Somewhere Out There

And Thursday rolls around, which means the weekend looms on the horizon.

Yay, weekend!

It’ll be tense, though, with the LSU-Florida game looming on the horizon (GEAUX TIGERS!) and there’s also a road game for the Saints, I believe. But the LSU game is a night game (it’s Saturday night in Death Valley!) so I have all day to get things done. There are other games on, of course, but none of terrific interest. I find myself becoming less interested in spending the day parked in my easy chair watching college football games, and if I want to turn Bury Me in Shadows in on Monday, I’ll need to buckle down and get some things worked on this weekend as I rather doubt I’ll have the time to get the whole thing finished before the weekend….

I managed to make Swedish meatballs for dinner last night–they turned out the best they ever have, which was nice, especially since I made them without consulting a recipe. That means I’ll probably never make them exactly the same way ever again, as well–but I think that’s part of the joy of cooking, at least for me; I love always trying to improve on recipes I’ve made before with little tweaks here and there. I wish I had more time to cook, to be honest; it is something I rather enjoy doing.

I also slept incredibly deeply and well last night. I’m not really sure what’s going on or what’s different; but I’ve stopped taking my prescription for sleeping–I always worry about addiction issues. Obviously, the last thing in the world I would need would be to get addicted to something, so I’m trying to take the sleeping pills less frequently. Over the last two weeks I only took one on last Saturday evening, and now my sleep seems to be more natural and more restful and longer lasting. I don’t even think I woke up even once during the course of last night, which is a first.

I wonder if it’s because the humidity seems to have finally broken?

Maybe.

But it’s very weird to wake up on a Thursday and not feel exhausted. I’m not sure if how that bodes for the rest of the day, but it would be awesome to come home tonight and be able to bang out some more chapters of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d love to get that finished by the end of the weekend so I can turn it in on Monday; that would be lovely. Finishing it means I could get back to work on the Kansas book with an eye to getting it turned in by the end of the month as well. That would open me up to writing solely Chlorine and short stories through the rest of the year; which would be kind of awesome. Ideally, it would be amazing to get a strong draft of Chlorine finished by the end of the year, so I could start writing this new Chanse novel in January, or perhaps another Scotty; I’m not sure which should come next. The Chanse novel, which would be drawn from–ripped from the headlines, if you will–the Jeff Davis 8 case, would probably be an easier thing to write–the brilliance of using a real life case as the jumping off point for a fictionalization is that a lot of your story is already in place; the only thing I’d need to do is, of course, come up with a fictional solution to the mystery. The next Scotty,  on the other hand, is a lot more amorphous, as Scotty books always tend to be; the story kind of comes to me as I write it, rather than planning it out ahead of time. This frequently causes me headaches, of course, but Scotty simply can’t be written any other way. I am torn between writing Hollywood South Hustle, which would be really fun; French Quarter Flambeaux, which is really just a kernel of an idea, as is the other potential Scotty, Lake Shore Limbo. I also have another Scotty title in the hopper, St. Claude Second-Line, which is what the original title, Bywater Bohemia Bougie, evolved into.

Hollywood South Hustle is a summer novel, though, I think; whereas FQF could easily be a March novel, and I think March is the right timing for the next Scotty, since Royal Street Reveillon was a Christmas novel.

I also am thinking that my Chanse short story, “Once a Tiger,” might actually work better as a novella. (As you can see, I have novellas on the brain.) I had originally wanted to call my second short story collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but if it’s going to be a novella, it would fit better into the four novella thing I am planning to possibly do. Ah, plans, plans, plans; it really helps if you actually work on the damned things, though!

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines for this morning. I don’t have to get ready for work and leave for another two hours, and I might as well put that time to use.

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Bad Bad LeRoy Brown

So, rather than working on either the WIP, the other manuscript I need to revise, or any of the short stories I intended to revise this morning…I started writing another Chanse book. Oh, it’s going to have to be shelved for a while–these other manuscripts need my attention and I can’t keep pushing them to the side–but I had the Chanse idea, I wanted to get the first chapter down because I’d seen it in my head, and I managed to write three thousand words, quite easily, in less than two hours.

