside yard/walk under control this week–still debris out there that needs to be picked up–and re-acclimate myself to everything; find the last to-do list and make a new one; keep cleaning and purging things from the apartment; keep making a list of things we need to get to be prepared the next time there’s a storm and/or loss of power (candles being at the top of the list; preferably tapered ones), and just get back on top of things–a near impossible task, really, since I wasn’t on top of everything before Ida came ashore–so I can feel better about everything.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely whatever day of the week it is, Constant Reader–I’m going to guess Wednesday.

Do You Wanna Dance?

One of the (very very very very very) few benefits of losing power and all connection to the outside world is it gives you plenty of time to read. Our power went out, thanks to the outer bands of Hurricane Ida (in case you weren’t paying attention) at approximately eleven am in Sunday, August 29th–which also happened to be the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (Another benefit of not having power and not being connected to the outside world–I didn’t have to see all the doom-and-gloom coverage, plus the constant Katrina references; I lived through it already, and have seen enough news documentaries about it; no thanks–especially with the added DISASTER glee of a NEW HURRICANE!!! EVEN BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL THAN KATRINA!!!)

At any rate, in those days before we finally said no mas to the lack of power and fled for the wilds of Alabama, I managed to read a fucking lot.

The book I was reading before and during the storm–I finished with a flashlight as the winds and rains of Ida battered my house–was Megan Abbott’s The Turnout, which I couldn’t put down.

You see, I love ballet.

It’s something that I’ve rarely had the chance to see in my life until the advent of Youtube; I’ve while away many an hour down a ballet wormhole on Youtube, marveling at the insane way the dancers can twist, contort, and launch their bodies in ways bodies weren’t meant to twist or contort or launch; and yet not only can they do it–it’s breathtakingly beautiful to watch. It’s part of what drew me to gymnastics and figure skating, too–the amazingly difficult things these athletes (and don’t ever for a moment believe that ballet dancers are not athletes) can do with their bodies, and how easy and beautiful they make it look. When I was a kid, we watched The Nutcracker on television; I hated it (still do) but was nevertheless amazed at the dancers, how disciplined and beautiful their movements were, how they used every muscle in their body and somehow made it all look as easy as breathing, as blinking, as smiling.

I remember thinking, I want to do that.

Ballet wasn’t an option, needless to say–and I probably wouldn’t have been good at it; I was incredibly clumsy (still am, really, just have a better sense of my body and better spatial awareness) and uncoordinated…on the other hand, it might have been the perfect thing for me, may have made me disciplined, changed my perception of self and worth by working hard at something I would love…but what can you do now? I’ve always wanted to write a ballet noir about a gay ballet dancer–I had the idea back in the early 1990’s, wrote it all out, including characters and a plot synopsis (and yes, of course I have the title). The folder is in my file cabinet in the “maybe get to soon” drawer; I often pause on it when I go through the drawer looking for something else. Occasionally, as I watch the videos on Youtube (and they have stuff from Nureyev, who fascinated me and kind of still does, as well as Baryshnikov and many many many others), I think about it. I was watching a documentary about the acid attack on the enfánt terrible director of the Bolshoi when Paul came home one night, and he was startled to see me watching it. He had no idea about my affinity for the ballet; I told him about my book idea and how I’d always loved ballet–and he got me tickets to see the Royal Ballet Company of Monaco when they came to New Orleans for Christmas, as well as several autobiographies of dancers.

And as always, it’s such a joy to read a new novel from someone who will be considered one of the greats of our time–even though she has now set the bar so high for crime novels about ballet I may never dare to even think about writing one myself.

They were dancers. Their whole lives, nearly. They were dancers who taught dance and taught it well, as their mother had.

“Every girl wants to be a ballerina…”

That’s what their brochure said, their posters, their website, the sentence scrolling across the screen in stately cursive.

THE DURANT SCHOOL OF DANCE, EST. 1986 by their mother, a former soloist with the Alberta Ballet, took up the top twofloors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. It had become theirs after their parents died on a black-ice night more than a dozen years ago, their car caroming across the highway median. When an enterprising local learned it had been their twentieth wedding anniversary, he wrote a story about them, noting their hands were interlocked even in death.

Had one of them reached out to the other in those final moments, the reporter wondered to readers, or had they been holding hands all along?

All these years later, the story of their parents’ end, passed down like lore, still seemed unbearably romantic to their students–less so to Marie, who, after sobbing violently next to her sister, Dara, through the funeral, insisted, I never saw them holds hands once.

Megan Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the best publishing in our time. Her books just blow me away, every time–and I never know what I am in for when I start reading one, either, as far as character and subtext and story and the complex, layered, complicated relationships between her fully realized characters, who all live and breathe and have interior lives–including those who appear in just a scene or two. I don’t know how she does it–Abbott can do more with a sentence (as far as character definition, mood, setting–any aspect of good writing, really) than most can do with several paragraphs.

