I’ve Had The Time of My Life

New Orleans is, of course, more than Mardi Gras; but whenever anyone mentions New Orleans, most people’s minds immediately go there.

It is probably the most famous thing about New Orleans, no matter how hard we try to convince outsiders that there’s more to the city that our annual bacchanal…Mardi Gras is always the default; so much so that the entire season is collectively (and incorrectly) called Mardi Gras; Mardi Gras is merely Fat Tuesday (mardi gras literally translates into fat Tuesday) and the rest of the season is Carnival. No matter how often you try to correct people, it never takes and so I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer correct people. It is what it is.

Likewise, people think of Carnival as a debauched event, and there is some truth to that–women do show their breasts for beads, and I’ve seen guys drop trou as well. However, I can also honestly say I’ve never seen that happen on the actual parade route on St. Charles Avenue; perhaps that happens down on Canal Street during parades, but it doesn’t happen in Uptown. I’ve only witnessed it happen in the Quarter–people on Bourbon Street displaying the required flesh for people up on balconies with a seemingly endless supply of beads, demanding boobs or butts or balls in exchange for a strand of beads. I’ve personally never dropped trou for beads–never will; why on earth would you when they are thrown with such reckless abandon from floats during the parades?

Like most New Orleanians, I had some vague knowledge of the history of Carnival in New Orleans; I knew that the theme song “If Ever I Cease to Love” came about because of a visit from a member of the Russian Romanov royal family in 1872; the Carnival colors of purple, green and gold were also in his honor. I knew that Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex were the original krewes that paraded; that the flambeaux carriers originally were necessary to light up the parades in the darkness of the night; I also knew that the members of those original krewes–that still exist today, even if some of them no longer parade–were made of the city’s ruling class elites, and the krewes were offshoots of the exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs in the city–the Boston Club, the Pickwick Club, etc.–that also still exist today.

But I didn’t know a lot about the history; I didn’t know much beyond what I would read in the annual Arthur Hardy’s Parade Guide, which I buy religiously every year. It’s easier, of course, now; there are parade apps that track the parades so you know where they are; whereas before you just had to stand on the route and wait, or (if you are lucky enough, like we are, to live close to the parade rout) listen for a marching band before heading down to the Avenue.

So I decided recently, since I’m reading a lot of New Orleans history, to read James Gill’s Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans.

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The white men in jackets and ties were obviously out of their element. Normally, at this time of day, they would be preparing to leave home or office for a couple of drinks, lunch, and maybe a card game at their clubs. Now, on December 19, 1991, they shifted in their seats, returning hostile glances from a large contingent of black men and women in the packed basement of New Orleans City Hall. The city council was meeting in spartan surroundings while its regular chambers were being renovated, but the physical discomforts were nothing compared to the general psychic unease as everyone waited for the great debate on an ordinance to desegregate Mardi Gras parades and gentlemen’s luncheon clubs.

New Orleans is a Southern city, with all that entails and perhaps even more. There were slaves here before the Louisiana Purchase; both the French and the Spanish brought slaves to New Orleans and Louisiana. New Orleans didn’t hold out long as a Confederate city; it surrendered to the Federal navy fairly early in the war, and with that surrender, the Union plan to control the Mississippi was one step closer to fruition. Racism, Jim Crow, and all the horrible white supremacy that comes with those things were evident here; the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that established the horrific doctrine of “separate but equal” was a case that originated in New Orleans, and had to do with segregated railroad cars. Several years ago Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city council finally agreed to remove the Confederate statues and other memorials commemorating the city’s racist past; General Lee no longer stands with his back to the North on his plinth in Lee Circle; the statue of General Beauregard outside the entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art was removed, and the statue of Jefferson Davis on the neutral ground along Jefferson Davis Parkway was also taken down. Perhaps the most egregious memorial–the Battle of Liberty Place memorial–was also removed in the dead of night.

