Heavenly Action

I’ve always been—undoubtedly in part because I love history so much—an enormous fan of books where secrets from the past (even the far distant past) play an enormous part in the present lives of the characters in the story, and that solving those mysteries, learning the truth about the past, is necessary in the present for conflict resolution. As a history buff, the lack of a lengthy history as a nation is something I’ve always thought unfortunate; without ancient buildings and the way that history isn’t sort of always there in our faces the way it is in Italy or other older nations, it’s difficult for many Americans to either grasp, be interested in, or give a shit about our history—we have as a nation the attention span of a goldfish (thanks, Ted Lasso, for that reference).

To make a side by side historical comparison, for example, the Habsburg dynasty dominated central Europe for almost six hundred years, whereas the first European to actually arrive and establish a colony were under the aegis and flag of the Habsburg king of Spain—and that was in the early sixteenth century.

Secrets of the past casting a shadow over the lives of the living is often a theme in Gothics, my favorite style of novel/writing (noir is a close second). Rebecca is of course the master class in secrets of the past; the first Mrs. deWinter might not actually be haunting the halls of Manderley literally, but her ghost is definitely there. Victoria Holt’s romantic suspense novels inevitably were set in some enormous old mansion or castle, with potential ghosts a-plenty everywhere you turn. Phyllis A. Whitney’s one novel set in Britain—Hunter’s Green—also has a classic old British mansion with a potential ghost in it. Maybe it was the childhood interest in kids’ series, with the reliance on secret passages, hidden rooms, and proving that ghosts were frauds; every episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You? had the gang proving something supernatural was quite human in origin.

One of my favorite Nancy Drew books when I was a kid was The Ghost of Blackwood Hall; I don’t really remember much of the story now, other than a fraudulent haunting was involved and a woman—Mrs. Putney—was being swindled by a medium? (Reading the synopses on a Nancy Drew website, apparently part of the story involves Nancy and the gang coming to New Orleans, which I absolutely do not remember; my only Nancy Drew-New Orleans memory is The Haunted Showboat—involving yet another haunting. Interesting.) When I was writing the original short story (“Ruins”) I needed a name for the old burned-out plantation house; I decided to pay homage to Nancy Drew by naming it Blackwood Hall, and naming Jake’s maternal ancestor’s family Blackwood (his grandmother was a Blackwood, married a Donelson; Jake has his father’s last name, which is Chapman). I did think about changing this from time to time during the drafting of Bury Me in Shadows, but finally decided to leave it as it was. It might make Nancy Drew readers smile and wonder, and those who didn’t read Nancy Drew, obviously won’t catch it.

Hey, at least I didn’t call it Hill House.

But writing about ghosts inevitably makes one wonder about the afterlife and how it all works; if there is such a thing as ghosts, ergo it means that we all have souls and spirits that can remain behind or move on after we die. So what does writing about ghosts—or writing a ghost story—mean for the writer as far as their beliefs are concerned?

Religion primarily came into existence because ignorant humans needed an explanation for the world around them, combined with a terror about dying. It is impossible for a human mind to comprehend nothingness (whenever I try, I can’t get past “there has to be something in order for there to be nothing, you cannot have nothing unless you have something” and that just bounces around in my head until it starts to hurt); likewise, whenever I try to imagine even the Big Bang Theory, I can’t get past “but there had to be something to explode” and yeah, my head starts to hurt. Even as a kid in church, studying the Old Testament and Genesis, I could never get past “but where did God come from?” I don’t begrudge anyone anything that gives them comfort—unless it starts to impede on me. I’ve studied religions and myths on my own since I was a kid; the commonalities between them all speak to a common experience and need in humanity, regardless of where in the world those humans evolved; a fear of the unknown, and an attempt to explain those fears away by coming up with a mythology that explains how everything exists, why things happen, and what happens when you die. (I am hardly an expert, but theology is an amateur interest of mine, along with Biblical history, the history of the development of Christianity, and end-times beliefs.)