The Turnout focuses on the two sisters, and Dara’s husband, a male ballet prodigy whose career was tragically cut short by a vicious spinal injury. The three grew up together under their mother’s tyrannical rule, and there is an odd, group dynamic at play there, where Dara and Charles are almost, sort of like surrogate parents to Marie–who has an oddly childlike quality to her. The story of the novel plays out during their preparation for their annual production of The Nutcracker (because of course it had to be the one ballet I loathe, LOL–but let’s be honest, it IS the ballet the school would put on at Christmas every year), and while the three of them split up the work of producing the ballet and running the school, our primary point of view character is Dara. Her relationship with her husband has an odd touch of brother-sister to it; they grew up together, of course, and her relationship with her sister has many layers and undercurrents. Marie has often tried to escape the town they live in and the school–but has always wound up coming back home, more fragile than before she left. The sisterly relationship is as equally complex as the marriage, and the weird dynamic of the two sisters having a deeply close relationship to the same man, who grew up as basically a brother to them, raised all kinds of flags for me as I read. Marie has broken free from the complex menage a tróis; she has moved into the attic of the school to try to break free of the claustrophobic family ties. But a fire in one of the studios results in damage and the hiring of a shady contractor; who soon infiltrates the tight little family and all of the traumas, public and private, within the family begin to resurface when Marie falls for the man, whom Dara hates pretty much on sight. As the needs of the production begin to multiply the closer the show’s run comes, with the one studio under repair and seemingly more and more money falling into the contractor’s hands while the school inches ever closer to bankruptcy–and the fragile little family unit also begins to feel the pressure begin building to the breaking point as well, when Marie becomes sexually involved with the contractor and Dara begins to fear what else her sister is sharing with him other than her body…because the Durants have some deep, dark secrets Dara does not want anyone to know about.

Abbott’s writing style is not only cinematic–you can visualize easily everything she writes about, whether it’s a ballerina breaking in a new pair of pointe shoes; the smell of ointments to ease the ache of sore muscles and enflamed joints; the bitter rivalries and cruelties of young girls competing for the lead; the demanding entitlements of ballet parents; the awkwardness of a young man who dances ballet despite his father’s objections; or the experience of trying to work while construction is going on around you. Dara, the more confident of the two sisters, the alpha of the three in the little family group, finds herself lost, losing her stability, the solid foundation her life is build upon, and cannot really handle the shift in her little world, left unsure and unable to explain or understand her sister’s behavior–or the distance growing between her and Charles, which she is ill equipped to do anything about. That sense of things spiraling out of control, the inability to stop the out-of-control train plunging forward, contrasts beautifully with the art of ballet–where control is so important.

Abbott does a magnificent job of building tension, keeping the reader enrapt and turning the pages as everything starts to not only boil, but boil over–and her gift for language, for putting the right words together in a sentence that appears to be quite simple but actually conveys a multi-layered complexity, is extraordinary. Her keen insights into the incredibly complicated relationships between the two sisters and Charles, the tragedy of Marie’s loneliness and inability to break free of her past and her family because of her own fragility, are sharp as a syringe.

I loved this book, but hated to see it end…because now I have to wait for the next Abbott novel–and however long it will take to get a new one is far, far too long.

Singing My Song

And HOME.

HUZZAH!

I am very exhausted, but very grateful that my air is back and we have power. The Internet is down, but my phone’s hotspot is working–that won’t help with the cable, so no television till Cox restores service again–but that’s okay; I can use the time more productively writing or reading and trying to clean up the utter disastrous condition we left the Lost Apartment in. The refrigerator, while emptied of anything that would rot or spoil, needs a thorough cleaning, and of course there’s still debris outside that needs to be picked up. But I am home, and that’s really all that matters to me at the moment.

And we have power–glorious, glorious electricity.

And my next power bill should be significantly lower, right? It was out for almost a week.

I am running all the clothes we wore on the trip and the towels and clothes we wore during the hellish no-electricity phase of this process; after that, the sheets and bed linens definitely need to be cleaned, and like I said, this whole place is a mess–a thorough thorough mess. But I think I can be forgiven for sitting just a moment and relaxing at my desk, by my windows, and just having a moment to breathe, right? I am exhausted, seriously; I didn’t realize how much so until I got home. We bought some groceries in Greenville just to be on the safe side–nothing much; bread and cheese and so on–and I will probably make an exploratory trip to Rouse’s just to see what they have tomorrow–I don’t really want to get back into the car again, to be honest.

But home again, home again. I really do know what it means to miss New Orleans.