New Orleanians like to pretend that New Orleans doesn’t have that same vein of racism and white supremacy the rest of the South does; but it’s definitely there. It might have more a genteel veneer over it, but it’s definitely there. Orleans Parish is probably the most progressive parish in the entire state–but that’s also an incredibly low bar to set. The vast majority of people I know were in favor of the removal of the memorials, and whenever it came up on a local news website, the comments against the removal were almost inevitably from non-New Orleanians, and usually ginned up the standard Louisiana complaints about New Orleans: out of control crime, poverty, crumbling infrastructure. But all of those things were also true when the city was segregated and operating under Jim Crow; anyone who reads New Orleans history knows that the city was always a hotbed of crime and sin and debauchery.

Lords of Misrule opens with the attempt by the city council in 1992 to desegregate the krewes; my first-ever attendance at Carnival was a mere three years later, and people were still talking about it. The result was three old-line krewes (Comus, Momus, and Proteus) decided to stop parading rather than desegregate (there is a krewe now parading under the name of Proteus again; I don’t know if it is actually the same, original Krewe of Proteus or a newer krewe who took the name). Opponents of the ordinance claimed it would kill Carnival, which is now one of the primary economic engines of the city; nearly thirty years later we can attest that didn’t happen. Modern Carnival attendees don’t now about those krewes and they aren’t missed. But Gill uses this battle at the city council as a jumping-off place to examine the history of the racial politics in the city, and throughout, he uses Carnival–and how racist events in the city, such as the Battle of Liberty Place–to illustrate and illuminate that history.

It’s an enjoyable read, a little eye-opening in places, but a good read, and he also does an excellent job of exploring how Comus was not only  Confederate, but later, if not directly tied to, then definitely sympathetic to the Klan and the cause of white supremacy. Some of these civic leaders who would be, or had been, King of Comus or King of Rex also were leaders of the rebellion, the Klan, and so forth.

And it isn’t until the final chapters that any bias on the part of Gill becomes even remotely obvious; I got the distinct impression in the final chapters that Gill opposed the desegregation of the krewes–but he never comes out and says that; the final chapters simply read that way to me. I could be wrong.

But I do recommend it. It’s a good, interesting read, and sheds some important light on forgotten parts of New Orleans history.

Lost in Emotion

And somehow we’ve managed to make it to Thursday again, which is a lovely thing to contemplate.

I have to say, it was lovely to get back into writing and editing mode this week, having not had the time or energy for the last few weeks; much as I always seem to loathe writing while i’m actually doing it, it’s always enormously satisfying when I do it. I also tend to be more on the side of depression and so forth when I am not writing, or don’t have the time to; writing, much as I always seem to be loathe to do it, always somehow evens out my personality and blunts the edges somewhat.

I should put that on a sticky note and glue it to the wall above my computer, really.

Much as I want to get back to the Kansas book, I think I’m going to start revising Bury Me in Shadows instead. There are simply too many versions and too many changes that need to be made on the Kansas book–so many that I don’t think there’s any way I could get the draft finished by the end of this month, whereas Bury Me in Shadows is more solid. It needs some language correction, obviously, and more character development and there are more things that need to be woven into the text of the story, but I think that’s far easier than the massive overhaul the Kansas book needs–which means probably a draft to overhaul it and then another draft to correct it, and there’s simply no way I’d be able to get that done this month. I probably–because of my laziness and my tendency to be distracted by shiny objects–won’t get it finished this month, either, but a good strong push might just do the trick. One never knows.

I also want to work on “Fireflies” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” this month, and I’d like to get some other short stories polished and out to markets as well.