Ghosts, and spirits, have been used since humanity drew art on cave walls with charcoal to explain mysterious happenings that couldn’t be otherwise explained. I am not as interested in malevolent spirits—ghosts that do harm—as I am in those who, for whatever reason, are trapped on this plane and need to be freed. This was a common theme in Barbara Michaels’ ghost stories (see: Ammie Come Home, House of Many Shadows, Witch, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) in which the present-day characters must solve the mystery from the past; why is the ghost haunting this house and what happened to them that caused them to remain behind? I used this theme—spirits trapped by violent deaths in this plane whose truth must be uncovered in so they can be put to rest—in Lake Thirteen and returned to it with Bury Me in Shadows. I did, of course, worry that I was simply writing the same book over again; repeating myself is one of my biggest fears (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?), but the two books, I think, are different enough that it’s not the same story.

At least I can convince myself of that, at any rate.

There’s a few more ghost stories I want to write, actually; (it also just occurred to me that there was a ghost in Jackson Square Jazz, the second Scotty book) any number of which come from those legends my grandmother used to tell me as a child. I have this great idea for one I’ve been wanting to write set here in New Orleans for a very long time called “The Weeping Nun;” I have the entire ghost’s story written in my head, I just don’t have a modern story to wrap around it (same issue I have with my New Orleans ghost story book, Voices in an Empty Room) and of course there’s “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain,” a short story about another Corinth County ghost I started writing and got to about five thousand words before the ghost even made an appearance. That great length is why I shelved the story—and now, of course, I realize I can do it as a novella, which is amazing news and life-changing, really. “Whim of the Wind,” the very first Corinth County story I ever wrote, is also kind of a ghost story, and maybe someday I’ll find the key to making it publishable (although I think I already did figure it out, thanks to the brilliance of an Art Taylor short story).

I’ve always believed part of the reason I was drawn so strongly to New Orleans is because the past is still very much a part of the present here—though not so much as we New Orleanians would like to believe, as several Facebook groups I belong to about the history of New Orleans often show how often and rapidly the cityscape has changed over the years—and you can sometimes even feel here, at times, under the right conditions (fog and/or mist are usually involved) like you’ve gone back in time, through a rip in the time/space continuum; which is something I’d actually like to write someday here—but that’s just an amorphous idea skittering through my brain.

And of course, I have an idea for a paranormal series set in a fictional parish here in Louisiana. I think about it every now and again, but am really not sure how I want to do it. I know doing a paranormal Louisiana town series will get me accused of ripping off Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, but that’s fine. I don’t think I would be doing vampire kings or queens or any of the directions Ms. Harris went with her series. (Monsters of Louisiana and Monsters of New Orleans—paranormal/crime short story collections—may also still happen; one never knows, really.)

As hard as it was sometimes to write, I think Bury Me in Shadows turned out better than I could have hoped. I think it captured the mood and atmosphere I was going for; I think I made my narrator just unreliable enough to keep the reader unsure of what’s going on in the story; and I think I managed to tell a Civil War ghost story (it’s more than just that, but that’s how I’ve always thought of it and that’s a very hard, apparently, habit for me to break.

I hope people do read and like it. We shall see how it goes, shall we not?

Believe

And now it’s the day after, and you know what? I feel no older, wiser, nor smarter than I do on any given morning. I don’t think I will ever completely grasp why everyone makes such a big deal of birthdays.

I slept very late this morning–past nine, which may be a new record–and I feel very calm, very rested, and very relaxed; an auspicious start to this my sixty-first voyage around the sun. My birthday was actually very chill, and very relaxing. We got up and went to Costco to pick up Paul’s glasses and a few other things (I got a new LSU cap for my birthday–GEAUX TIGERS!!!–and then we went out to Metairie to pick up my amazing deep dish Chicago-style pizza from That’s Amore–jalapeños, hamburger, mushroom, and pepperoni, for those who are wondering–and then came home to have a most relaxing day. I put on last year’s LSU-Florida game for background noise (the Shoe Game, which will never get old or ever stop being funny) and curled up in my chair to finish reading The Other Black Girl, which was amazing–it will be getting its own entry, no worries on that score–and also started reading The Turnout, which of course is the new Megan Abbott. I also watched the season finale of Superman and Lois–seriously, Superman fans, this is the show we’ve been waiting for since Christopher Reeve took off the cape–and then we got caught up on other things, like Ted Lasso, Animal Kingdom, and Titans. We also started watching Nine Perfect Strangers on Hulu; which we’re enjoying, but are there really only three episodes, or did Hulu only drop three to begin with? (A quick google search assures me they only dropped three of eight thus far.)

