O Come All Ye Faithful

I got my copy of the graphic novel Watchmen this week, and it’s way past time for me to read it; particularly since I’m loving the television series so much.

Then again, Regina King can do no wrong.

I did start reading Watchmen, and while not even halfway finished–not only am I hooked, but I am completely blown away by the story-telling…and the art is extraordinary. I can now see why it’s been talked about so much since its first publication. This is some epic story-telling, and even more amazing world-building. The storylines have layers and textures, the relationships between the characters, and the characters themselves are messy masses of contradictions and layers; it’s just simply mind-blowing how well this is done. The story itself, and how it’s structured, is also incredible. Watchmen not only lives up to all the hype–it surpasses the hype and deserves even more hype. The graphic novel is so stupendously good that it only emphasizes how incredibly well-done the show is–the show is a sequel to the graphic novel, some thirty years later.

And obviously, while it isn’t necessary for one to read the novel to watch the show, reading it does enhance the show tremendously.

I had also started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside last week–just the first few pages, getting a taste for it, and it really grabbed me. Yesterday I read the first few chapters and am also greatly enjoying it. This has been an exceptional year for crime fiction, and may even go down as one of the genre’s greatest years.

I’m now up to Prohibition in Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which was, quite naturally, an interesting time in New Orleans. I am pondering writing a crime series set during that time; the first woman police office, Alice Monahan–known as “Mrs. Officer”– worked during that time, and I think basing a series on her, dealing with everything going on in New Orleans and the country at the time; plus it’s a chance to explore the entrenched racism and misogyny of Jim Crow New Orleans.

Storyville is merely an added bonus.

Seriously, New Orleans history is so rich and vibrant, there’s material everywhere.

One of the reasons I wanted to write about Christmas in New Orleans in Royal Street Reveillon is because Louisiana’s culture is so rich and vibrant that it surprises me that we don’t have our own Christmas stories here. Sure, there’s The Cajun Night Before Christmas, which I love, but where are the other Christmas stories? As I mentioned the other day, I tried writing a Christmas fable once, “Reindeer on the Rooftop,” but it was so sentimental and sappy that it nauseated me. I tried revising it and making it more real and less sentimental for Upon a Midnight Clear, but I just couldn’t get anywhere with it. I did write one called “The Snow Globe,” which was more of a horror Christmas story, for an anthology that didn’t take it; I did get good feedback, and one of these days I’ll sit down with the story and the feedback and pull it together. Not sure where I’d try to get it published, but most likely it would go into my Monsters of New Orleans collection.

I just used the google to check, and I was correct: there are no hits on “New Orleans Christmas stories,” but broadening the search brought up an out-of-print volume called Christmas Stories from Louisiana, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins, and with quite an impressive collection of contributors. There are also some more listed here.

And wouldn’t a Hallmark Christmas movie set in New Orleans be amazing?

We even have a year round Christmas shop on Decatur Street, for Christ’s sake! (And don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind to write a series around that Christmas shop, either.)

But all these stories, at first glance, are simply plays on traditional Christmas stories–nothing new or unique to Louisiana or New Orleans.

So, maybe it’s up to me to create one?

Hmmmm.

Perhaps that is just what I’ll do.

I mean, why don’t we have something terrifying, like the Icelandic Christmas cat?

Maybe there’s a Christmas rougarou story that needs to be written.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I have been itching to write for days now, and I am going to spend the morning writing. Paul and I are going to stop in to see a friend who’s  been dealing with an injury this afternoon, and then it’s back home and to the computer. Tonight is the Heisman Trophy presentation, and I imagine we’re going to tune in to that in case Joe Burrow (GEAUX JEAUX!) wins that tonight–he’s already won every conceivable quarterback award under the sun over this past week. The kid is definitely an LSU legend…and then I can finally finish and post the lengthy post I’ve been writing throughout the season about him.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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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.

Pop Muzik

Friday, and a new month. Rabbit, rabbit, and all that, you know.

Or did I mess that up by typing something else first?

I’m so bad at these things.

Anyway, it is now February, and Carnival is just over the horizon. Parades literally start three weeks from today. #madness

I am taking vacation during most of the parade season; the new office is too far for me to walk to and from, so I decided to simply take vacation and actually enjoy parade season for a change. I should also be able to get a lot done during those days–kind of like a mini-staycation (although I loathe that not-a-word and can’t believe I still use it from time to time). I also can’t believe the first night of the parades is in three weeks. THREE WEEKS.

Of course, as Facebook seems to remind me on an almost daily basis, Carnival is late this year. Usually at this time parades are rolling and the city is full of tourists and I am exhausted from walking and working and going to parades. So, yes, Carnival is later this year than usual and yet somehow…it still snuck up on me? Go figure.

