Big Time

LSU won again last night, blasting Arkansas 56-20 to win the West division for the first time since 2011, and a date in the SEC title game with Georgia. The Tigers are now 10-0, and pretty much all the entire college football world can talk about; upstaging defending national champion Clemson and even Ohio State, the power of the Big Ten this year. It has been quite a ride for us Tiger fans this year, and of course the whole state is abuzz with excitement; I can’t remember a time when both the Saints and LSU had the chance to go all the way in the same season.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but sunny and lovely outside. I’m not sure if this means it’s also cold outside–when I take the recycling out later I imagine I will find out–but my morning coffee is doing an absolutely lovely job of warming up my insides this morning, which is also lovely. I’m still on vacation–one week from today is the last day of it–and so far I’ve not really accomplished much of anything, really. I’ve done some cleaning and organizing, but for the most part have enmeshed myself in laziness and making excuses for not doing anything–primarily from watching television. After the LSU game ended last night, we watched the final three episodes of Unbelievable, which didn’t disappoint. Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette deserve Emmy nominations at the very least; but with all the A-list names that are coming to television and doing great work, the Emmys are becoming more competitive than the Oscars.

I am also still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is only deepening my knowledge of just how wild and rowdy and sinful New Orleans has always been, even back in the beginning–which makes all the complaints we currently deal with from people about our crime rate a bit…I don’t know, seem a little ignorant? New Orleans has always been a city of sin, with all kinds of crime and criminal activity and licentiousness and prostitution and drinking and pretty much every kind of “vice” you can think of flourishing here–as it always has in port cities, like San Francisco and Havana and Miami and Cartagena. Reading Campanella’s book makes me even more fascinated with the history of New Orleans, and considering, seriously considering, the possibility of writing more historical crime fiction about the city. As I may have mentioned before, I’d already started writing a historical short story about the city; I’ve also been asked to write a Sherlock Holmes pastiche set in New Orleans, which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; being asked to do so seemed almost serendipitous, given the deep dive I’ve been making into New Orleans history over the course of the last year.

There are, of course, any number of crime novels/series set in the past in New Orleans; I’ve not read David Fulmer’s jazz age/Storyville crime novels, but I loved Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, which opened with A Free Man of Color. I know James Sallis also wrote a detective series set in the early twentieth century; I read one of them but never finished the series (he is perhaps best known for his novel Driver, which was made into a film with Ryan Gosling). I’m sure there are others–time to consult Susan Larson’s Book Lover’s Guide to New Orleans–and at some point, I need to go back to read classics from New Orleans’ past. (My education in New Orleans Literature is sorely lacking; just as my education in classic literature and crime fiction wind up being sorely lacking as well.)

There’s simply never enough time, is there?

I’m going to try to get some writing done today, as well as some progress on reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and hopefully today I’ll also be able to get those blog entries about the books I’ve read lately finished as well.

One of my (attainable) goals for this week is to get all of my email answered; I am tired of things just sitting there, nagging at me and gnawing at my subconscious. But I am going to just ignore it again today–several years ago I decided to release myself from the tyrannical bonds of my email by not answering emails on the weekend; I can still read them, but I won’t answer before Monday; because emails beget emails, and responding to one means you might get another one to respond to, and so on, and so on, and suddenly all your valuable writing and/or goofing off time has magically vanished, circling around the drain of the endless cycle of email.

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Heartbreaker

Adjusting to normality after the madness of Carnival is never an easy thing to do.

Fortunately, it always involves a short work week–three days–and before I know it the weekend will be here and Monday will be when things really get back to normal around here.

In other exciting news, my own Mardi Gras Mambo was included in a round-up of crime novels set during Carnival, along with noted writers whom I admire, such as Bill Loefhelm, James Sallis, James Lee Burke and Barbara Hambly, among others. (You can check out the entire list here.)

Isn’t that lovely? It’s always nice–and a bit of a surprise–when I find myself on lists like this, whether it’s “gay crime writers” or “books about New Orleans” or “New Orleans crime writers” or pretty much anything, really. I must confess, whenever I see a list where I could be included and am not, it always stings a little bit; I suppose that’s something I will never get used to…and I always wonder, is it because I’m gay? Do queer writers not count? Of course when it’s a list of queer writers it can be a bit maddening, but if you let things like that derail you or hurt your feelings…you’re in the wrong business.

You have to not let the exclusions bother you and celebrate the inclusions…which isn’t easy.

Yesterday was a day of utter discombobulation as I tried (and failed, really) to adapt back to my work schedule, which means I did go to work but the rest of my life floundered around the edges. I didn’t even get around to answering emails yesterday, which was a priority, or paying the bills. But this morning I paid the bills (which is always a crushing blow on pay day) and have another hour or so before I have to get ready for work–so the goal is to tear through my emails and get as many answered as possible.

Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also started rereading Bury Me in Shadows last night; and yes, the first chapter is, as I feared, a total mess–but it’s fixable, and I am going to continue rereading those first ten chapters this week and work on fixing them before moving on to the rest of the book. I just need to get past this weird feeling leftover from Carnival, where I don’t feel like I am actually a part of my life but am kind of drifting alongside it, observing but not participating in it, if that makes any weird kind of sense.

But I am hoping today will sort that out. The kitchen is a mess–I did the dishes when I got home last night, but there still is a mess everywhere in here and the floor needs to be done–and get some more things sorted and organized. I slept really well last night and didn’t want to get out of bed this morning; tomorrow is a get up at the crack of dawn morning but it’s also only half-a-day, so I am going to try to get all my errands done tomorrow afternoon on the way home from work so as to be able to, once again, not leave the house this weekend.