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a more delightful birthday. It was exactly what the doctor ordered–no emails, very little social media (trying to like all the happy birthday wishes on Facebook; I’m not sure I succeeded), and no stress at all. It was marvelous, really, and then a wonderful night’s sleep capped off the end of the day. If this is indicative of what my sixties are going to be like, well, then I am ALL about them. Today I am going to run a single errand–picking up the mail–and then I am going to come hide back inside the cool of the Lost Apartment, read more of The Turnout, and then I am going to start working on the edits for #shedeservedit. I also at some point–possibly during the reconfigured Bouchercon vacation–need to do the copy edits on Jackson Square Jazz so I can finally get its ebook up for sale (as well as a print edition, and the print edition of Bourbon Street Blues as well), not to mention work on Chlorine. I also have a contract for an exciting new project to go over before signing and returning it; so my weekend is going to be fairly full this weekend. We’ll probably start on The White Lotus tonight, as well as maybe something else; I’m not sure what, really. I also know there are some absolute classic noirs that have been airing lately I would love to rewatch–I’m looking at you, In a Lonely Place and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers–and as always, there is so little time to get everything finished that one wants to get finished.

But I also have to do some organizing around here as well. I put that off for far too long far too often, and I often, even when I do filing and organizing, inevitably always have some odds and ends I am not quite what to do with; today is the day I am going to do something with those things–or throwing them the fuck out. I also have to figure out what I am going to do with all those boxes of files I moved out from under my desk and scattered discreetly (ha ha ha as if) around the living room; a lot of those files are New Orleans and Louisiana research I may never get to use, or get around to using–and the more you learn about local history here, the more you realize you’ll never really know. That can be daunting, of course, but for me–it just fuels my desire to know, and learn, more.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a research trip out to the old guardian forts along the mouths of the Mississippi and near the openings of the lakes–I suspect at some point Scotty is going to wind up left to die in one of those old forts, or something; it’s simply too good of material to just continue to let sit there, mouldering and crumbling in our swamp climate without ever writing about them; just like one of these days I need to write a Scotty book that somehow involves Jean Lafitte and pirate treasure. The next Scotty, Mississippi River Mischief, is very amorphous right now and is going to need some more gelling and planning and pulling together; but I think it’s going to be one of the better Scotty books, I really do.

When I get to it. I do also think I want to get the Scotty Bible written and pulled together–at long last; only in process to write the ninth book in the series, so finally? I also want to catch things from older books that have been left hanging. It’s also occurred to me that I could go back in time and write Scotty adventures–there’s time, after all, between books for other cases to drop into the boys’ laps; and it might be fun to go back and revisit Scotty in the early days of his relationships and his detecting career, such as it is.

I am also thinking about a stand alone book with my true-crime writer, who’s crossed over between both series now, and whose name I cannot think of right now–oh, yes. JERRY. I could write an interesting story about him as well, methinks, although he would be the perfect main character for a novella I am planning to do for Chanse…in fact, I thought about using him as the POV character before realizing it works better as a Chanse novella than as a Jerry story.

And on that note, I am going to go curl up with Megan Abbott for a bit before I can run my errands, while swilling more coffee. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.

Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.

Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and

And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.

Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.

We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.

Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.

I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz. My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.

Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.

And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.

And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.

Cornelia Street

I read a piece yesterday on Crime Reads about aging your characters over a series, and have to say it was interesting; certainly, it make one Gregalicious stop and think–muse, really.

I was–doubtless like any number of Agatha Christie readers–already aware that Poirot was already elderly and retired from the police force in his first case, The Mysterious Affair at Styles; by the 1960’s when he was still solving cases he would have had to have been, per the piece, about 130 years old. Likewise, Miss Marple was already an elderly woman when she debuted in the 1930’s in Murder at the Vicarage, and while later Marple stories talked about how old and frail she was, by the time her last case–Sleeping Murder–rolled out in the 1970’s she also would have been well past one hundred. (The piece also discussed how old Nero Wolfe would have been by the time his final case was published, if the fiction matched reality.)

