Vieux Carré Voodoo

Ah, the fourth Scotty.

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

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

Womp womp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mardi Gras Mambo

Or, my own personal Vietnam.

I’ve told this story any number of times; how the writing of the book was derailed by two awful things that happened in my life, and how I finally got back to writing again in the spring of 2005, managing to finish this and turn it into literally two or three weeks before Hurricane Katrina came barreling ashore and changed everything in my life, and the long recovery time from that paradigm shift, trying to adjust to the new reality I was facing every day. It felt weird going over the copy edits, weirder still doing the page proofs (I actually had the incredibly sharp-eyed Becky Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert do it for me while I was visiting the Compound, thanks again, guys!), and even stranger having to tour and promote a book about New Orleans set before Katrina while still dealing with the recovery.

I’ve told those stories before, and that isn’t really what these entries are about; these entries are about the books themselves and how I came up with the stories and so forth, and the writing of the books. The primary problem, of course, is that I wrote this book between and around tragedies; the two year period I call the Time of Troubles that began on Memorial Day weekend in 2004 and ran through about 2008, really; because that’s about how long it took after all those issues for me to feel like my feet were beneath me again and I once again had a grasp on my life. I don’t remember what the original story was about, other than it centered on the Krewe of Iris, Scotty’s Diderot grandmother’s best friend who’d married a much younger muscle-stud Russian, and that’s really about it. The Russian would have something to do with a Colin case–and it would turn out actually be the case that brought him undercover to New Orleans in the first place during Southern Decadence; in Jackson Square Jazz we find out what Colin’s real job is, and that he was in town originally about the Napoleon death mask–but he was also in town to keep an eye on the young muscle-stud Russian who’d married Scotty’s grandmother’s best friend. It wasn’t really working, and I didn’t much care for the story, to be honest; I’d already asked for an extension before Memorial Day weekend in 2004 when all the shit started happening; after Paul was attacked they took it off the schedule and told me not to worry about it. (I appreciated the courtesy greatly at the time, but at the same time had this sinking feeling in the back of my head uh oh, they may not want another one after this–which turned out to be correct. But I dismissed the fear as part of my on-going struggle with Imposter Syndrome. It took me about six months, more or less, to get back to writing. I started my blog right after Christmas that year, and there I was writing every day again, and by January of 2005 I was ready to get going on this book again. I remember rereading everything I’d already done, not liking it, and deciding to scrap it and start over with the same essential premise: rich older society woman in New Orleans has married a much younger Russian boy-toy; Colin is investigating the boy-toy; and it’s Carnival season. Shortly after getting about halfway into a new first draft, the Virginia thing happened and I was derailed again. After that was over and I went back to the book…once again I didn’t like what was happening in the story and I threw it all out and started over again.

But this time, I hit my stride and four months later I turned the book in at long last, along with a proposal for a fourth, Hurricane Party Hustle, which was going to be set during an evacuation and would wrap up the loose ends left at the end of Mardi Gras Mambo.

And of course, three weeks later Katrina changed everything, and Hurricane Party Hustle went into the drawer.

Last night I dreamed it was Mardi Gras again. It seemed to me I was standing inside an iron gate, watching one of the night parades go by. The sidewalks in front of the gate were crowded with people, all shouting, with their grasping eager hands up in the air. Out beyond the edge of the curb, I could see people sitting in lawn chairs. Still others were up on ladders, with coolers and plastic bags of booty piled around them on the ground. Fathers and mothers were holding up babies, while black kids with the crotches of their pants down around their knees walked behind the crowd, weighted down by the ropes of beads around their necks. Beads were flying through the air, some getting caught and tangled in the branches of the towering gnarled oaks lining the avenue.  The heavy upper branches of those oaks also blocked out the glow of the ancient street lamps so the night seemed even darker than it should. I could hear a marching band, playing a recent hip-hop hit, and the strange clicking sound of the baton girls’ tap shoes on the pavement. The air was heavy with the heavy fragrance of hot grease, corn dogs and the strange melted yellowish-orangey substance the vendors put on nachos that purports to be cheese—but no one is really sure what it is. A group of flambeaux carriers were passing by, dancing that odd little circular dance they do, their propane tanks popping and hissing, throwing long and twisted shadows that also danced inside the iron fence I was behind. Right behind them a huge float pulled by a tractor was coming and the crowd’s shouts became louder, more desperate, more pleading. On the float’s front was a huge white clown face, its bright red lips parted in what passed for a smile but seemed to me to be a frightening leer. The masks on the float riders glowed supernaturally at the hordes begging them for generosity in the strange light cast by the moon when it cleared the thick clouds in the cold night sky.   I stood inside the black iron fence, my arms wrapped around me against the cold as an increased sense of menace and dread built inside me. Something bad was going to happen—

Oh, get real, Scotty!

If I do have bad dreams, I don’t remember them when I wake up. I’ve certainly never been troubled in my sleep, even though crazy things always seem to happen to me. I’m just one of those people, I guess. For whatever reason, the Goddess has decided to throw some wild stuff at me—she always has, even when I was a kid—and what can you do? I just don’t think I am one of those people who were destined to have a nice, normal, quiet life. Maybe it’s because I was named Milton Bradley at birth. Yes, that’s right. Milton Bradley. My older brother started calling me by my middle name, Scotty, before I started school and thank the Goddess, it stuck. Can you imagine how cruel the kids would have been to someone named Milton, let alone Milton Bradley? And then of course there’s the gay thing. I was lucky—my parents are pretty liberal and were delighted to have a gay son—like it somehow proved how truly cool they really are or something. They are pretty cool, actually.