It’s been a while since we’ve evacuated; not quite so long since the last time a tropical storm of one kind or another knocked out power out in the heat of summer for several days. The disruption is inevitably unwelcome–I love New Orleans, but without air conditioning I could not live here, period–and now I have to try to remember where I was at and what I was doing and what I was working on before the Great Derángement (yes, I know, probably inappropriate to call having to leave because of a natural disaster the same name the Cajuns called their expulsion from Acadia by the British after the French and Indian War); and I also have to figure out how to function with my day job duties and how to get work hours in so I don’t have to burn off what’s left of my vacation time. The office still didn’t have power the last time I checked; tomorrow is Labor Day, and sorry–I am not going to worry about any of this until Tuesday, which is a work day. (I have data entry to do, and as long as my hotspot is working, I can work on that at home. I also have to throw away all the condoms I have here at the house; and strip them out of the condom packs here that I’ve made….if the office had power I could go there and start throwing away spoiled test kits and condoms and break down condom packs…but I can only access the building with my badge, which requires electricity to let me in…)

So, I am just kind of going to settle in here at the Lost Apartment today. I am going to get things cleaned and organized, have a few well-earned cocktails later (hello, big bottle of tequila!), and just chill out. The cable might be out, but we can also revisit some old DVD’s for entertainment purposes, if needed; good thing I didn’t throw them away on a purge (or did I?).

But most of all, it’s going to be absolutely marvelous to sleep in my own bed, drink my own coffee, and really…just be grateful this entire situation wasn’t worse. Ida was stronger than Katrina–thank God the levees held–and it’s going to be a hot minute before New Orleans is back to a semblance of normal. But this things, this unforeseen catastrophes, are really good about resetting priorities and recognizing what is important….and as I sip my margarita later this eve, I am going to put some more thought into that.

And thanks, everyone–for the encouragement and support over the last week. It was only a week ago Ida came ashore. Seems like it’s been an eternity, at least to me.

I’m on the Road

We tried to stick it out, ever hopeful that Entergy would pull off a miracle, but today we cracked and couldn’t take it anymore. We were also out of food, and while some stores are indeed open (without power), it was incredibly ridiculously hot today; I’ve not really slept since the power went out Sunday morning; and we decided to go today. With it being the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, I knew–between Louisiana evacuees and “last holiday weekend at the beach” people, there was no point in following I-10 East and trying to find anywhere to stay. I only had a half-tank of gas, and wasn’t sure we’d be able to get any if we went north or west, so we headed east on I-10. We got gas near Biloxi (yay!) and once we hit Mobile we turned north. I knew we’d be able to find a pet friendly room somewhere between Mobile and Montgomery, and I was correct. Paul, Scooter and I are now checked into a motel in Greenville, Alabama. We’ve both taken our first hot showers since before the power went out, and are relaxing in the air conditioning (on high and full blast) while the US Open plays on the television. Everything is currently charging. Scooter isn’t sure what to make of this, as he has never stayed anywhere besides our house or the Cat Practice in the last eleven years, but he was great in the car and just slept…which is his usual state. I am looking forward to tonight’s sleep–you have no idea, Constant Reader, how much I am looking forward to finally getting some sleep. We have the room until Sunday–we’ll either go back to New Orleans or decide what to do next then. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.

It was very weird how quickly this storm came together–we barely had space to breathe or even think, and then it was already too late to go. I had to turn in my edits on #shedeservedit by the first; there were rumblings Friday morning that we were in trouble, and I had to power through the edits to get them done just in case (a wise decision, for once). I had to have my teeth cleaned Friday morning, and after I got home from that I just worked on the edits, finally finished about half an hour before I was due to meet my friend Ellen Byron for dinner at Red Gravy on Magazine Street. (The dinner and the conversation was marvelous.) Saturday morning I got up and by the time I was coherent–I overslept a bit, as did Paul–it was too late, really. I-10 in both directions a parking lot; I-55 and I-59 north both the same. We left very late for Katrina–and the crawl across the twin spans with the beginnings of the system starting to come in was not something I ever wanted to live through again. We just kind of looked at each other, and decided to ride it out and hope for the best–figuring if we made it through, we could leave afterwards. We watched a lot of television Saturday night, went to bed relatively early, and then of course, Sunday morning the power went out around eleven. I grabbed a book–I had started Megan Abbott’s The Turnout last week, and so I read for the rest of the day.

The storm was terrifying. The entire house rattled and shook, and there were times when I thought–I would swear to God this is true–I felt the house shifting before settling back to where it was once the gust had finished. I kept waiting for the windows to blow out–I moved my computer away from the windows–and finally, it was over. I never want to ride out a storm like that again, frankly; once was more than enough. And then we settled in to wait for the power to come back on, with no Internet and very very VERY spotty (did I say VERY) cell phone service, we were essentially cut off from the rest of the world. My friend Alafair texted me at some point and I asked her if the levees held; we literally had no idea what was going on, not only in the rest of the world, but in our own city–let alone our neighborhood. The weather was hot and humid but bearable–it was miserable, but it could have been much worse; had Monday been like today we would have left then.

I did manage to read a lot–I finished The Turnout and moved on to Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage (loved it!), Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (also recommend); A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen; Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng; and A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King. I started rereading Paul Monette’s The Gold Diggers, and also started Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night, which came with me to Alabama. I am going to do blog posts on all of these books at some point–it was a week of amazing reading, frankly–and I also thought a lot about things I am working on and things I want to be working on, so it wasn’t a total loss of a week. I cleaned and organized in the kitchen some, and of course today I had to throw away everything in the refrigerator and the freezer, which was sad–all that money into the trash–but better to clean it out now rather than let it sit in there rotting and then come home to it. (A valuable lesson from Katrina.)