And all I could think, when I finished, was this is how easy it’s always supposed to be yet never is.

Sigh.

And it’s actually not bad writing. I printed it out to keep in a folder and reread it, and while there are some tweaks needed here and there, and some things that need to be added to it, it can pretty much stand on its own. It was spooky, too, how easily I immediately slipped back into Chanse’s voice and head; how the tone just flowed perfectly out of my fingers as I typed.

And yes, this is why writers drink.

But don’t get your hopes up too high, people and Chanse fans. I have to finish at least two other manuscripts, and do another project, before I can focus on writing this book–if I decide to go forward with it. I’m just trying to get all the ideas down now, as they are coming to me, so when I have the time and can work on it, it’s all there and I don’t have to try to remember it. I’d wanted to finish this WIP, go back and finish revising another manuscript before I have to devote myself to a special project for two months. This is why I wanted to have the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of June; so I could spend July revising the other manuscript before the two-month project–and then I wanted to write the first draft of the next Scotty (working title: Hollywood South Hustle) before revising the current WIP and getting it ready to go. But now I have a Chanse book crowding it’s way into my brain, and I know I am not going to be able to stop thinking about it until it’s fucking finished and written and turned in.

But you know what? So be it. When I finished Murder in the Arts District I thought I was finished with Chanse, and there wasn’t anything else for him to do or say or anything. And yet, here we are, with all kinds of ideas bursting out of my head, for a new Chanse. And yes, it’s inspired by the case of the Jeff Davis 8, but it’s not going to be ripped from the headlines; I’m going to take the basic set-up of the murders and use that for a Chanse book…one that doesn’t take place in New Orleans. I was always reluctant to have either Chanse or Scotty do anything that wasn’t in New Orleans, which was always limiting, and now that I look back on it, kind of stupid. As I said the other day, I am getting more and more interested, not only in New Orleans history, but in the rest of Louisiana as well. I’ve always liked mysteries/crime fiction set in small towns, and why not use a Louisiana small town for one?

And the dynamics of the Jeff Davis 8–the set-up for it, the town, everything–is just too perfect of a starting place for me to just pass up.

And it’s not like it’s the first time I came up with a story idea based on actual events.

Plus, it gives me the opportunity to explore some themes and ideas I’ve been wanting to sink my teeth into for a while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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Crocodile Rock

Oh, Louisiana.

My beautiful, beautiful state. Louisiana is basically a lush, fertile state chock full of important natural resources, and also sports the nickname “Sportsmen’s Paradise,” because outdoor sports–hunting, fishing, etc.–are abundant here. Lots of hunting, lots of fishing, that sort of thing.

But Louisiana also is known for corruption, being backwards in many ways, and some truly bizarre politics/politicians. It’s easy to say that Louisianans have a very cynical view of politics and politicians–no one is really surprised when one of our elected officials is caught doing something criminal or morally questionable; the basic presumption is that they’re all crooks and liars unless proven otherwise. We can never forget that one gubernatorial election featured bumper stickers and campaign slogans that read Vote for the crook, it’s important–when Governor Edwards, convicted for taking bribes in office, was running again after serving time and his opponent was notorious racist and former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

And for the record, that election was in the early 1990’s–not that long ago.

As I said yesterday, I watched a four hour documentary on Hulu this past week called Murder in the Bayou, about what is called the “Jeff Davis 8”–eight women murdered over a period of less than three years in and around the Jefferson Davis Parish village of Jennings. The women all  had issues with drugs, and also came from really poor backgrounds. The documentary was interesting, and seemed geared to the idea that there was a serial killer operating in the parish–and for some reason, the cops simply couldn’t track said killer down, and eventually the killings stopped.