This is something that has been preying on my mind for quite some time, because of course, Scotty was only twenty-nine in Bourbon Street Blues (published in 2003), which, if we follow linear time, would make him around forty-six now. That’s not terribly bad–he typed as he eyes his own sixtieth birthday coming the following year–but it’s not Scotty’s age that concerns me so much as the age of everyone else in the series. If Scotty is forty six and the youngest Bradley child, and Storm was old enough to be a senior in high school when Scotty was in eighth grade–that puts Storm firmly at around fifty-one, which would put Scotty’s parents into their seventies and his grandparents in their nineties–at the very least. Scotty is actually younger–I didn’t follow linear time in the series (Katrina forced me to start aging him; I had intended for him to be twenty-nine forever)–and so he actually was 29 in 2004 and turned thirty just before Katrina–but that only shaves about a year off his age. I’ve not wanted to deal with the deaths of his grandparents or his parents becoming frailer with age, so I just pretend when I write about them that they’ve not aged. Scotty has, but they haven’t–and also, Frank is pushing sixty himself now no matter how I arrange the ages and timing of the series, and still wrestling professionally. Again, I’ve not really wanted to deal with the age issues–he retired after twenty years of service with the FBI, as a matter of fact–retiring in the period between Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo, but I have intellectually accepted the fact that Frank is probably going to have to step away from the ring and the bright lights; it’s just a matter of when. I’ve always wanted to do a Scotty case built around the professional wrestling promotion Frank works for and will need to be retiring from; this was always going to be the premise behind Redneck Riviera Rhumba…but a Scotty book not set in New Orleans?

Anyway, I’ve really not wanted to deal with the deaths of Scotty’s grandparents, but I also know I am eventually going to have to–I can’t keep having them be just an amorphous age known as “old” and live to be over a hundred (although people do live that long, but it’s patently absurd that all four of his grandparents are remarkably long-lived; perhaps I’ll start killing off the Bradley side of the family first. I never liked the Bradley side, but have always had a soft spot for the Diderots.)

I can probably get away without killing the grandparents off for another couple of books, but…the clock is ticking. Although a Bradley death being the springboard for another case would be interesting. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I also discovered an interesting location in Louisiana yesterday, Fort St. Philip. And yes, while that may not be completely factually correct–I’d heard of it vaguely before as one of the Mississippi River forts below New Orleans that were built to help defend the city–I’d never really learned much about it, but yesterday I discovered this weird abandoned location was actually home to a religious cult from 1978-1989, when they all moved away. Interesting, no? I could easily do a Sherlock story back in the 1910’s set there, or even have it be a weird Scotty story, or even simply a stand alone; an abandoned fort once home to a religious cult is like the perfect setting for a horror novel as well, isn’t it? Hmmm. I could also do all three, frankly; a Sherlock story in 1916; a Scotty story in the present; and a horror novel at any time. SCORE.

I did watch The Conversation while I was making condom packs yesterday, and am really glad I did. The film was incredibly timely when it was released back in 1974; the Nixon administration was crumbling because of it’s illegal electronic surveillance of the McGovern campaign, and the ensuing cover-up–although Francis Ford Coppola knew none of that would be the case when he wrote and directed the film. It was also overshadowed by his other film release that year–The Godfather Part II–which is really a shame. The Conversation has a plot, of course–and a pretty decent one–but the film is really a character study of Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who works pretty much alone and is legendary in his field–which few people really know about. The entire film hinges on the performance of Gene Hackman in the lead, and it’s one of Hackman’s best performances, understated and nuanced and completely immersive; I don’t think he got an Oscar nomination for this but he definitely should have–and it should have been a very close race for him. The film opens with Harry and his team–mostly hirelings, as he prefers generally to work alone–following and recording a young couple (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) as they walk around a crowded Union Square. Harry is also haunted by one of his greatest achievements–he managed to eavesdrop and record a conversation between a corrupt union boss and an accountant about their embezzling of union funds; the boss assumed the accountant had talked and had people kill not only him, but his wife and children in a particularly brutal way. Harry looks at every job as a challenge, and his particular genius is conquering jobs most experts reject as impossible. But after those murders, Harry is beginning to question his own morality and his own ability to distance himself from what results from him doing his job…and as the film progresses, he begins to distrust his own client, and suspects the client (played by Robert Duvall and only ever known as “the Director”) is going to murder the young couple–the woman happens to be his wife. (A beautiful, very young pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford plays the Director’s assistant, and Harry’s contact–and his motivations are also murky and peculiar.) Harry is already paranoid–he refuses to have a phone in his apartment, and early in the film gets a post office box so no one will have his address–and watching the paranoia and fear build in him throughout the film is very impressive. It really captures the cynicism and paranoia of the 1970’s; it could be considered a defining film of the decade, and is definitely an excellent addition to your own Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