I thought about bringing manuscripts to edit with me, but then decided not to–I have the electronic files, after all, and I have enough paper around as it is. I started purging books again too–and I spent a lot of time, as I mentioned, thinking about things and life in general and what my priorities should be going forward–there’s nothing like a catastrophe to make you sit down and think about what is and isn’t important–and I am going to probably make some changes going forward. I hate that this disruption came when I was on a roll–with my writing, with the gym, with the reorganization of the apartment–but I am glad that it did happen in some ways; I was kind of letting myself drown again and a reset was kind of necessary. I also don’t know how long this particular disruption is going to last, either.

So, I am going to relax, enjoy hot showers and air conditioning and having access to the Internet again–and read and write and try to dig out from under.

And now I am going to take a doll and go to sleep.

Til tomorrow, then.

Only a Moment Ago

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

Of course, the emergence of a potentially major storm heading for the Gulf and our coastline–and how quickly it has happened–has certainly sucked a lot of the energy out of the room. The fact it will come ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina (Sunday) hasn’t triggered a lot of PTSD for me, strangely; although I was remembering it all last night as I sat in my easy chair watching Margaret Orr on local television (and checking her Twitter feed). The weather outside my condensation-covered windows this morning doesn’t look that great, to be honest–we’ve had rain all day yesterday off and on–but I don’t know if we are going to need to leave yet or not. It’s not looking good for us right now; at the very least we’re going to probably be without power for a few days (yay). But at least if we do end up leaving (probably tomorrow morning, if we go) at least I have a relatively new car, and I believe I already have a tank of gas. I have some errands to run today–I am getting my teeth cleaned later this morning, and I need to get the mail. I had planned on doing some grocery shopping today but am not sure if it’s wise to get anything perishable, so am probably just going to let that sit until afterwards.

I’m also having dinner with a friend tonight–scheduled to come in for Bouchercon, she decided to keep her trip since her daughter goes to school here anyway–which should be a good time; social contact outside of my office has remained low, so it will be sort of nice to get out of the house and spend the evening with someone whose company I enjoy…especially with a hurricane looming. If it stays on center track, it’ll pass us to the west–putting New Orleans on the bad side of the storm. I’m kind of surprised I am not having flashbacks triggered by any or all of this, to be honest. I only remember the anniversary now when I am reminded–I’d not even given it a thought until the other day when this system developed below Cuba–although I am also now remembering there have been issues with I storms in the past–Ike and Isaac, for example; one of them sat on the city for like three days and we were without power for nearly a week. The other was our last evacuation and it, too, was around this same time. Late August, after my birthday and before Labor Day–never a good combination for an I-named storm in the Gulf, apparently.

I rewatched an old Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie last night while I was waiting for Paul to come home (working late because of grant deadlines and potential hurricane; potential loss of power means everyone has to get things done earlier than they’d thought). I had wanted to rewatch Pillow Talk, which was the best of the their three films together, but couldn’t find it streaming anywhere, so settled for the follow-up, Lover Come Back, which, while not as good as the first, was still quite entertaining–if problematic. The message of the Day/Hudson movies–at least the first three; they played a married couple in their third pairing–was always that Day was an uptight and repressed career woman with no interest in men or marriage–who really just needed a good fuck. The irony that the good fuck she needed was being delivered on-screen by a gay man escaped audiences of the time, who made the films huge hits and made Doris Day the biggest money-making star in the country. It’s great, though, that she was shown as a highly successful, talented, and driven career woman; unfortunate that the screenwriters seemed to think that went along with an empty life without love or a man. Given how beautiful and sexy Day was, it’s kind of hard to believe that she wouldn’t have men hanging off her–but she’s kind of portrayed as an ice princess, who needs a man to thaw her out. The games Hudson plays with Day–mimicked in both films–where he pretends to be a shy, inexperienced (read: almost gay) man whose sweetness she falls for doesn’t really play today for a sex comedy; such a movie would never be made today.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday. I worked on the manuscript, and have maybe a third of it left to go. I’ve already edited out almost ten thousand words, making it leaner and cleaner, but it’s still such a horrible mess I cannot believe I turned it in to my long-suffering editor. But it’s getting better, and the primary issue is that there were so many different versions over the years of working on it that I missed things when merging all the versions together to get a final one–the great irony being the problem with the manuscript not ever being what I thought it was, so all those different drafts were relatively pointless; it’s terrible when you are writing a book and you aren’t really completely sure what it’s about consciously. I’ve always said this book was about rape culture, but it’s actually not–although that’s a part of it; what it’s actually about is toxic masculinity from the point of view of someone trapped inside of it who desperately wants out and doesn’t know how to get out. I didn’t completely understand that–and something else–until this final editing run; glad I figured this out before it went to press, right?