By now, I’d taken to starting all of my New Orleans novels with a Tennessee Williams quote; for this one I chose a line from Vieux Carré: “You’ve got a lot to learn about life in the Quarter.”

I had opened Bourbon Street Blues with a parody of “The name’s Bond, James Bond” and I’d done something similar with Jackson Square Jazz–“Danger is my middle name”, riffing on Trouble is My Business. I decided to open this book with a parody of the opening line of Rebecca: “Last night I dreamed I went to Mardi Gras again.” But that entire opening paragraph of du Maurier’s is so fucking brilliant, I couldn’t help myself and made my entire first paragraph a parody of that opening. I then decided that from then forward, every Scotty book would have a Williams quote and each prologue–where Scotty introduces himself and his cast of characters and gives backstory so I don’t have to do it in the text of the story itself–would parody the opening paragraph of a famous novel, rather than just the first line (I am actually struggling to find the proper opening to parody to start the prologue for this one. I’ve used Rebecca, Peyton Place, The Haunting of Hill House, and Lolita, among others so far already; I’ve tried with this one to use An American Tragedy, Atlas Shrugged and The Great Gatsby thus far, with no luck. I’ve tried Valley of the Dolls several times for other books in the series already, but I can’t ever get it to work for me).

I do remember that the one thing that didn’t come across in those earlier drafts that I had abandoned was the sense of insanity that Carnival always brings with it; that feeling of “controlled anarchy” we experience those two weeks of parades, of knowing you have to schedule your entire life around a parade schedule–true even for those who do not live inside the box, as we say here; the box being the Uptown parade route–I always have to schedule my job, my trips to run errands uptown, everything, predicated around having to get home at least two hours before the parades start, and am incredibly lucky if I can get a parking spot within three blocks of the Lost Apartment. The thing I kept forgetting in those earlier versions was the books are meant to be fun. Granted, I was hardly in a mental space to write something fun…and of course the decision to really take it completely over the top the way I did was something I still think about to this day and wonder, where on earth did you get the idea for identical triplets?

Which, while crazy, made more sense than the cloning story I tried to write the second time.

Maybe those bad things happened for a reason? Because I couldn’t be more pleased with how the story and the book turned out. I also ran out of room to finish the personal story…but I also was operating on the assumption I’d get a contract for a fourth book. If not for Katrina, Kensington might have made another offer and Hurricane Party Hustle might have been the fourth Scotty than something just sitting in the files.

The book was released on Fat Tuesday, 2006. Paul and I had been out of town–the truncated Carnival/parade season seemed almost too sad to handle, so we’d accepted a gig to speak at the South Carolina Book Festival. We flew back to New Orleans the Sunday morning before Fat Tuesday. I’d checked my email that morning before boarding the flight to Atlanta (we changed planes) and then our cab driver couldn’t get closer to St. Charles than Baronne Street. A parade was going as we got out of the car, and we had to cross the parade (it was in the high seventies and sunny) with our luggage–I’ll never forget looking up as we got ready to cross and catching a bag of beads with my hand just before it connected with my face–and got home. I checked my emails and my word! SO MANY EMAILS.

You see, that day’s edition of the Times-Picayune carried Susan Larson’s review of the book, and it was a rave! Everyone emailed me as soon as they saw it–I still bask in the glory of that review–and I was about to embark on probably the most ambitious book tour of my career.

I just didn’t see, though, how I could write another funny, light book about a city still in ruins whose recovery was still questionable.

The series was, for the moment, over–with the personal story not resolved the way I would have wanted, but it could stand as it was, should there never be another Scotty story.

Rereading it, I couldn’t but laugh at some of the outrageous twists and turns the plot took.

I guess you could say I’m proud of it.

Watching Scotty Grow

As I get ready to write another Scotty book, I am busy making his acquaintance all over again. It might seem strange, but yes, although I’ve written eight books about my ex-go-go boy/personal trainer/private eye, it remains true in this as in all other aspects of my life that my memory is not what it once was; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever written a Scotty book since the first three without having to go back and revisit the series again. I have made continuity errors over the years (Scotty’s mother’s name changed over the course of the series, from Cecile to Marguerite and back to Cecile again), and I may forget things about his past and things I’ve written in previous books, but the one thing I never ever forget is his voice.

No matter what else is going on in my life, Scotty’s voice is very easy for me to slip back into, like a house shoe, and it somehow always feels like coming home to me in some ways. This is odd–because I would have always thought Chanse was the series character I was more connected to rather than Chanse, but that’s not the case at all. Scotty just won’t go away; but I ended the Chanse series and only every once in a while do I regret it (although I am beginning to suspect that I am going to probably end up writing another Chanse novel at some point in my life; I have two ideas that he’d be perfect for, but it also might be better and more challenging for me to simply come up with a whole new character for those stories rather than resurrecting Chanse); Scotty just won’t ever go away.

The idea for the Scotty series famously came to me during Southern Decadence, 1998.