I find that I really do enjoy those weekends when I don’t leave the house.

I also managed to read another short story last night, from Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There?, titled “The Bird Bath”:

Opening her door for the first time to Mr. Mitson, Mrs. Pryor felt a sense of recoil. He looked like a tramp of the kind not often seen nowadays. He had a very red face, sharp red-rimmed little eyes, and a week’s growth of beard. He wore a dirty old army greatcoat, made for a bigger man, and a hat which had long ago lost its original color and shape. He smelled strongly of beer.

Nearby, however, actually in her tiny drive, stood a reassuring sight, a white pony, plump and shiny and with the placid look of a well-treated animal. Attached to the pony was a small cart, bearing in white paint the words–J. Mitson, Dealer. This morning J. Mitson was dealing in firewood.

Over the next few days, as the widowed Mrs. Pryor settles into her new home–having returned to England after years abroad with her husband–in East Anglia, Mr. Mitson keeps coming back and selling her things…with the final thing he sells her being a strange bird bath; a plinth with a wide open space at the top.

And that’s when things get interesting.

Another enjoyable, Gothic style, softly whispering ghost story. I love that Lofts isn’t into outright horror or jump scares, but like The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House, her whispered stories make the hair stand on end and the skin crawl.

SO glad I got this book!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Hazard

Thursday morning and I am still feeling unwell.

And winter has arrived in New Orleans; a cold front that of course would be considered spring or fall most everywhere else north of I-10 arrived overnight. It is amusing that our local weather people are talking about a cold front when it is seventy-four degrees outside. But that’s at least a ten degree difference from yesterday, and it is getting close to mid-October, so the colder weather is fairly overdue.

Colder, not cold.

I’m hoping that today is the last day of this lingering whatever-the-hell-it-is; that one more day of soup and vitamin C and juice and DayQuil will not only make today bearable but will also cure whatever it is that ails me. I really loathe being sick–not, of course, that anyone else really likes being sick. Although I suppose there are some who do.

Yesterday as I spent the day covered in blankets in my easy chair I finished reading Circe by Madeline Miller (already wrote about it, but buy it–it’s fantastic), and then fell into some New Orleans history worm-holes on the Internet on my iPad. The history of New Orleans is so rich and vibrant; bloody and filled with not only death but defiance. It started with me seeing a post from the Historic New Orleans Collection of an article about Prohibition in New Orleans–which was pretty much ignored and not really enforced as much as it should or could have been, perhaps–and I thought to myself, self, there’s probably a really good novel that could be set in this time period dealing with Prohibition and everything else going on in the city at the time. Was it James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series that was set in the past? Which reminds me, I need to revisit that series anyway.

I am kind of amazed, really, how little of New Orleans history I actually do know. I mean, I know who founded the city and when, when it became Spanish rather than French, when it was sold to the United States, the Battle of New Orleans…but there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I do know some about the uglier parts of the city’s history–the homophobia and racism, Delphine LaLaurie, how I-10 was deliberately routed to destroy prospering African-American neighborhoods and of course, the hideousness of the Upstairs Lounge fire and aftermath–but there are so many gaps, as I said before. I know about the murder of the police commissioner that led to the mob violence against the Italian immigrants, and the horror of the battle of Monument Place; I know about the Axeman murders and Storyville and Bellocq and his photos of Storyville prostitutes.

But there’s so much more, and so much I don’t know. This is why I always laugh when people call me a “New Orleans expert.” I am far from that. I know neighborhoods and streets, houses and the Quarter. But there are entire populations of the city I don’t know much about; the Greeks and the Islenos, the Vietnamese in New Orleans East, and the growing Latin/Hispanic populations. There are neighborhoods I don’t know, and the West Bank is, for the most part, completely unknown to me.

In other words, I need to explore. I need to read more New Orleans history, and I need to get out in my car on weekends and drive around, exploring and visiting and sight-seeing. I do feel that my next series will most likely be set in New Orleans’ past; it’s just that I don’t know when or where or what it will be. I’ve experimented with the past in short story form; “The Weight of a Feather” (included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories) may not be set in New Orleans, but the main character is from here. “The Blues Before Dawn”, an in-progress story, is also set in the past…and I think it’s an interesting time/subject to take up. (I don’t know how to end the story or even what the middle is, if I am to be completely honest; but it has a terrific opening and I am sure the story will come to me someday.)

I think one of the primary problems I’ve had over the past few years, that sense of feeling disconnected from the city that I’ve mentioned before, comes from, in all honesty, not reading the newspapers here. When the Times-Picayune became the Sometimes Picayune I stopped reading it; I will only visit their website to read write-ups on the Saints and LSU games. The New Orleans Advocate is doing a great job of picking up the slack, but I never think to pick it up and read it. I need to be better about that; I need to be better informed on what is going on in the city. There’s currently a scandal brewing–or it’s already brewed–about the Archdiocese and one of the Catholic boys’ schools in town; it’s what you would expect–sexual abuse and a cover-up; which has happened so many times now in other cities as to be almost a cliche. There’s a novel there as well, even though when I had the idea a long time ago–years before this scandal brewed up and made it onto the public radar–I was told it wasn’t an interesting topic and no one would want to read it.

I disagreed then, and I disagree now. I think it’s not only timely, but people would read it. It would have to not be a cliche, and it would have to be cleverly done, but I think it would work quite well.

And now, I feel the fever returning and I need to go lie down again for a moment.

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Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

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