I finished reading The Klansman last night, but as I did some things occurred to me–namely, for a book about the Civil Rights struggle and racism in Alabama, there sure weren’t many characters that were people of color. Yes, a book about civil rights and racism placed the white people at the center of the story. Admittedly, the book wasn’t aimed at or written for people of color; the audience was white people…but I can’t see racist white people in the 1960’s reading the book and not being outraged by its “sympathetic” depictions of people of color. The book also sports the trope of the white savior–the “good white man” who stands up for the people of color and therefore becomes a target of the Klan.

There’s a really good essay–and one I might try to write–about the arc from The Clansman (the horribly offensive novel that Birth of a Nation was based on; it’s actually available for free from Google Books) to Gone with the Wind to The Klansman and how Southern people and authors rewrote history to not just romanticize and glorify the Southern Cause in the Civil War, but also the Ku Klux Klan; and how those narratives have changed perceptions not only of the war and racism, and the South itself. The Klansman is an attempt to reverse that trend, but to expose racism in the Jim Crow South not as something romantic and necessary, but as an evil on par with the original sin of slavery itself.

William Bradford Huie (who also wrote The Americanization of Emily, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, and The Execution of Private Slovik) deserves a lot of credit for writing this book, despite its flaws. He was born and raised in Alabama, and still lived there when he wrote and published this book–which couldn’t have earned him a lot of fans in the state. I’ve read any number of books by white people that have attempted to talk about the Civil Rights movement–and there are always these heroic white Southern people who stood up to the Klan and fought for the rights of people of color at great risk to themselves and to their families; as well as pushing the narrative that the real racists in the South were the working class and poor whites, while the middle and upper classes wrung their  hands with dismay but didn’t try to do anything. I think that narrative is false; white people aren’t the heroes of the Civil Rights movement by any means. And while class certainly played a huge part in Jim Crow and the codification of segregation and racism into law; I find it really hard to believe that more financially stable white Southern people weren’t racists. I first encountered the class discussion in David Halberstam’s The Fifties (which I do highly recommend); but while I do believe the class discussion has merit–and discussion of class/caste in America is way overdue–I don’t think it completely holds water, or holds up under close scrutiny.

Ironically, Jim Crow and codified racism is part of the reason the South lags so far behind the rest of the country economically.

We continue to ignore class in this country at our own peril, quite frankly.

I am going into the office early today to get my four hours out of the way, and then I am going to go run errands so hopefully I won’t have to leave the Lost Apartment this weekend. I hope to get all the cleaning and organizing done today, and then I am most likely going to either read Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress or Caleb Roehrig’s White Rabbit, which I am picking up at the library today. I also am going to tackle some Stephen King short stories this weekend, rereading Skeleton Crew. I need to get back to work on both the Scotty book and the WIP this weekend; I also want to do some short story revisions so I can send some more stories out for submission. I also have some other projects in the beginning stages I’d like to organize and plan out.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines. Have a terrific Friday, Constant Reader!

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If Ever You’re In My Arms Again

Thursday! It’s hard to believe Christmas is just next weekend. But I mailed my Christmas cards last night on the way home from work (I am very proud of myself; I generally don’t do cards. But this year I not only bought them, but addressed and stamped them and put them in the mail. Not sure how this all came about, but there you have it.), before stopping at the grocery store, and there it is. I’m a bit worn out this morning, tired despite sleeping well (one lovely thing about colder weather is that I sleep better), but I don’t have a lengthy day today and tomorrow is a short one. I hope to start revising stories today while also working on the book some. We shall see how that goes.

I”m still processing the election results in Alabama the other night. I pretty much saw the whole thing as a foregone conclusion; I am from Alabama and my family is from there, and outside of my immediate family, almost everyone on both sides still lives there. I am very well aware of what the Roy Moore supporters are like, how they think, etc. I didn’t need to red Hillbilly Elegy–I did try, but it’s Appalachian apologia was so smug and frankly, wrong I not only put it in the donation pile but I also donated the cover price I’d spent to the Southern Poverty Law Center. (For the record, I think that book is a falsehood designed not only to fool liberals but to lure them into a false state of understanding; one that will hoodwink them into being fooled again and again. There was nothing true or profound in that book.)