(Well, I don’t know about famously, but I know I’ve told this story before many, many times. Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to see how I remember the birth of the character and the series now)

It was a Sunday afternoon, and Paul and I had somehow managed to get prime balcony standing spots–at the Bourbon Pub/Parade, right at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon where the railing curves at the corner to head alongside the upper floor down the St. Ann side; so we could look down directly into the roiling mass of sweaty, almost completely naked bodies of hundreds of gay men from all over the country. That was my favorite spot for Decadence sight-seeing (Halloween, too, for that matter), and as I looked down into the crowd, I saw a guy in booty shorts and a very very loose fitting tank top, carrying a bag and trying to get through. I recognized him as one of the out-of-town dancers working at the Pub/Parade that weekend (I may have tipped him the night before) and as I watched in sympathy as he tried to get through that tightly-packed crowd of gays in various stages of being wasted, I closed my eyes and an image of him–or someone like him–fighting his way through the Decadence crowd while being chased by bad guys with shaved heads popped into my head just as Paul said, next to me, “You should really write a story set during Decadence” and then it popped into my head: someone escaping the bad guys has slipped a computer disc into one of the dancers’ boots on Friday night as he danced on the downstairs bar, and the bad guys want the disc back.

I didn’t have any way to write it down, obviously–I was wearing booty shorts, socks, and half-boots that came to my ankles, with nothing underneath the shorts and I had my tank top tucked through a belt loop like a tail in the back–yet even the title popped into my head: Bourbon Street Blues. The idea clearly stuck, because when I got home the next morning at about six or seven, dehydrated, drenched in sweat and having lost the tank top at some point during the night, I remembered it and wrote it down.

At some point over the next two years, I wrote a short story called “Bourbon Street Blues” about my stripper–only instead of being from out of town, I made him a local, filling in for someone booked from out of town for the weekend who had to cancel–and wrote about seven thousand words. It felt very rushed to me–the story–and I kept thinking it’s too long for a short story, it would have to be a novel but I also wasn’t sure there was enough story there for a novel. But I liked the idea, no one (at least, to the best of my knowledge) had written anything like it, and I thought, someday I’ll get a chance to write this story and develop this character.

Flash forward to 2001. This was during the time Paul and I had moved to DC to work for the Lambda Literary Foundation, we were miserable there and wanted to move back to New Orleans but didn’t have the money to do so, and the release of Murder in the Rue Dauphine was still at least a year away. I was talking to an editor on the phone about one of his new gay releases, and out of the blue I just pitched Bourbon Street Blues to him. He loved the idea, and asked me to write a proposal and email it to him. I had never written a proposal before, but I thought what the hell, how hard can it be? and so I wrote a two page proposal for the book. Two months later they made me a two-book offer–and the money was good enough to pay for Paul and I to move back to New Orleans as well as to live on for a while. I had only seen the book as a one-off, but they wanted a series. I needed and wanted the money, so I thought I can figure this out later and signed it.

Three months later, we moved back to New Orleans and I started writing the book.

The one thing I wanted to do with Scotty was make him unabashedly, unashamedly, gay. I didn’t want him to have any hang-ups, a sad backstory, or parental issues. I wanted him to be a free spirit who embraces life with both hands, lived in the Quarter, and loved having sex, loved being found desirable, and never really said anything or thought anything mean about anyone else. I made him a personal trainer, and his poverty–he agrees to do the dancing gig for Decadence because he’s behind on his rent and other bills; he teaches aerobics and was a personal trainer–comes from his grandparents freezing his trust funds when he dropped out of college to go to work for a booking agency for male dancers. He has since stopped doing that, but fills in when needed (and when he needs the money) at the Pub/Parade. I also based the shitty politician running for governor–and trying to mount a Christofascist takeover of the state, beginning with an attack on Southern Decadence–on an actual politician who ran for the US Senate shortly after we moved here; we saw him being interviewed on the news and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a joke, some kind of performance art–but forget it Greg, it’s Louisiana.

I also want to let you know that while I was working on this manuscript my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, was released–and I got a “damned with faint praise” review from the Bay Area Reporter, which complained that “it would have been nice to see inside the heads of the other characters”, which took me aback as the book was a first person narrative, which made that impossible. What the reviewer I think was trying to say was that she wished the book had been told in the third person; that to her that would have made the book more interesting to her. But in my baby-author naïveté, all I could think was how can you see inside the heads of other characters in a third person narrative unless the main character was psychic?And the proverbial lightbulb came on over my head. Make Scotty a psychic. This was also an integral key to the puzzle of who Scotty was; the reviewer also yawned over my “gay stereotypes” in Rue Dauphine, so I decided to make Scotty the embodiment of all the worst stereotypes of muscular gay men who worked out and had a lot of sex. Just writing that down now, I realize how incredibly insane it was for me to use my new series book and character to respond to criticism o my debut novel; and when the book came out I braced myself for the inevitable backlash to come.

No one was more surprised than I was at how readers embraced him. The book got great reviews, even from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal (Kirkus, of course, has always pretended I don’t exist). Bourbon Street Blues was even nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery of 2003 (I lost, I think to John Morgan Wilson?) shortly after the sequel, Jackson Square Jazz, was released.

Jackson Square Jazz’s story was actually a recycled idea I had for a spin-off book for Chanse’s best friend Paige. The original concept was that someone would steal the Louisiana Purchase from the Cabildo–and somehow Paige stumbled onto the theft, and knew that the one on display currently there was a copy. (I was calling it, originally enough, Louisiana Purchase.) I decided to make that the basis of the second Scotty book. (This was inspired by a documentary I’d seen about the Cabildo fire of 1989–that may be the wrong date–and how the fire department tried saving everything in the museum before fighting the fire. I remembered how in the documentary they literally were placing historical objects and paintings against the fence at Jackson Square and thinking, anyone could have walked off with something during the fire…and my imagination immediately was off to the races.) Unfortunately, when I met with the museum director–whose actual first day on the job was the day of the fire–I found out that 1) the copy of the Louisiana Purchase at the Cabildo was actually only a replica and the original was stored in the weather-protected underground archive at the Library of Congress and 2) it was more than one page long–I’d imagined it was one large document like the Declaration of Independence; it is not. However–he also suggested I make the MacGuffin the Napoleon death mask–one of the three originals made when Napoleon died–and gave me some great backstory on it as well that I don’t remember if I used in the book or not; but it was a lot of fun talking to him (his name escapes me at the moment, alas) and was a great example of why it is important to actually do research and talk to people.