I also remembered that there was a book about the murders, with the same title, by New Orleans journalist Ethan Brown, and I had a copy. So, after I finished watching the documentary Friday afternoon, I got the book down from the shelves and looked to see if there were any photographs included. There weren’t–just the flyer with the reward posted, with photos of all the victims on it. I started reading…

murder in the bayou

On May 20, 2005, Jerry Jackson, a soft-spoken slim African-American retiree with a short salt-and-pepper Afro, prepared to cast a fishing line from a hulking bridge over the Grand Marais Canal on the outskirts of Jennings in southwest Louisiana. Jackson peered down at the muddy rush below, the corroded, cylindrical rain pipes along the canal belching water, the collapsed pedestrian bridge far out in the distance. As he prepped his fishing line, Jackson imagined the catch that day, white perch, a small bass with a strong spine that’s so abundant in Louisiana it’s the state’s official freshwater fish. In low-lying southwest Louisiana, where rain is constantly siphoned to prevent flooding, drainage canals are as common as the perch. These canals provide sustenance for poor Louisianans for whom fishing is both a generations-old tradition and a day-to-day necessity. For hobbyists such as Jackson, who made the approximately ten-mile trip to Jennings from his cramped trailer on a dead-end street in nearby Welsh, drainage canal democratize fishing. Expensive shrimp boats and fishing equipment aren’t necessary–all one needs to do is drop a line into the water.

As Jackson peered deeper into the Grand Marais Canal, he spied the outline of a human body. “It had come up on the news that someone had stole some mannequins,” Jackson told me, “so I thought that one of the mannequins ended up in the water somehow.” Jackson focused his eyes on the figure. “I saw flies, and mannequins don’t attract flies.”

It didn’t take me long to get into the book to realize there was information, crucial information, about the victims in the book that wasn’t included in the documentary; in fact, the documentary left a lot of important information out. Yes, the women all had addiction issues, but they also were sex workers–turning to sex work to either get drugs, or to get the money to buy drugs. The police didn’t cooperate much with Mr. Brown, and the sister of one of the victims played a very prominent role in the documentary; she was only mentioned by name once in the book. Brown also shared the information that many of the victims were witnesses to other crimes, and theorized they were all killed to silence them–and that it wasn’t a serial killer after all. Brown also isn’t convinced completely that the police were so inept and incompetent to handle these kinds of investigations (something that came up a lot in the documentary), but that the parish police were actually corrupt, involved in the drug trade, and connecting all the dots also led to a peripheral involvement by a powerful politician. Naturally, the police and the politician disagree with Mr. Brown’s theories and conclusions…but he also includes, in the book, other crimes in the parish that may or may not have been connected to the murders, as well as corruption within the police department; things that were not in the documentary.

One of the things that struck me, while watching and again when reading the book, is how tragic the cycle of poverty is in these small towns, not just in Louisiana, but across the country. The class divide–marked in Jennings by literally railroad tracks that separate the good part of town from the bad–is truly staggering; I would imagine it’s much the same in big cities only not as obvious. The poor and uneducated people in places like Jennings are trapped in a terrible cycle of poverty that they cannot seem to break, which is truly sad, and the disruptive nature of the families they were born into doesn’t help much, either. And once someone starts spiraling down into drug addiction, there’s nowhere to turn to for help getting off the drugs…and there’s no money for rehab, which is incredibly expensive.

I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to stuck like that, with no hope for the future.

The book is very well written, and it’s not terribly long; I read it in one day, and it’s a terrific read. I do recommend it, and I also recommend watching the documentary as well. I’m curious about why they chose to leave some stuff out of the documentary that’s in the book–perhaps it has something to do with both using the same title but not adapting the book or using it as source material, or something along those lines–but it’s very interesting to see the two very different takes on the murders.

And yes, learning more about these murders did, in fact, give me an idea for another Chanse novel; the first idea I’ve had for a Chanse novel since I wrote Murder in the Arts District. I can easily see fictionalizing this story, with Chanse as the investigating private eye…or someone else, really; it doesn’t have to be Chanse, and the issues at play here–the disposability of drug addicted sex workers, class distinction, and corruption in the parish power structure–are things I would love to explore in a novel.

Like I don’t have anything else to write already, right?

And now back to the spice mines.