I finished reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule yesterday (more on that later) and have started reading Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders, which is interesting–but at the same time, since it’s an old book it’s filled with questionable language and attitudes towards people of color–always an issue when you’re reading an old book about New Orleans (Voodoo in New Orleans, also by Robert Tallant, is another one of those)–which also made me think about the problems of doing historical research. Newspapers, the go-to in the archives, have not always been the bastions of truth and integrity we assume them to be today (although…), which of course means the only actual reporting on things is probably heavily biased (Lords of Misrule in particular pointed out how horribly biased the newspapers of the times could be, particularly in regards to trumpeting the values of white supremacy), which blurs and muddies the truth. But I am really enjoying my trip into my favorite city’s often horrific and terribly bloody history; there are times when I wonder if there’s some kind of weird curse of some sort on this city–similar to the town of Derry in Stephen King’s It, where horrible things happen….and then everyone just moves on like it never happened. I’d never realized how brilliant that aspect of It was; King tried to explain that away as part of the power of Pennywise…but it’s actually a terrible honest truth about humanity: we tend to move on from bad things and eventually lock them away into the darkest parts of our minds.

I slept pretty well last night, only waking up once or twice, and feel pretty rested this morning, which is lovely. I have to put in eight hours at the office today, but we aren’t doing clinic, just walk-in testing, which means it won’t be as busy as it usually is. I’m still trying to get adjusted to switching my eight hour shift from Wednesday to Thursday; I keep thinking it’s Thursday on Wednesday, and then today I’ll keep thinking it’s Wednesday. *eye roll to infinity* It’s really strange how much routine in my life I have, and how much comfort I actually draw from said routine.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but hey, there you go.

All right, time to get ready to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Monday morning. I don’t feel tired this morning; we’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we? The Saints won a squeaker last night, 12-10, but they did end up winning the game despite scoring no touchdowns–when was the last time that happened?–and I went to bed shortly thereafter. We continued watching The Politician, and predictably, it’s plot has became more scattered the deeper into the season we get, like so many other shows from Ryan Murphy. We’ re still watching because it’s entertaining enough, and the acting is top-notch, and we only have a few more episodes to go before it’s finished.

I also am almost finished reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, which will probably be finished tomorrow. I haven’t decided what my next fiction read will be just yet–I started pulling James Dickey’s Deliverance down from the shelves last night, but couldn’t make myself start reading it. I was quite young when I saw the movie–we saw it at the drive-in, and I don’t remember what the earlier feature was, but I do remember I fell asleep while it was playing and only woke up near the end, not knowing what had happened. Deliverance was one of those movies whose plot became a part of the zeitgeist; people today may not completely know where the reference comes from, but any time someone mentions being somewhere so rural “you can almost hear the banjoes”–it’s a reference to Deliverance. It also may be James Dickey the poet’s only work of fiction; I don’t know how true that is or isn’t, but it certainly used to be true.

I also finished watching episode three of Murder in the Bayou yesterday, which has also given me some ideas (along with the thinking about Deliverance) for my own book, Bury Me in Shadows, which is what I actually think I’m going to work on for the month of October. The Kansas book is still messing with my head. I can’t figure out what to do with the plot and there are so many different ways I could revise that story that I think it might be best to leave that mess alone for now. I still want to get it finished and out of my hair, but if I can’t decide precisely how to move forward with it, well, that makes it a little more difficult to get it finished.

I need to revise my short story today, and then give it some polish tomorrow before turning it in. It’s kind of a mess right now, but I am confident once I reread it today and make some notes, it’ll all fall into place for me. The pieces are all there, but they aren’t in the right place as of yet, and that’ll have to result in some moving of shit around to make the story more cohesive. I also need to work on that other story; I think I need to change its ending in order to make it more powerful.

And now it’s off to the shower to get ready for my day. It’s a long one, alas; but I am confident I can make it through to the other side.

Like there’s a choice or something. 😉

Happy Monday, Constant Reader!

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Mony Mony

Wednesday.

So, the short story is coming along, which is a good thing as it is due in a week. I just wish I could find a good three hour break to just sit down, listen to Stevie Nicks, and get it finished.

One can but dream.