I also wanted to include figure skating–the working title for the book was Death Spiral, which the publisher made me change, asking for something alliterative, like Bourbon Street Blues–and so I decided to open the book with Scotty having a horrific hangover and then realizing someone was in the bed with him (it’s to this day one of my favorite book openings; what slutty gay man hasn’t been there?)…and then I remembered I’d introduced two love interests for Scotty in book one, and here he was in bed with someone else entirely. (The young man he woke up with was a figure skater in town to compete at Skate America, being held in the Smoothie King Arena.) I loved both of his love interests, and knew I was going to have to bring both of them back somehow, and then I was going to have to figure out which one he’d end up with. (Spoiler: I couldn’t decide, so he wound up with both of them.) I also threw in a ghost, a billionaire artifact collector, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. I turned in the book, along with a proposal for Book Three, in which I finally decided I was going to resolve the threeway relationship personal story, and that would be the end of the Scotty trilogy.

Man plans and God laughs. (Jackson Square Jazz was also nominated for a Lambda; I think this was the time I lost to Anthony Bidulka.)

Mardi Gras Mambo turned out to be an entire other kettle of fish.

I’m not entirely sure I remember exactly what the original plot of Mardi Gras Mambo was going to be, but I know it had to do with the Krewe of Iris (Scotty’s sister Rain belongs) and the book opened at the Iris parade on the Saturday morning before Fat Tuesday. It was due in June of 2004, and of course, I wasn’t nearly finished by the time Memorial Day rolled around, and was planning on asking for another month on the manuscript on the Tuesday after. Of course, that was the Memorial Day weekend when Paul was attacked and everything went to hell in my personal life. My publisher was incredibly kind; they took the book off schedule, told me to take care of Paul, and get the book done whenever I got the book done.

I started writing it again in January of 2005, shortly after I began keeping a blog in order to get me writing again. That was when the Christian/Virginia nonsense happened, and everything got derailed again. When I started writing the book again, I threw out everything except that first chapter at the Iris parade–which did wind up in the final book–and I do not recall what the second plot I chose to write was at this time, other than I knew I was bringing in a Russian character, inspired by someone I’d seen around in the bars for years and had always been just awestruck by his body–and yes, that Russian turned out to eventually be Wacky Russian, my personal trainer. I actually kept this as an inspiration–Eclipse used to be the nightlife insert for IMPACT News, a queer newspaper that died out in the early aughts:

Finally, it was April 2005, and I started writing Mardi Gras Mambo again. I had the plot all figured out–it was completely insane–but I also realized I couldn’t end the personal story with Scotty the way I had hoped and wrap it all up with Book Three. There had to be a Book 4, and so when I finished the book at last and turned it in, I included a proposal for a fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle–which was going to be set during an evacuation for a hurricane that missed New Orleans…I always thought it would be interesting to write a mystery story set during such an evacuation.

Of course, I turned the book into Kensington on August 14th, 2005. Fourteen days later, Paul, Skittle and I fled from New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina.

I wouldn’t come back for good until October 11. Paul didn’t come home until after Thanksgiving.

Of course, I wrote to my editor a day or so after the levee failure to say, well, I don’t think I can write that book I proposed now.

I didn’t see, for a very long time afterwards, how I could write another Scotty book–light, funny, zany–in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then one day I was walking to work from where I’d parked my car and some people on bicycles came riding toward me. They smiled and waved and I smiled and waved back…and realized oh my God, that was Brad and Anjelina. Their house wasn’t far from my office–in fact, it was quite literally around the block from where Scotty lived–and I thought, you know, Brad kind of looks the way I describe Scotty–wouldn’t it be funny if someone tried to kill Scotty because he looked like a movie star who lived in his neighborhood? The more I thought about it, the funnier it became, and I started writing the proposal for Hollywood South Hustle when I got home from work that night. I was so certain they would take it that I started developing the characters and writing out a detailed synopsis…and they turned it down.

I wasn’t expecting that, but it was a marketing decision. Even if they signed the book immediately, it would still be another year before it would come out, and they felt by then Scotty’s audience was long gone, if it wasn’t already. It was disappointing, but right around the same time Alyson came back to me for a fourth Chanse book but they needed it right away–like within ten weeks–so I turned the Scotty story into Murder in the Rue Ursulines. I finished the book, turned it in, and figured the Scotty series was dead, alas.

Shortly thereafter, during the Gay Easter Parade an idea for a different Scotty book occurred to me . The parade was over and I was walking back to my car to drive home when I walked underneath a balcony…just as they started watering their plants. I got soaked–you can’t get mad, it happens in the Quarter periodically and it’s just one of those New Orleans things–and I thought, you really need to write about this. As I walked to the car, dripping, I pictured Scotty hurrying to catch a ride on his parents’ business’ float for the Easter Parade–and of course, he’d wear a white bikini, rabbit ears, and have a rabbit tail–when the exact same thing happened to him, only his bikini would become see-through when wet. By the time I’d driven home, I’d figured that the person on the balcony would be an old friend of his parents’, he’d invited Scotty in to dry off, and when Scotty was on his way home from the parade, the cops would be there because the friend had been murdered. Using The Moonstone as my inspiration, I came up with another MacGuffin story, a way for Colin to come back and explain everything that happened during Mardi Gras Mambo, and I had the perfect ending to Scotty’s story. I just didn’t have a publisher.