I also watched an old horror movie from the 1980’s called Witchboard, which I had enjoyed at the time but now–well, calling it “terrible” is actually a complement. The script is bad, the dialogue is bad, the cast has no chemistry together, and none of the relationships make any sense. The cast, led by Todd Allen (who is supposedly hot and sexy–okay, 1980’s straight masculinity), Tawny Kitaen (perhaps best known for the Whitesnake music video for “Here I Go Again”, for dancing erotically on the hood of a car; this film definitely answers any questions anyone might have about Kitaen’s acting abilities–they are virtually non-existent) and Stephen Nichols, who would go on to great fame on soaps like Days of Our Lives (as Patch) and General Hospital (as a Cassadine in love with Genie Francis’ Laura Spencer), but is frankly terrible in this. It came in late for the Halloween Horror Film Festival, but dear Lord, it is terrible. I have yet to decide which films to watch during today’s condom packing adventures, but I did find some more interesting looking 70’s films–along with some really terrible-looking horror movies from the 1970’s on.

And of course, there is always a lot of writing for me to do; volunteer work, and so forth….but I intend to really enjoy this weekend as much as I can. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, as I put on my helmet and once again head to the spice mines.

State of Grace

So, it’s Monday of a short week–I did decide to go ahead and take the celebratory four day birthday weekend, in case you were wondering–and I am very pleased with myself for making said decision. It’s been a while since I had a long relaxing weekend, and what better gift can I give myself than a long weekend? And it just didn’t make sense to take Thursday off and then work from home on Friday, so huzzah! Decision made.

I only got one more chapter of Bury Me in Shadows done yesterday, but I’m good with it. Am I thrilled that the pace I set for myself isn’t being kept up with? Not in the least. Am I going to beat myself up over it? Not in the least. I need time to rest and decompress, after all, and the last thing in the world I need to do is burn myself out. The work I am doing is good work, and I’d rather go slowly and do good work rather than rush through it and then have it come out and think, oh I wish I would have spent more time with that.

Which. Always. Happens.

We finished Never Have I Ever last night, which is quite funny and charming and moving, all at the same time, and then watched the first episode of Lovecraft Country on HBO MAX, which was stunning–well produced, well acted, and well written, and just beautifully filmed–and it also kept us on the edge of our seats once the action got going. I also spent some time with the book yesterday afternoon once I got the one chapter of the book finished–I am changing my plans on how to schedule finishing it, turning it into getting a chapter done per day, with more to come on my upcoming four day weekend–and also worked on organizing better. I also got some filing out of the way–my actual inbox this morning has literally nothing in it at all, which is unbelievable, extraordinary progress–and I also cleaned out another one of my inboxes (I have four stacking ones; one has a print out of Jackson Square Jazz, which needs copy editing before the ebook can be finalized and put up for sale at long last; the other contains all my folders for the Secret Project, which is pending an offer; and I am going to put my “short stories currently working on’ folders in the newly emptied out one.) I still have not finished working on my file cabinet–remember that burst of organizational energy I had earlier this summer? Yeah, I never finished that project–but I think that is a project for one of my four days this coming weekend.

Heavy heaving sigh. But the better organized I am, the more likely I am to stay on top of things and get everything finished that I need to get finished.

Or so the theory goes, at any rate.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get ready to head into the office. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

You Don’t Love Me Anymore

Sunday morning, and with no Saints game today I have no excuse not to get a lot done today. It’s chilly this morning and gray outside; we still have rain in the forecast but it’s calm and quiet out there right now; perhaps the calm before the storm? Ugh, such a tired cliche–but it’s fine with me.