So I am going to try to get some things done around here this morning before leaving for the dentist, then I am coming home to work on the manuscript. I’d like to get this pass finished today–not an easy task, since its taking me hours to get through small sections, longer than I’d thought it would, honestly–so it can sit for a day or two; if we lose power and I have to stop working on it, I am hoping I’ll be able to at least get it sent off somehow–if I need t make my phone a hotspot and send it from my laptop or something, I should be able to get it done and in on time. I was going to try to make it to the gym today, but think I’ll just push that off until tomorrow and focus on getting the manuscript finished today. Once I finish and post this, I am going to clean out my inbox (or try to) before having to get ready for the teeth cleaning expedition (not looking forward to this either, I might add). I had wanted to spend some time getting organized–but the need to get this manuscript out of the way in case of power loss, at least getting this pass finished, at any rate, has overcome any desire to work on the other things that need to be worked on around here; I can go to the gym tomorrow and clean/organize then (if we aren’t in the car, that is).

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Who Do You Think You Are

Sunday morning is here, and along with it sunshine and no doubt smothering humidity–later today I will be heading to the gym for the beginning of this week’s workout schedule and also trying to get some other things done today. I have to finish the web copy I promised to do today, and I am itching to get back to my writing. Yesterday was a very good day on every level–I was highly functioning for a change, and it felt wonderful, more like the kinds of days I am used to having, or rather, got used to back when I was regularly highly functioning. I did sleep very deeply last night–I did have some very strange dreams, though; all I remember is they involved Taylor Swift and losing teeth–but I woke up very well rested this morning and ready to go. I am awake and not sleepy-tired, my muscles don’t ache or feel tired, and we watched some amazing television last night.

And I actually started writing another Scotty book yesterday–nothing like creative ADHD, right?

But the opening scene for this book has been in my head for quite some time now. One day recently as I was toying with an idea for the next Scotty book, this line popped into my head: “I’m really worried about Taylor” (those who have read Royal Street Reveillon will understand) and then another sentence came to me recently: It was the Monday after Mother’s Day and the termites were swarming. I’d initially thought the swarming termites line was the opening for a short story, and yet…couldn’t figure out a story for it to go along with. The other day it hit me: the two sentences go together, and are the perfect opening for the next Scotty. Yesterday when I sat down to write, these two sentences were swirling together in my head and I thought, why not go ahead and put it down on paper, so it’s there when I’m ready to go back to work on another Scotty? I don’t even know what I am going to call this one yet. I had already–because of these openings, and knowing they wouldn’t work for the next Scotty I had planned to write–so I decided to push Twelfth Knight Knavery back in the Scotty schedule to be the one after this one. I am going to leave it as “untitled Scotty book” for now. I have two stories I want to weave together into this one, and another subplot, but I’ve not taken the time to actually map any of that out or anything as yet. But hey, I wrote nearly twelve hundred words before turning my attention back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and I am going to take that as a win.

And “Festival of the Redeemer” is now sitting at over seventeen thousand words. Not too bad, really; I’d estimate that I wrote well over four thousand words between the Scotty (around 1200) and the novella yesterday. The story also took an incredibly dark turn, too–I’d always intended it to, of course, but still–the turn was so much darker than I’d planned it even kind of caught me a bit off-guard. I do like it, though–it is a first draft, and as such is very sloppy and slipshod and is going to need some serious revisions and edits, but I am pleased with it. This twisted tale seems so perfect for Venice–and it may turn out, after revisions and edits, to be much longer than the original planned twenty thousand; but word counts are inevitably goals, anyway, and more a measure of progress than anything else.

Have I ever mentioned how much I actually love writing? It makes me so happy to be writing, and it’s so satisfying; there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t even remember the last time that I derived so much pleasure from actually doing it; I don’t remember going into the zone the way I have been lately–I feel like it’s been years since I went into the zone where the words just flowed out of me and I lost track of time and word counts and so forth; which is probably why I’ve been having so many concerns about burn out and losing my ability to write–always a fear for me, always–and yet here it is back again, and I feel centered again. I feel like the last malaise last forever–at least for years–and now I am past it, and even if what i am writing is not anything I should be writing… but if I am going to publish a collection of novellas I have to actually write them, don’t I? And this one is really going somewhere–even if that place is somewhere incredibly dark…and you know what? HUZZAH FOR SOMEWHERE INCREDIBLY DARK.

But when I get this done–I think I may even get this first draft finished today or tomorrow-I am going to get that short story draft finished next and then I am going to get back to Chlorine. I need to get that first chapter revised and rewritten; a good task for this week, I think, and then I am going to work on that other proposal I want to get turned in to see if anything comes of it. Hey–you never know, right? You never know until you put it out there.

I also managed to clean the kitchen yesterday and worked on the filing, The area around my desk is a lot more neat and tidy than it has been, and my inbox is almost completely emptied out. This feels like a major accomplishment, and it’s nice to look over there and see just a few loose papers in there–which I may even get rid of today.

It’s amazing what I can do when I’ve slept, seriously.