But Bold Strokes Books, a primarily lesbian publisher, had started doing books by and about gay men. I’d taken an erotica anthology to them when it was orphaned by the death of its original publisher, and so I wrote and asked if they wanted a Scotty story. They did, and thus Scotty came back to life one more time…and I figured that was the end of it. I wrapped up the personal story about the three-way relationship in a way that was organic and made sense; and I also added a new wrinkle to Scotty’s personal life: Frank’s late-in-life decision to become a professional wrestler. (One of the things we locals learned from Hurricane Katrina was to not put off following or chasing dreams or goals; my attitude thus became go for it and I started chasing down dreams I’d pushed to the side for years.) Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo were both nominated for Lambdas, but at this point I can’t remember who I lost to in both of those cases–for the record, Lambda has never rewarded a Scotty book with an award–probably because they are inevitably funny and over-the-top, which never wins awards because funny is seen as “not serious,” despite the fact that humor/comedy is much harder than drama/tragedy.

I didn’t think I was going to write another Scotty book then, either. But then something miraculous happened: the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, and I wanted to write about what it was like to live here during that incredible time. It didn’t seem like the right story for another Chanse book, so I thought, well, I can pull Scotty back out and write it from his point of view.

And of course, Who Dat Whodunnit was just sitting there for the title. How could I not write that book?

I had already established over the course of the series that the two sides of his family–the Diderots (maternal) and the Bradleys (paternal) didn’t really get along. The Diderots go back to Iberville and the 1718 settling of New Orleans; the Bradleys were Americans who came after 1803, and thus are not only parvenus to the aristocratic Diderots, but also l’Américains. Perish the thought! We’d also established that the Diderots were not nearly as conservative as their State Street living in-laws, but we’d never actually seen much of the Bradley side of the family, so I thought why not do the Bradleys and let us get to know the other side of Scotty’s family? It was around the same time I started reading about a megachurch out in Kenner (or Metairie? I don’t recall) that was rising to prominence in local politics and was, as you can imagine, homophobic. The same-sex marriage wars were also being fought at this time; and during one of those pageants (Miss America? Miss USA?) the reigning Miss California was asked about same-sex marriage during the question portion by judge Perez Hilton (why was he judging a beauty pageant for women is a mystery for the ages) and she responded that her faith had taught her that marriage was between a man and a woman (the audience started jeering) and she apologized by saying “I’m sorry, but that’s how I was raised!” She wound up as First Runner-Up, and some felt, rightly or wrongly, that her “politically incorrect” answer cost her the title. In some ways, I felt bad for her (although it’s not my fault it’s how I was raised I have always thought was an incredibly stupid thing to say; you have free will, and you should be capable of making up your own mind rather than simply parroting things without question you were raised to believe. So if your parents were racist white supremacists…) but then of course, the Right tried to turn her into a martyr and heroine, and she dove right into that headfirst, erasing any sympathy I might have felt for her (I still think the question was inappropriate for a pageant, as would be anything polarizing–and yes, well aware that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be polarizing, but here we are), and of course, Miss Upright Moral Christian had a bit of a shady past that eventually came out and that was that. I decided to base the murder victim in the book on this girl, and tried to explore the influence of this megachurch on her. I also gave Scotty a first cousin who was the darling of the Bradley grandparents because he was a jock and was on the Saints team as a player–but also a homophobic asshole. The Bradleys were like something out of Tennessee Williams–I think I even named Scotty’s uncle (the football player’s dad) Uncle Skipper as an homage to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

There’s a lot of story there left in the Bradley side of the family, now that I think about it–and I’ll be digging into that in the new one, rest assured!

Funny story: After I wrote Who Dat Whodunnit, I decided I was not going to write another Scotty book. This had been Book 5 of what started as a stand-alone and then became a trilogy and yet somehow, I’d kept going on top of that. I kind of felt played out a bit with Scotty, and the longer the series went on, the more problems I was having with things like character ages–Scotty was getting older, which meant his parents were getting older, which meant his grandparents were getting older, too. I didn’t want to deal with the deaths of his grandparents (or Aunt Sylvia, who was his grandmother’s age and had married Uncle Misha), and so I had two options: pretend they weren’t getting older and not talk about their ages, or let the series go. I was still writing Chanse at the time, and I kind of figured that would be the series that went on longer. But I was on a panel at Saints and Sinners and someone from the audience asked me if there would be another Scotty.

GREG: Probably not, but if I can figure out a way to include Mike the Tiger (the live tiger mascot at LSU), Huey Long, and a treasure hunt for Huey’s deduct box, I will.

(I had read T. Harry Williams’ award winning biography Huey Long and had become fascinated completely with him. All I had known about Long going into reading that biography was that he’d been a demagogue (thanks, US History textbook from high school) and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men had been loosely based on his life and career. Mention Long’s name to anyone and they immediately reply with “oh, he was so corrupt”–which amused me, since every Louisiana politician is corrupt to a degree–and I knew Roosevelt and others had worried about him as a populist politician who reminded them of Hitler (and the way he crushed his opposition in Louisiana and essentially became the state’s dictator, who could blame them?), but what was the real story? And Huey Long made me start to have what was at first a grudging admiration for him which grew into a kind of fandom the more I learned. (There are some similarities–more than one would think–between Long and LBJ in the Caro biographies, as well as with Robert Moses, another Caro biography; which would make for a very interesting comparison/contract essay at some point.) But the more I read about Long, the more I wanted to write about him. He fascinated me, and the fact that his trove of cash–the deduct box–was never recovered after his murder was even more fascinating to me.)