Yesterday I got a lot of chores done–very little writing, but the chores were necessary and of course, being the Master Procrastinator that I am; I have to have a clean apartment–or at least one that’s been straightened up some–in order to have a clear conscience enough to get work done. I now have no excuses to not get everything done that I need to get done today–but we’ll see how that goes; there’s always something.

I read another Holmes story yesterday–“The Musgrave Ritual”–which I couldn’t remember the plot of, other than remembering that it was one of my favorite Holmes stories. Like “The Gloria Scott“, it’s a “let me tell you a story” story; I really don’t remember the Holmes stories being like this, of course, but it’s something to think about as I prepare to write my own pastiche. It’s a style of writing/story-telling I’m not so certain I want to try, but then again–the entire point of me writing a Holmes story is to push myself as a writer and get better overall, so perhaps…perhaps I should try it that way and see how it goes. Anyway, as I reread it, I remembered why I liked it so much; it’s a treasure hunt story, and I absolutely love treasure hunts. At least two Scotty books–Jackson Square Jazz and Vieux Carre Voodoo, are treasure hunts.

I also rewatched the original film version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, 1963’s The Haunting, directed by multiple Oscar winner Robert Wise, and starring Julie Harris as Nell. I saw this movie long before I even knew there was a book, let alone read it; my grandmother loved old black and white movies, and she especially loved crime and horror–probably where I get it from, and she also introduced me to the novels of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Ellery Queen, and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was very young and the film absolutely terrified me–to this day, even remembering the scene with the door expanding and contracting unsettles me. I was, of course, quite delighted as a teenager to discover it was actually a novel (I had read Richard Matheson’s Hell House, with it’s similarities to The Haunting, year earlier and wondered if he’d gotten the idea for the book from the movie), and it quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time; in fact, I believe it was Stephen King who introduced me to the novel, because the opening paragraph was an epigram to ‘salem’s Lot. But I hadn’t watched the film in years; I’d watched the horrible 1999 remake, and of course the Netflix series loosely based on the book (I do recommend the series, it’s fantastic, once you get back the fact that it’s not a faithful adaptation but kind of fan-fiction; it didn’t even have to be Hill House for the story to work, but that’s a subject for a different blog. I do recommend it, though). Julie Harris is perfectly cast as Nell, and Claire Bloom does an excellent job as Theo. There are differences between the book and the film; why they changed Dr. Montague’s name to Dr. Markway is a mystery, and the later third of the film, after his wife arrives, is vastly different from the later third of the novel, and her character is completely changed; the young man who escorts her to Hill House is also excised from the movie. But the way the film is shot–the use of light and shadow, the up angles of the camera, and the ever-so creepy claustrophobia of the enclosed house–is absolutely terrifying, and you never see what is actually haunting the house. That was the singular brilliance of the book, and Wise kept that for his film (the execrable 1999 remake went completely over the top with CGI effects and so forth; ruining the necessary intimacy of the story). I still think of it as one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, and on a rewatch–the way you hear Nell’s thoughts, whispered, while Julie Harris’ eyes dart around–adds to the intimacy. I think that interior intimacy is a large factor in why the book is so fantastic, and why both book and original film work so well. The Netflix series does show the ghosts of Hill House, but it’s also done in a very subtle, unsettling way, which is why I think I liked it so much.

I also was thinking about rewatching Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, but decided to hold off until I finish the reread of the book–which I am still in the midst of–I want to finish it before my trip this week, because I want to take two different books with me to read.

I did finish my reread of Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt, which was much better than I remembered, with it’s haunted monastery and ghostly monk haunting the big manor house. It’s also a terrific novel about paranoia and gaslighting; the ultimate evil scheme behind everything hinges on the heroine of the story being eventually committed to an insane asylum, and hopefully miscarrying her child, or it being born dead as a result of the confinement. Holt novels often hinged on the possibility of insanity being genetic–if the mother is insane, her child most likely will be as well–and this horror, which was probably very real in the nineteenth century, makes this book terribly unsettling. The main character, Catherine, is very strong-willed and intelligent, but she marries a man without meeting any of his family, moves into the family estate (Kirkland Revels), and then he dies in a fall from a balcony, and she returns to her father’s house; only to have to return to Kirkland Revels when she discovers she is pregnant. The combination of vulnerable and pregnant heroine being gaslit into believing she is insane was pretty unsettling to me when I originally read the novel; which is probably why it’s one of the few Holts I never took down from the shelf on a rainy afternoon and reread. Rereading it, thought, makes me appreciate the mastery apparent in Holt’s writing. She never again wrote another novel with a pregnant heroine–while some of her later novels did involve pregnancies and/or motherhood (On the Night of the Seventh Moon, The House of a Thousand Lanterns) the mystery, and the plot against the heroine, never occurred during the pregnancy. Romantic suspense, and its twin sister, domestic suspense, were a kind of “women’s noir,” in that the stories always focused on what were seen as the biggest fears for women–marrying the wrong man, danger to her child, not being able to trust your husband–were the recurring thread through all of them.