We finished watching Elite last night, and it was terrific–perhaps not as good as the earlier seasons, which is a very high bar to reach; but with a cast reshuffle and an effective reboot of storylines, not surprising. We had three seasons to get to know the original cast, and with half of them gone (oh, how I miss Lucrezia!) and their replacements coming in, the story had to go into a bit of overdrive to get them involved with the original cast, and there were times it felt a bit forced and like it went too far too fast. The ending of the season was satisfying, and the next season–with two more characters being added–is now really well set up.

We then moved on to Apple Plus, with Rose Byrne’s new starring vehicle Physical, and I really enjoyed it–the three episodes that had dropped already, at any rate. Byrne plays a dissatisfied housewife whose own gifts and talents are being subsumed by that horrific housewife trope of the time–and even her supposedly “progressive” husband subscribes to that old patriarchical notion of what women’s value was in the progressive movement–they were there to fuck, feed, and clean up after the men; the men did all the thinking and the women did all the work. Then she discovers an aerobics class at a mall…and finds it incredibly empowering; rediscovering herself and who she is through the class. She’s not completely likable–she has a horrible inner monologue voice that is snarky and bitchy and judgmental (if funny at time)–but she’s understandable, and Byrne brings her charisma and likability along with everything she does. It will be interesting to see how the show develops.

After that, we switched over to Amazon Prime to watch the first episode of their mini-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a book that I loved and thought was absolutely brilliant. Here is slavery in all of its degradation, abuse, and horror–the Georgia plantation depicted here isn’t the prettified Tara of Gone with the Wind, and these slave owners and overseers aren’t the genial paternalistic Gerald O’Hara the Lost Cause movement insisted were the reality. It was incredibly difficult to watch, but necessary; my own discomfort in watching, I kept reminding myself, was nothing compared to what the enslaved people endured, and my white fragility needed to look the reality directly in the face and deal with it. These are my ancestors; and even if the family legends my grandmother told me when I was a child was mythology and lies, they certainly believed enough in this horrible system to fight and die for it.

And if I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that no matter how terrible something looks and appears on television, the reality and its scope is a thousand times worse. The show is beautifully shot–the cinematography is stunning; and the beauty of the production, and the care taken, only adds to the horror of what the viewer is witnessing.

I kept thinking, the entire time I watching, heritage not hate, huh? Fuck all the way off.

And now I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

My Tears Ricochet

Ah, memory lane.

It’s a place I don’t go very often, frankly–or at least, try not to go to very often–because while memories can be lovely, there’s always that incredible danger of remembering things through the rose-colored glasses; the development of the sense that things were better in the past than they are in the present. Nostalgia is both intoxicating and addictive, and frequently, incorrect, which is why I try not to visit there more than once in a great while. We tend to not remember things correctly, and we also tend to remember things in ways that make us look and feel better in that same way, which isn’t terrible but can be dangerous.

As Constant Reader is aware, I was recently reminded me of that post-Katrina period, when I wasn’t sure about the future of either series I was writing and frankly, wasn’t sure about being a writer anymore. I had, after all, already accomplished my dream: I’d published fiction with my name on the spine, and had even published short stories. It seems funny now to remember a time when I thought I was finished with writing–particularly since that was over thirty novels and I don’t even know how many short stories ago–but those were pretty dark times. I do wish my memories of that time weren’t quite as hazy as they are; it’s almost like I am trying to look back (when I do try) through gauze or even darkness. But my blog entries from those days still exist; I can, should I want, go back and reread them whenever I would like to–which, I think, is part of the reason I continue to keep this blog almost sixteen full years after it began, even though I’ve moved it here to WordPress from Livejournal. I do miss Livejournal though, and I miss how easy it was to connect with other people there. Blogs are, so I’ve been told countless times, a relic of the past and my stubborn refusal to let mine go is seen as quaint. People don’t read them anymore and they don’t have the reach that they once did, but that was never why I blogged in the first place.

I have some errands to run today–which I am delaying doing–and it’s gray outside already. We’re scheduled to be hit by another tropical storm in the next few days, most likely on Tuesday, and the rain is supposed to start coming in later today–it looks like the clouds are already here, and really, would it be a Saturday of Greg running errands if it didn’t rain? I need to take my library book–the Rock Hudson bio–back, and I also need to really get going with the cleaning and the writing today, especially now that the vacuum cleaner is working decently again. I need to take the rugs outside and shake them out, and do the kitchen floor before I put the rugs back. I suspect while the kitchen floor dries will be either the time to start reading Babylon Berlin or dive into some short story reading; I am very behind on that, and anthologies and single-author collections continue to pile up in the section of the living room where I keep them in order to have easier access to them when I am ready to read a short story. I also got the hard copy of the issue of Mystery Tribune with my story “The Carriage House” in it; I’d like to read some of the other stories in that issue as well. I don’t feel exhausted today–then again, I haven’t run my errands either, which always drains me–so I am hopeful that it will be a good day of cleaning and reading and writing around here today.