And don’t you know, later that night, it came to me. A few months earlier there had been a bomb threat at the LSU campus, and there had been some controversy about how the administration had handled the situation–they’d evacuated Mike the Tiger off the campus before the mass evacuation call for the students. It made sense to me (but I didn’t blame the students for being upset because it absolutely looked like the administration cared more about the tiger’s safety than the students’)–in the chaos of evacuating the campus, getting the tiger out safely would have been a nightmare, and God forbid something happen and Mike got loose. Then it hit me: what if some animal rights’ activists had staged the bomb threat in order to steal the tiger in order to set him free somewhere? (Mike is a frequent target of PETA, who often calls for him to be released into the wild–not in the US, of course–, or sent to a big cat sanctuary.) So, I had the tiger kidnapped, and since Huey Long was responsible for LSU being what it is today, it only made sense for the treasure hunt to have to do with his missing “deduct box”–Huey always used cash, after his assassination the deduct box containing thousands and thousands of dollars in cash disappeared–and there we had it: a plot involving Mike the Tiger, Huey Long, and the deduct box.

This was also the book where I decided to extend Scotty’s family a bit further by adding a new, younger gay character to the mix: Taylor, Frank’s nephew, disowned by Frank’s sister and her homophobic husband after he comes out to them after a semester in Paris, and so he comes to live with Scotty and the boys in the house on Decatur Street. I wanted to bring in someone younger, and gay, with literally hardly any gay experience in the world to reflect the change between generations of gay men and how they view being gay and the rest of the world.

I also figured this would be the last one, but like I said, Scotty just won’t go away.

SIDENOTE: I had to write to the administrators of the Huey Long website for permission to use some quotes from the site in the book. Needless to say, they were very wary of me when they responded, so I emailed them the chapter where I would use the quotes–Scotty was doing some research on Long, and came across the website. Like me, Scotty had always been told Long was corrupt and a demagogue…but demagogues also don’t get things done, which Long did. Some of Long’s programs–like the Homestead Exemption–still exist as public policy in Louisiana. They wrote me back, granting permission…and that was when I found out the person I was talking to was Long’s great-granddaughter, who was rightfully suspicious of anyone writing about her great-grandfather. I sent her a copy of the book when it was finished, and she sent me a lovely thank you card, which is probably one of my favorite writing souvenirs.

The genesis of Garden District Gothic was weird, but yet serves as yet another example of my adage never throw anything you’ve written away.

I had always wanted to spin Chanse’s best friend, journalist Paige Tourneur, off into her own series. I had always intended to do so; from the first time I thought her up for Murder in the Rue Dauphine I thought, “she’s fun and witty and interesting and that weird name–there’s so much more story there than we can get to as a supporting player in a series about someone else.” I have so much written down about Paige and her origin story; how she came up with that name and why; how she wound up at LSU; and so on and so forth. A friend started an ebook publishing company, and wanted me to write Paige novellas for her; I did two–Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans–but the sales, frankly, weren’t there and I didn’t have the necessary time to put in marketing them to help drive the sales, so even though I’d started a third, The Mad Catter, we agreed to kill the series and pull the first two from availability; ultimately, I was working too hard for too little pay-off. I was disappointed, obviously; Paige was kind of a passion project for me–I’d made any number of false starts writing a series book for her, and it was sad to see that there wasn’t an audience for her after all. But I had about four chapters of The Mad Catter in place, and I didn’t want to waste the time spent on them…so I decided to turn them into a Scotty book, which became Garden District Gothic.

I also brought in a new character–a true crime writer with a shady past of his own–who actually wrote a book, a la Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, about the case. The name of his book? Garden District Gothic. I brought him in, thinking I would spin him off into his own book/series–I thought it might be fun to write about a writer…(I thought about using him as the main character in another book based on an actual unsolved string of murders in a rural Louisiana parish, but very quickly realized he was simply an amalgamation of Scotty and Chanse, so that book–The Bodies in the Bayou–went onto the backburner. I think I may have created the character before, in the Chanse series, but I could be remembering that wrong. I also used this book to sort of set up the next; I will explain that further when I am talking about Royal Street Reveillon. I also crossed the character of Paige Tourneur over from the Chanse series into the Scotty series (I loved the character, hated to sideline her after I ended the Chanse series and the novella series didn’t pan out); not that she will be a big part of the Scotty series, but hey, every so often I need a journalist, and why not use a character I am very fond of already and wasn’t ready to stop writing about?

The book was loosely based, obviously, on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case–a decades old notorious murder of a child in the Garden District that was never solved. I wanted to examine and explore issues of class in New Orleans, but I am not entirely sure I pulled off what I intended with the book.

Then again, I think that with every book, don’t I?

And we now come to the (so far) most recent book of the Scotty series, Royal Street Reveillon.