I love Alabama in spite of not only itself but myself. The Alabama values the entire country saw on display during the Roy Moore campaign (a pedophile is better than a Democrat; the entire country is out to get us in a liberal conspiracy; we had no race problems here until Obama; Roy Moore waving his pistol at a rally; everything about Kayla Moore–from her teen pregnancy to  her adulterous affair to her divorce to her gold, diamond encrusted earrings she wore on every occasion to prove to everyone just how much more Christian she is than everyone else) are something I am well-acquainted with; I’ve dealt with that mentality my entire life and have tried, unsuccessfully, to wrap my mind around it for fifty-six years: a Christianity that has nothing to do with the actual teachings of Jesus; an almost fanatical belief that their belief and values are the only right ones and anyone who disagrees is in the service of evil; that Satan is very real and working his evil on the country and the world through the Democratic party; and an absolute, unwavering faith that they are going to Heaven and anyone who disagrees in the slightest way with the way they think is going to straight to Hell unless they repent and change their ways and believe what they do and get on board with their version of not just religion but politics. Religion and politics are very much mixed in the South, and don’t ever believe otherwise; they are used interchangeably to validate the other.

It has always been thus; thus is may always be. And don’t mistake it–this election was far closer than it should have been.

Maybe my outlook is a bit bleak, but the county where my family is from in Alabama went 76% for Moore. So I know whereof I speak.

A while ago, I talked about rereading To Kill a Mockingbird and having a lot more issues with it than I did when I originally read the book, back when I was ten or eleven. Don’t get me wrong, the central message of the book–racism is terrible and wrong–still comes through just as strongly as it did when I originally read it, and it’s still incredibly beautifully written. The problems I saw with it, though, went way beyond the notion or concept of the white savior; which Atticus Finch certainly was. Probably the most false scene in the book to me, and the most problematic, was the scene where Tom is in jail and the sheriff comes to get Atticus because those trashy Ewells have gotten some of the other trashy rural people in the county riled up about Tom’s alleged rape of Mayella Ewell; and they want to lynch him. When I originally read the book the horror of those terrible racists coming to exact an unjust punishment on Tom terrified me, and I was thrilled that the upright citizens of the town came to stand off against them and save Tom. Rereading that as an adult–well, every bit of it read to me as not only false but a-historical. Anyone who knows anything about the Jim Crow south knows that the sheriff wouldn’t have gotten some “good men” together to protect a black man accused of raping a white girl; the sheriff would have been one of them. All one has to do is read accounts of what happened to Emmett Till…and so many others, to call bullshit on this part of the book.

Not every white person in Alabama is, or was, a racist; an active member of the KKK. But those who didn’t stand up to those who were? The word we’re looking for is complicit.

I still haven’t read Go Set a Watchman, but I will at some point. I’m still amused at all the people, mostly white, who were so upset and horrified that their beloved Atticus Finch turned out to be a racist and a segregationist after all. I never once got the sense when I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird, even when I was a child, that Atticus wasn’t a racist; he was appointed by the court to represent a black man accused of raping a white girl–and he did, as he was an ethical lawyer, bound to to defend him to the best of his ability. He did so. Did that make him a better man than a lawyer who might have refused to take the case? Yes, it did. It also made him a better man than a lawyer who would have taken the case and botched it. But what also strikes me as false about this book was the judge who appointed Atticus, knowing he would do the best job possible. Really? Again, all you have to do is read accounts of Jim Crow justice in Alabama to know this is also false. If Tom Robinson wasn’t lynched  he most certainly would have been railroaded. He was found guilty despite the great job Atticus did in his defense, despite proving that Mayella Ewing’s testimony couldn’t have been the truth. That, indeed, seemed real and true to me. But the system in 1930’s Alabama trying to be fair to Tom? Bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong: To Kill a Mockingbird is still a beautiful book, and its message is a good one. But it’s also a fairy tale; a fiction that would have never happened in the time period in which it was set. I also can see why Harper Lee’s editor persuaded her not to publish Go Set a Watchman, in which Scout deals with her father being a segregationist, and write To Kill a Mockingbird, in which her father is a hero fighting prejudice and racism, instead. That was the book that needed to be published at the time; and it was a very savvy move. The book was a huge bestseller, has never been out of print, won the Pulitzer Prize, and was made into an Academy Award winning film classic.

This election, in which a small majority of Alabama voters, led by people of color, chose not to elect the racist homophobic evangelic Christian child molester, was a wonderful outcome on every level. akin to the Louisiana electorate choosing the Democrat over adulterous whoremonger David Vitter for governor. But is this is a sea change for the two deep red Southern states, both of which have a proportionally large evangelical Christian population who seriously believe there were no racial issues in their state until Barack Obama was elected president? Only time will tell–and progressives and Democrats have a lot of work to do in the meantime. A lot. But the South can be won back. It won’t be easy, but it can happen.

And now back to the spice mines.

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