We watched the new episode of Ted Lasso last night, and I have to again beseech you to start watching this show; it’s really quite charming and lovely and funny and moving in all the ways Schitt’s Creek hit all those same sweet spots. We also thought we were watching the final episode of We Hunt Together, but apparently there’s another episode that hasn’t aired yet on Showtime so there’s yet another one to go. It didn’t really engage me very much, to be honest; it’s entertaining enough, but I also found myself checking social media on my iPad and even playing Bubble Pop at times while watching–which really isn’t a good sign, is it?–and with all the great and terrific crime shows that are currently airing, or have aired recently (Killing Eve, Broadchurch, even the earlier seasons of How to Get Away with Murder), the bar is set pretty high and this one just doesn’t click for me on all of its cylinders, which is a shame; the potential was definitely there. There are also two new episodes of Raised by Wolves that dropped this week, Archer is returning this coming week (huzzah!), and we also are curious to watch The Babysitter: Killer Queen–we watched the original last week and found it amusing and entertaining, and let’s face it, you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell in tight jeans and no shirt.

The new version of Rebecca also has me meandering down Memory Lane a little as well. Timothy is of course my Rebecca pastiche/homage; and is one of my personal favorites of my own books. Rebecca has long been one of my favorite novels of all time–Daphne du Maurier really was a mad genius–and it, along with several other favorites (In Cold Blood, Blood and Money, The Haunting of Hill House) are long overdue for rereads.

It also occurred to me yesterday, as I was going through the list of submission calls I am considering writing (or rewriting) stories for, that I am getting close again to have enough stories for another single-author collection, which is both interesting and scary at the same time. I had originally intended to call my next collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but have also come to realize that the title story, “Once a Tiger,” is more of a novella than a short story, which is why I can’t figure out how to end it as a short story, and since I have several other novellas also in progress (“Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies”, and “Festival of the Redeemer”) that I should just do them all as one collection. I think the next short story collection will be either This Town and Other Stories, or Moist Money and Other Stories, but I think the former works better than the latter. I also have to wait for some of the stories that have been already sold to come out in print first before I can put together another short story collection, which is rather exciting….which is also why it’s so damned important that I get this current book finished.

Because I want to get these other things finished, too, and I really want to start working on Chlorine.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines for now. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

It’s Nice to Have a Friend

Yesterday was kind of lovely, really. As I took a vacation day to get caught up on things, get some rest, and try to get the Lost Apartment under control again (I also discovered, among other things, that vacuum cleaners have filters you are supposed to clean monthly, which explains so much), it was kind of a nice day. I did get the bed linens laundered and a load of laundry done; I did the dishes and ran the dishwasher, and I also intended to vacuum, which is when I realized my vacuum cleaner has not been sucking properly in quite some time (I’d even looked into buying a new one, several times) and then thought, why don’t you google it and see if it’s something you can fix, which of course led to the shocking discovery about the filters. I removed it and washed it thoroughly (so disgusting, really). But, embarrassing as that was, it was also lovely to realize that I do not, in fact, need to buy a new one–at least until the filter has finished air drying, I reinstall it, and see if it starts picking things up again.

I also got a lovely notice on Facebook that my former editor at Alyson, Joe Pittman, had tagged me in a post, and when I went there to see what it was, was greeted with a reminiscence of his days at Alyson, and:

Hi everyone, it’s Joseph. It’s September. I’ve got another story of my publishing life, one of the most rewarding moments from my varied career. Let’s call it Love, Alyson Books.Okay, let me go back in time. It’s 2005 and I was hired by a small publisher named Alyson. The company had just relocated from Los Angeles to New York, and they were searching for a new staff. I applied for the Executive Editor position I saw advertised, got called in that day for an interview. I wasn’t exactly dressed for a job interview, but the woman I spoke with said that was fine. “I assume you have grown up clothes.”

I got the job, and two weeks later started. Every staff member had just been hired, and we had lots of manuscripts and contracts to cull through. From the publisher, to the marketing director, an editor, a production editor, and an assistant and me. That’s it, six of us. We had a big task set before us. Alyson had a storied history in the world of LGBT publishing and had released many iconic books. There was a lot on our shoulders.Our job? To bring Alyson into the 2000s, and show how LGBT themes had hit the mainstream. We had to totally revamp the list. We published 50 books a year, we had a very small budget, and as Executive Editor, I was told by the boss that I would be “the face of the imprint.” I embraced the role until it came to an ignominious ending.But in two and a half years, I felt I did some of the most important work of my career.

It started, horribly, with Hurricane Katrina, but led to a book and a series that would help define the LGBT past, present and future. It was a series with titles that began with the word “Love.” And that’s what these books were, love stories dedicated to a certain city, to a movement, to a community.The thing about working at Alyson, it wasn’t like traditional publishing, where agents sent you a manuscript, you read it, you liked it, you acquired it. Sure, we did a bit of that, but mostly we had to come up with our own ideas, track down authors who would be ideal in crafting our idea into a book. I hit the jackpot with an existing Alyson author, mystery writer Greg Herren. Greg lived in New Orleans, and he and his partner Paul Willis went through hell that late August. Katrina ripped their lives apart, as it did to so many others in the region. My idea, let’s get a bunch of writers together to pen nonfiction stories about their city. Why they lived there, what they loved there. Greg was reticent at first. The wounds of the city too fresh. But the book happened.