I also did manage to get some work done on the new project yesterday, which was lovely and my goal for the day. Not as much as I would like–I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t fail to achieve everything in a day that I wanted to–but enough to be satisfactory. I also came up with an idea for another Scotty, one that takes place down in the bayou–Cajun Country Cavaille–but whether I’ll write it or not remains to be seen. But I’d like to address the loss of the Louisiana wetlands at some point in print, and writing about a (probably fictional) version of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes is probably the best way to do that; I just don’t have a murder mystery to hang the story on. My interest in the Scotty (and possible resurrection of the Chanse) series is expanding outward from New Orleans to the rest of Louisiana; I’ve come to realize that not only do I love New Orleans but I also love Louisiana, frustrating and irritating as that love can be sometimes. Louisiana is so beautiful…I also want to write about the Atchafalaya basin sometime, too, and of course let’s not forget the infamous Bayou Corne sinkhole no one talks about anymore…and of course there’s Cancer Alley along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is also begging to be written about.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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The World Is a Ghetto

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

I know I’m pleased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Hocus Pocus

Tuesday morning, and I somehow managed to survive yesterday. Sunday night’s sleep wasn’t terrific, and by the late afternoon I was plenty exhausted and tired. I had to persevere, and what’s more, I was interviewed for a podcast last night when I got home from the office. Somehow I managed to get through that, and within half an hour of disconnecting from Skype, I was in bed and asleep within moments. Last night’s sleep was quite lovely–I feel amazingly rested this morning–and so this day might not be as terrible as the previous.

Today is going to be a good day.

I started writing two new short stories yesterday, “The Spirit Tree” and “Moist Money.” “Moist Money” is for an anthology I was asked to write a story for; it finally came to me sometime either Sunday evening or sometime during the day yesterday, and I scribbled down the first two paragraphs in my journal, which I transcribed yesterday, and then added another couple of hundred words. “The Spirit Tree” was inspired by moving books around on Sunday, and one of them–a nonfiction book about snake-handling churches in southern Appalachia–I opened the cover and looked over the first page–which was about “spirit trees”; trees that rural Appalachian folk, superstitious and religious as they are, create to keep bad spirits away. What they do is put glass bottles on tree branches, so the bottles clink together in the wind (“warriors, come out and play”) and the sound the glass tinkling against other glass makes supposedly scares away evil spirits and keeps them from infesting the house. I hadn’t thought about spirit trees since I was a child, and I thought, not only is that a great title, I can actually think of a rural noir story to write that matches it. Yesterday I got down about five to six hundred words of the opening; this is a story, I think, I might try to sell to Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock when finished. I was too tired to do much more than write the openings of both stories last night; but I am hoping to get more written on them this week. I also need to get those three chapters of Bury Me in Shadows written, so it can sit and percolate for the next couple of months until I can get back to it.

It’s also weird to think Royal Street Reveillon will be out into the world next month. It seemed like it took me forever to write that book, and I guess it kind of did? But it’s nice; I’m glad to be putting another Scotty out there into the world, and I’m also not sure when I’m going to write the next one. I already know what it’s going to be–Hollywood South Hustle–but I’m just not sure when I’m going to get to it. I want to, as I have said in previous blogs, get all these books about teenagers I’m in some stage of writing cleared off my plate and out into the world before I start writing anything else–a cleansed palate, as it were–and keep writing my short stories and essays along with writing those. I’d love to get my second short story collection out into the world by 2021–that would be the one I’m calling Once a Tiger and Other Stories–and I also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger,” a novella, finished sometime before the end of the year, as well as “Fireflies,” my horror novella, as well.