Originally I’d envisioned the Scotty trilogy (when it morphed from a stand-alone) as encompassing the three big gay holidays in New Orleans: Southern Decadence, Halloween, and Mardi Gras. Jackson Square Jazz wound up taking place just before Halloween, alas; Scotty talks about their costumes in the epilogue, but I hit the other two holidays out of the park. When I added a fourth book, I tied it to the Gay Easter Parade–Scotty is on his way to ride on the Devil’s Weed’s float when the book opened–and then of course the next book was sort of Christmas/sort of Mardi Gras/sort of the Super Bowl. Baton Rouge Bingo was the first book that wasn’t tied to a holiday of some sort; neither was Garden District Gothic. But for the next Scotty book, I wanted to do a Christmas book. I’ve never really written much about Christmas, and I do love the season, especially in New Orleans. I wasn’t sure what kind of plot I was going to use, but I knew it was going to be set during Christmas season and I knew I wanted to use reveillon, the Christmas season meal you use to break your fast for Mass, in the title. I had introduced one of the characters from Dead Housewives of New Orleans in Garden District Gothic, so it only made sense to me (or so it seemed at the time) for me to take the framework of Dead Housewives–the entire Real Housewives spoof I wanted to write–and build this new story around it. I changed a lot–made the overarching story much more complicated, and especially complicating the “whodunnit” aspects of the three murders that all occurred within twenty-four hours of the premiere party for Grande Dames of New Orleans.

I also did a couple of horrible things to Scotty and his loved ones over the course of this book…which will have to be dealt with in the new one, alas. I hate when I do this to myself! But with Royal Street Reveillon and its darker themes, I wanted to show how much Scotty has grown and changed over the course of the series; he’s evolved as a person, partly because of the changes to his life and partly because of what he experiences through the murders he finds himself involved in. Do I wish, as I start writing Mississippi River Mischief, that maybe I hadn’t given so many growth opportunities over the years to Scotty and his gang of family and friends? Absolutely. But that’s part of the challenge of writing a series, and what makes it so much fun.

*Funny story about the original cover of Bourbon Street Blues. Back in the day, publishers used to meet with reps from Barnes & Noble and Borders to show them covers and get their input; covers were changed based on those meetings. The Bourbon Street Blues cover was so in-your-face it took me aback when I first saw it; and they had toned the original image down dramatically, mainly smoothing down the bulge so it wasn’t so in-your-face. The Barnes & Noble buyer told them, “he needs a bigger bulge” so they made it bigger–but were still cautious; the image’s original bulge was still bigger. I do think that story is hilarious.

I Can Feel Your Heartbeat

Well, this has turned into a rather interesting stay-cation, has it not?

This morning, as I swill coffee and read weather reports with bleary eyes, trying to decide what to do–we are still leaning towards not leaving; knowing at best we will probably be without power until Thursday at the earliest in a best case scenario–which is horribly unappealing, given how hot it’s been and the time of year it is–but…but…ugh. I’m not even certain, were we to go, where we would go–north, east, west–and from everything I am seeing this morning the highways out of the city are backed up, bumper to bumper and barely moving; that could be incorrect, of course (one never really knows unless one is out there). I don’t see the sense in going west or north, to be honest; the track will probably bring Ida ashore west of New Orleans, and the storm is going to go north from landfall. East would be the best choice, methinks, but…it’s not like everywhere east also isn’t a hotbed of COVID-19, either. I’m not really sure what to do, to be honest, and there’s definitely a part of me that thinks we’ve already missed the evacuation window period, anyway.

The good news is that the imminent loss of power/potential evacuation forced me to sit my ass down and get through the manuscript yesterday. I think I may have missed some spots, and I am not certain about a decision I made with something to bring it in line with things further back in the manuscript, but I am going to print it all out today (if I have enough ink) so I at least can look at it if we don’t have power for the next few days (if we evacuate, of course, it won’t matter because I can access it on my laptop). But that’s one more thing to cross off the list, which is very cool, but I suspect everything is going to come to a screeching halt by tomorrow at any rate, so I should probably get as much done as I can while I still have power.

Last night I had dinner with a friend from out of town–scheduled to come in for Bouchercon, she came to town anyway because her daughter goes to school here–at Red Gravy on Magazine Street (it was really good; I recommend the lasagna but don’t get the margarita with agave juice; it’s too sweet–at least for me; I like the tequila bite in a regular margarita myself) and she texted me this morning that she and her daughter are heading for Texas; which is kind of a bit of a relief. I was worried about them; the daughter is Not From Here and has already had some horrible experiences with losing power for days since she came to the city last year–I am, insanely, more concerned about the loss of power than anything else myself–and I hope they make it west safely. It was a lovely evening–there were hardly any people out and about; the only indication of anything was the lines at the gas stations–and then I came home. We watched this week’s Ted Lasso, which was marvelous as always, and then started watching the new season of American Horror Story: Red Tide, which was….interesting. It’s entertaining enough, but kind of, well, stupid. I kept thinking why would you stay there? It’s set in Provincetown in the off-season, as a writer brings his pregnant wife and daughter there so he can write, and they’ve got free rent as long as the wife, a decorator, redecorates the house. But crazy shit starts happening almost immediately–which begs the question, where does Provincetown hide all these crazy creatures during tourist season? A lot of it doesn’t really make sense (well, it is Ryan Murphy, after all) but we’ll keep watching because it’s entertaining.