I’ve been very tired this week. Not sure what that’s about; my sleep might not be deep but it’s been restful. I’m trying to wean myself off sleep assistance, and have cut back even further on my daily caffeine intake, but there it is, you know? I think it’s mostly because I work the long days on Monday and Tuesday, plus I’m always tired when I wake up to an alarm as opposed to organically. Today is half-day Wednesday, and I get to make groceries and run some errands when I get off at three-thirty this afternoon before coming home to make dinner. I still need to get my short story written; after I finish this and answer some emails I’m going to see if I can get some work done on that before I have to get ready for work. It is, after all, due a week from today.

I also want to spend some more time with Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows. I’ve been too tired the last few nights to read, so have been watching television when I get home from work. But I think tonight I’ll have some time. My primary concern is the reluctance to put it down and do other things I need to get done. The Lost Apartment is a disaster area, to say the least. Since there isn’t an LSU game this weekend, maybe I can spend some time writing and editing and cleaning this weekend. One can hope, at any rate. The windows around my workspace are filthy, I don’t even want to look at the baseboards and the floor, and as always, there’s a sink full of dishes. I’m doing some laundry this morning, and maybe can get those dishes and some other things here in the kitchen taken care of before I head in to the office.

I’ve been watching a documentary series about Southeastern Conference football on ESPN, Saturdays in the South, which I highly recommend. College football is huge in the South, and always has been; the series is doing a great job of exploring the reasons behind that as well as the history of college football in the region. The episode I watched last night took a look at the conference from the 1970’s through the early 1980’s–and these are the games I remember watching, all those years ago. It was kind of fun seeing the “Punt Bama Punt” game explored, as well as the great Alabama goal line stand against Penn State that won them the 1978 national championship. I’ve always wanted to write about SEC football–maybe someday I will, mainly from the point of view of being a lifelong fan of the sport and the conference.

Perhaps for my book of essays.

I’m also still reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, and it’s spurring a lot of interesting thoughts. I’m greatly enjoying the book, even as I am appalled by the horrors of white supremacy in New Orleans over the rich, dark history of the city; as I always say, I am not, by any means, an expert on New Orleans–what I don’t know would fill a library–but it’s a lot of fun to become more knowledgeable about the city’s dark, bloody, and violent history…which of course only inspires me to want to write more about the city’s past. I’m so behind on everything writing related–this volunteer project has really knocked me for a loop, delaying everything and pushing everything further back, and it never seems to end–but I am going to focus on writing and cleaning this weekend. I want to get all my errands taken care of before the weekend so I can have yet another weekend–like last weekend–where I don’t have to leave the house other than to take out the trash. Errands drain me of energy and leave me with no desire to write, for some reason.

Maybe because I am getting close to sixty. Who knows?

All right, perhaps it is time for me to head into the spice mines for a while. I’m on my second cup of coffee and the clouds in my head are starting to clear a little bit.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Walk Like an Egyptian

And just like that, it is now Friday. I’m still not entirely certain of everything I must get done this weekend, but at some point today I am going to have to make a list. I know I have to finish my essay, get further along on that short story I have due at the end of the month, and get some work done on another that isn’t due until March, but I want to start playing with.

Last night was another bad night as far as sleep was concerned, but I do feel somewhat rested today. My friend Lisa from Atlanta is in town, and I am meeting her after work today to hang out for a bit. My schedule has changed from early morning to early afternoon, which is always my preference–I’d rather never do any early mornings, quite frankly–and I am hoping this morning’s coffee will not only fuel me through this entire day of work but get me through hanging out with Lisa with some coherence. I have a lot of work to do this weekend–one of the many things I’ve allowed to fall to the wayside whilst working on this enormous volunteer project is housework, other than the dishes and laundry–and I really need to get that under control. The weather is still pretty awful here, although it’s getting to the point where it’s cool in the morning and cool in the evenings, which is a sign the heat’s going to break relatively soon.

It’s also Friday the 13th, which I just realized, and there’s a full moon tonight, methinks.