So much to do, right? And I really need to proof Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go up for sale again. Maybe I can make that a goal of my long weekend for my birthday? Stranger things have happened. I really need to get all these things that are hanging over my head finished and out of the way, so I can focus more easily on writing Chlorine next year.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Wildflower

Back to reality.

I feel rested, relaxed, and ready to get back to the office and to writing. This is a really lovely feeling, Constant Reader, and one I’d love to feel more often, you know? But the truth is as I get older, I need to take these breaks from everything every few months, in order to keep on a-keepin’ on, as it were. I’d hoped to do some writing–didn’t happen, but I managed to get the proofs for Royal Street Reveillon finished, which was something, and I also made a to-do list, and tried to schedule out the books I need to write next, which is also an accomplishment. I have twelve–yes, you read that right, twelve–books in some form of completion; whether there’s a draft finished, a partial draft, an outline, or just a fleshed out idea. Twelve. 

And yes, I am completely and totally aware how utterly insane that is.

That doesn’t count the short story collections (two or three), or the essay collection, or the copy editing for Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go live.

So I guess it’s more like seventeen.

I also have agreed to write two short stories for anthologies, and I also want to write something to submit to the new MWA one whose deadline is coming up this fall. (Fortunately, I already have one written that fits the MWA criteria, so it just needs to be tweaked and cleaned up and polished and made pretty; I have to write the others from scratch, and I worry that won’t end well.) I am in the process of making a list, so that I can try to make sure I can get everything logged and written and therefore stay on top of things.

There’s a heat advisory today, from noon till about seven this evening, where it’s going to feel like 106-111 degrees outside, which should, of course, do wonders for my power bill for next month. Hurray. I’ll be curious to see how our new building handles this onslaught of heat; the side of the building we’re on is in direct sunlight after about one in the afternoon, so that should be lovely. It already gets hot over there in the afternoons as it is; I’m curious to see how that turns out. There’s also a low out in the Gulf, close to shore and in that corner of Florida where the peninsula descends from the mainland, that might turn into a tropical depression this week. Not likely to do anything to us other than outer bands, but not good for the Florida coastline.

I am reading Jay B, Laws’ second, and posthumous, novel The Unfinished. It’s being rereleased in a new edition by ReQueered Tales, and they’ve asked me to write the introduction for it, which is a lovely, nice thing to do. I read the book a long time ago, and barely remember any of it, but the opening sequence, in which our deaf main character (so far) has corrective eye surgery is not for the squeamish–I count myself amongst the squeamish when it comes to eyes–and I am really enjoying the ride again nevertheless. It’s amazing to me that I can’t remember anything about the story–I didn’t remember that the main point-of-view character was deaf, for that matter–because I used to be able to remember plot points and details of every book I’ve read; another by-product of age, I suppose, was the loss of many of those memories and details. I do remember, however, the enormous sadness I felt that Laws died so young of HIV/AIDS, back in the plague years, and was only able to produce two high quality gay-themed horror novels, this one and Steam.  HIV/AIDS did so much damage, not just to our community but also to our creative community that even now, so many years later, that we are struggling to recover from the losses.

I would imagine there’s an amazing academic study to be done on the impact of HIV/AIDS to the queer writing community, and how it shifted and changed our work, the direction of it, and how younger queer writers also lost the mentoring possibilities of the older, more established writers who were dying off, one by one. I myself have never once addressed the plague in my own work. It was a conscious choice back when I first started; the cocktail had already been discovered and lives being extended. The plague was no longer a death sentence for those diagnosed, and the advances that have been made in the years since I first started writing and getting published are the things we could only dream of during the 80’s and 90’s. Ironically, I wrote a short story for a horror anthology (more details on that to come) called “A Whisper from the Graveyard” which is the first time I’ve addressed the plague in fiction (the story was set in the early 1990’s), and I am writing about it in my so-far unfinished novella “Never Kiss a Stranger.”

God, so much writing to do and always, always, new ideas arrive. Even as I listed the books I plan to write yesterday, afterwards I remembered there were at least two more that I’d forgotten about.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And now, back to the spice mines, as I must prepare for my return to the office this morning.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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