LOVE, BOURBON STREET was published to great acclaim, and that next year it won the prestigious Lambda Award for Best Anthology. I remember sitting in the audience when the book was announced the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud of Greg and Paul’s dedication to the project, I couldn’t have been happier for the city New Orleans.

Love, Bourbon Street is a book I don’t really remember much about, to be perfectly honest. It happened, and came about, in that gray time after the evacuation and before we were able to move back into the Lost Apartment (which, to me, closed the circle, even though the city’s recovery would still take more time–a lot more time); I think it even came out while we were still living in the carriage house amidst the clutter and boxes and praying every day that the Lost Apartment would be suitable for living again soon. I remember I was still house sitting for my friend Michael on the North Shore in Hammond when Joe called me with the idea–the great irony was earlier that day Paul had called me, and suggested we do a fundraising anthology about New Orleans by New Orleans writers, and I had emphatically said no. Most every one of the writers we knew were still displaced, no one could come back to New Orleans even if they wanted to, and we were all, from the blogs and emails I was reading, in bad places emotionally. I didn’t even know if I could write anymore; I was grimly writing a blog post almost every day so that the creativity wouldn’t completely stagnate, but other than that–nothing was happening. I had pitched a fourth Scotty book to Kensington, but at some point while I was on the road I’d emailed my editor there to say obviously I cannot write that book now–it was, ironically, going to be called Hurricane Party Hustle and be set during a hurricane evacuation when most everyone in the city had left, only for it to turn east at the last minute and spare the city (which had happened at least three or four times since we’d moved to New Orleans in 1996)–and I certainly never thought I was going to write another Chanse book; the second one had come out the previous year while Paul and I were still getting over the Incident and I think I did one signing for it; it came and went with very little fanfare and I had pretty much figured that series was dead in the water as well. I had been rewriting the manuscript that would eventually be published as Sara because an editor at a Big 5 publisher had asked me to write a y/a for them earlier that year and I’d decided that was what I would do after I, if I, ever finished Mardi Gras Mambo.

But I wasn’t sure if I would ever write about New Orleans again, or if there would even be a New Orleans for me to write about.

Given the fact, though, that Paul wanted to do this and my publisher called me later the same day to suggest it, my superstitious lizard brain decided it was something we needed to do; I don’t remember how long it took for me to either call Joe back or email him that we would do it, but we did. It was difficult to do, primarily because recruiting people spread out all over the country wasn’t easy, nor was getting people who were terribly depressed to try to write something about why they loved New Orleans when 90% of the city lay in ruins was a bit much. Also, people would agree to write something and then change their mind right before the deadline, which kept pushing the delivery date–already a tight turn around, because Alyson wanted to release it on the one-year anniversary–back. Finally, I pulled all the essays together into a single document, saw how many words were left to reach the contracted minimum, and started pulling together my own essay, the anchor piece, “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.” I remember I worked on it over the weekend that Paul had his eye finally removed, and so he was asleep thanks to painkillers most of the time and would only wake up for me to clean the socket before going back to sleep. It ended up being almost thirty thousand words, and I really don’t remember very much about writing it, if I’m going to be honest; I don’t. I just remember pulling it into the word document of the manuscript, seeing that we now had the length requirement covered, saved the document, and hit send.

That same fall, as we were doing the whole Love Bourbon Street, Joe was also calling and emailing me, trying to convince me that I had a duty and obligation to write another Chanse novel. “You’re right there,” he kept saying, “and who better to let the world know how it felt, how it feels, and what’s it like to go through something like this?” Again, I kept resisting. I didn’t know if I could write, I didn’t know when i would write, I didn’t know anything. And then, in late September, I drove back into the city once it was reopened, to check out the damage to the house and see what all we had lost, as well as to see if anything clothes-wise was salvageable from the upstairs. As I crossed the causeway bridge and saw all the damage to Metairie, I recoiled from it all, felt sick to my stomach and a headache coming on; by the time I got onto I-10 I had gone numb again so I could handle it all. As I noticed the mud-line on the walls along the highway, the words It was six weeks before I returned to my broken city popped into my head, and as I came around the curve in the highway, right near the Carrollton exits and the Xavier campus and the Superdome came into view, the words started coming into my head and I knew that not only could I write this book, I needed to write this book.

As soon as I got back to my sanctuary in Hammond, I emailed Joe and said, I am going to do the Chanse book and it’s going to be called Murder in the Rue Chartres.

And yes, both books won Lambda Literary Awards (my only wins, out of 14 or 15 nominations in total) in back to back years.

So that’s the story of how a very kind and generous editor essentially saved my career as a writer.

It’s funny, because whenever I think about possibly doing a collection of essays, it always takes me a while to remember, well, you’ve already published one that will take up a quarter of the book.

And now, to have some serious cleaning joy with my clean-filtered vacuum cleaner.

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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