I’ve been reading Lords of Misrule by James Gill, as I have mentioned previously, and it’s really quite eye-opening. It’s funny to me in some ways because all of my reading of New Orleans history this and last year has shown me that New Orleans has always been a rather lawless city, with high rates of brawls, murders and robberies; I am sure rape rates have always been high but never reported back in those days. The history of the city can essentially be summed up in the theme I am using for Bury Me in Shadows: “The history of this city was written in blood.” It shames me that I’ve not studied the history of my home city and state in more detail, and that it has taken me this long to start. I’m going to be writing a historical short story soon–I’ve been asked to write one for an anthology, and I am setting it in 1913-1914 era New Orleans, in Storyville, and I think it will be incredibly fun to write, and I know it will be incredibly fun to research. I really do want to, at some point, write more historical fiction set in New Orleans; the history here is fascinating, if a little frightening–the white supremacy and racism is particularly horrible for such a seemingly tolerant city; but we also have to remember the horribly homophobic reaction of most of the city when the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in the French Quarter, was set ablaze in the worst mass murder of queer people in American history until the Pulse massacre in Orlando a few years back. (I really can’t wait to read Robert Fieseler’s Edgar winning Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Upstairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.)

Anyway, I am at the chapter in Lords of Misrule called “The Battle of Liberty Place,” and I am already dreading reading it in some ways. I know a little about this; all I really need say is it involves a mob of white supremacists and it happened in 1874, during Reconstruction while the state was occupied after the Civil War and…I don’t really need to draw a picture, do I? The Battle of Liberty Place monument was one of the Confederate memorials in the city that were taken down during Mitch Landrieu’s administration, and while I believe they all had to go (I was truly tired of saying to visitors I was showing around, “and here we are at politically incorrect Lee Circle, which memorializes treason”), the Liberty Place monument in particular was a disgrace to a modern city. (I had considered doing a Scotty book around the memorials and their removal, but decided ultimately against it. I don’t like the Scotty books to be fixed in time; there are times when I’ve regretted writing about the Saints winning the Super Bowl) I don’t consider myself to be particularly “woke”, but I do recognize I’ve benefited from privilege most of my life, and while being gay has resulted in some marginalization, I’m still a cisgendered white male, which in this society and culture puts me on third base already.

I can always do better when it comes to issues of race, gender, and sexuality–and it’s something I think about every day at least once. I strive to be a better ally than I am. It really is amazing, when you think about it, how indoctrinated we all are into this shit.

And the history is absolutely horrifying–and it’s disgraceful how it’s been sanitized into mythology.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, aren’t they? Sheesh. But it’s hard not to read about  angry mobs murdering people they’ve othered, and not be appalled by it. I haven’t even gotten to the xenophobic massacre of Italians in the 1890’s yet.

Yes, New Orleans is a city with a history that drips blood; a city of massive contradictions, and it’s not hard to believe that the city’s history haunts it. And yet it is still a magical place, where all that pain and blood and suffering has been somehow transmuted into gold through art and music and literature. The city will probably never stop fascinating me, and I will undoubtedly spend the rest of my life studying it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. One of the things that is completely out of control is my inbox; I’ve got to do something about that this morning.

Heavy sigh.

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Here I Go Again

Facing down yet another Monday like a beast.

I went to bed early last night–just watching the Nadal-Medvedev final in the US Open was exhausting, in addition to the emotional rollercoaster of the LSU-Texas game the previous night, and putting finishing touches on the volunteer project (we’ll be tying up loose ends all week, I suspect), and around nine-ish last night I was just worn out, and went to bed. I slept off and on all night–not sure how that’s going to play out today–but I guess we’ll see. I have two long days in a row for the first time in a few weeks, and I fear my body is no longer used to that abuse…but I guess we’ll see. Now that I have a half-day on Wednesday instead, it might make things easier for me in the middle of the week.

Here’s hoping, at any rate.