And as always, the imminent arrival of a hurricane inevitably reminds me of the abandoned fourth Scotty novel, Hurricane Party Hustle, which I had planned in the wake of finishing and turning in Mardi Gras Mambo that August of 2005…that obviously had to be abandoned after Katrina came a-calling. I had always wanted to write a murder mystery set during that eerie time when the city empties out for an evacuation, with 80% of the people gone and the eerie silence and weird emptiness that comes with it. I used some of the stuff I’d already written for this book for Murder in the Garden District, which also has an evacuation in it–I used the memories of evacuating for Katrina for Murder in the Rue Chartres— and every once in a while, the thought crosses my mind that the Scotty version would be interesting to write and experience. I’ve never really dealt much with Katrina in the Scotty books–it was in the past and he basically waves it away as the past in the prologue to Vieux Carré Voodoo–and I’ve always thought about going back and writing the Scotty Katrina book–I can always keep the series going by filling in the times between books, if it comes to that or if writing Scotty in his sixties is unappealing–but I probably won’t do that. I don’t know–but I am also laughing at myself this morning; only a writer would view an approaching and imminent natural disaster as material and start thinking about ways to build a crime novel around it.

Take THAT, Imposter Syndrome!

And now, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and keep Louisiana in your thoughts!

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.

12342747_979916128736074_4778087642931571758_n

Space Oddity

So, the eighth Scotty book drops in exactly one week. Those of you who preordered (and thank you!) might even already have Royal Street Reveillon in your hot little hands. Yay, for preorders, and thank you again if you did preorder.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, or follow me on social media, or do any of those lovely things that make me feel better about myself, are probably aware of one of my primary mantras of writing: never throw anything away because nothing you write is waste. It can, after all, always come in handy later. I’ve repurposed work before; Murder in the Rue Ursulines, the fourth Chanse novel, began life as the fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle. My short story “Survivor’s Guilt,” nominated for a Macavity Award, began life as a short story called “Blues in the Night,” and so on, and so on, and so on. Fragments removed from a novel have ended up in a short story; short story pieces have wound up inside novels. That’s why I always save everything, including drafts and partials–I never know when that writing might come in handy for something later, and it inevitably always does.

Many years ago, the publishing of fiction as ebooks only exploded with the development, and sales, of Amazon’s Kindle device, as well as those from competitors–I chose to go the iPad route, and use the apps for book reading; Kobo and Kindle and iBooks. A friend had started her own e-publishing company, and was encouraging me to develop a long-dormant idea for a series–the idea I had, almost from the earliest days of the Chanse series, of spinning off his reporter best bud, Paige Tourneur, into her own series. I am always willing to give new things, and new technology, a spin, and so I produced two lengthy novellas with Paige as a main character, out of a proposed five: Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans. The former was originally a short story I sat on for years; the latter an idea born of my interest/borderline obsession with reality television, primarily Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises. It was born of a joke between Paul and I, while he suffered in silence through my watching of these shows (mostly the New York and Beverly Hills editions; I never got into the others quite as much, although Atlanta and now Potomac I”m more hit and miss with) in which we picked women we thought would make interesting choices for a New Orleans franchise, and then would simply laugh and laugh, saying “Can you imagine?” The novellas, however, were on a very tight turn around time, and I was writing them between other novels I had contracted. They were good, but I was never completely satisfied with them, and Paige was, frankly, not as popular with readers as I thought she might be. People either loved the character or hated her; and of course, some Amazon reviewers disliked Paige’s feminist politics and her habit of using foul language.

Also, as it turned out, ebook marketing is a lot of work–work I didn’t have the time or knowledge to put in, and ultimately the return on the investment was simply not worth it. My friend and I agreed to cancel the series and the contracts, and shortly thereafter both novellas were pulled from Amazon.

And that, I thought, was the end of the great Paige experiment of mainstream crime fiction writing for me.

But I still believed, and still do, that the Dead Housewives idea was a good one, and deserved better than it got as an e-novella for Paige.

So…I decided to reboot and repurpose the idea, and develop it into a Scotty novel; and so a forty thousand word novella turned into a Scotty novel of closer to a hundred thousand words; it’s the longest Scotty book since Jackson Square Jazz. If you are an avid Greg reader, and you read Dead Housewives (thank you for that, by the way), some of Royal Street Reveillon might seem familiar; the opening party for the show, some of the characters and their relationships to each other, and so on. But the outcome of the story is different, and there’s a lot more going on in this book than in the original. Royal Street Reveillon is much closer to what I always wanted the story to be, and really, it works much better as a Scotty story than it ever would did as a Paige story. The “Grande Dames of New Orleans” are all the same women; I introduced Serena Castlemaine in Garden District Gothic, and also previewed the filming of the reality show in that book. Margery, Megan, Rebecca, Fidelis, and Chloe are the same women from the original, but their stories and relationships to each other (and in some cases, to their spouses and the men in their lives) are dramatically different. The first murder is different, and there are several more story threads in this final version of the story than there were before. And there is a lot more of Scotty’s personal story, and that of those he loves, in this book than in the original (obviously, as Scotty wasn’t in the original story).

And, for the record, the resolution of the mysteries (yes, plural) are markedly different than what it originally was.

Also for the record;  I am much more pleased with this book than I was with the original story. I hope you’ll like it, too.

I spent my entire Labor Day, well, laboring over a volunteer project; it’s still not quite finished despite the eight or so hours I dedicated to it yesterday, but I feel very confident that it will be finished tonight. So, while I didn’t really get to spend my long weekend relaxing as much as I would have liked, I was able to get some things done, including the draft of Bury Me in Shadows, this volunteer project, and I did sign the contract for that short story, which was lovely.

And so now on to a short week. I don’t have a short day this week until Friday, as I am covering for someone tomorrow evening, but that’s fine. I seem to have my sleep back under control again as well, which is a major plus and very satisfying.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me for the day. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

283411_10151215403887778_1399882514_n