I printed out the first four chapters of the final rewrite of the Kansas book last night, and it’s better than I thought it would be–the chapters I’ve already done need some work, and I need to seed the rest of the story a bit more. I’m trying something different with it–just as I did in Bury Me in Shadows, which is first person present tense–I am trying to do this in a remote third person point of view in the present tense. I noticed that despite my attempts to keep it in present tense, I slipped into the past tense a number of times out of force of habit, which is one of the reasons why I am writing this in the present tense; I want to not only shake things up for me as a writer, but break the habits of doing things the same way every time. I want to continually push myself as a writer and as a story-teller, and the best way to do that is to expand and try different things, different styles, different methods of storytelling, different ways of presenting the narrative and writing different kinds of crime novels. Laura Lippman is a master of this; her last few novels have all been dramatically different in style, voice, tone, and presentation–After I’m Gone, Wilde Lake, Sunburn, and Lady in the Lake–there’s definitely a Lippman sensibility to them, but the stories and storytelling and construction of the books are all dramatically different. That’s kind of what I want to do with my own stand-alone novels; I’ll probably always come back to Scotty, and as I’ve said recently, there’s another Chanse novel I’m probably going to try to write sometime next year–but the entire point of the stand alones was to do different things and experiment with style as well as story and writing.

But now that all that’s left is wrap-up on the volunteer project–thank the Lord, you have no idea what an enormous venture this was–I can start getting caught up this week on everything else that has slid while I focused all of my prodigious energy on getting it finished. I love doing volunteer work; I often take things on that I shouldn’t, as they interfere with my writing and staying on top of everything else in my life, but I like helping out. One of the primary reasons I love my day job so much is because I feel like I’m helping people make positive changes in their life, and at the very least I am helping people get STI’s cleared up, if nothing else. I need to finish an essay by this weekend, and I have to finish a first draft of a short story that’s due by the end of the month. I’d also like to get some work on the Kansas book done–it may not be finished when I want it to be finished, but that’s also life, and I am certain I can get it finished, at the latest, in December. I also remembered I have a novella a publisher is interested in that I need to get to work on; it’s a long short story but there are any number of places where it can be expanded easily, and so I should be looking at that as well.

This has been, all in all, a pretty good year for me–I had a short story collection come out in the spring and a novel this month–and while I’d like to get both of these novels that are in progress finished and out by next year as well, I don’t think that’s going to happen, which is perfectly okay. Bury Me in Shadows took me a lot longer than I intended to get finished, and that’s perfectly okay; it happens. But I also think I can get a strong revision of it finished this December, and then I can get it turned in for January; a strong push and the Kansas book can be turned in at the end of January, and hopefully by then, doing a chapter a week,  I can also have a strong first draft of Chlorine finished as well. I also want to get more short stories written, as I would love nothing more than to have another collection out sooner rather than later. I’m also nominated for an Anthony Award for my short story “Cold Beer No Flies” from Florida Happens, which is pretty awesome; I sold my short story “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s (and the story was received pretty well by most reviewers; probably the most, and best, feedback after publication I’ve ever had on a short story) and I also sold my story “Moist Money” to Dark Yonder, which I’m pretty pleased about.

I’m still reading both Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which I hope to have more time to read now that the volunteer project is under some sort of control, and  James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, which is giving me a rather pointed history of racism in New Orleans, and it’s not pretty. We New Orleanians know there’s still systemic racism here in the city, as well as individual racism, but the history of slavery and racism in New Orleans is unique to this place and different than everywhere else; we had an entire middle-class of free people of color before the war, who weren’t obviously slaves but had to show deference to white people and were segregated out of places frequented by whites; Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series, beginning with A Free Man of Color, and Anne Rice’s The Feast of All Saints, are excellent fictional representations of that weird second-class citizenship the free people of color of New Orleans and Louisiana experienced. It’s still appalling, though, to read about lynch mobs and murderers never brought to proper justice for their crimes. Stained in blood as it is, New Orleans has a fascinating history, and has always been one of the more interesting places in this country.

And tomorrow is officially my new book’s birthday! Huzzah!

And now back to the spice mines.

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