It Never Rains in Southern California

Less than a week until Royal Street Reveillon is officially out in the world!

And so far, no current labor pains!

But, in fairness, it took me a good long while to write this book. My memory is so bad, and I’m so constantly and regularly busy, that I don’t even remember when I actually wrote it and turned it in to my publisher. I think it was earlier this year? I don’t remember–and that’s kind of sad. This is but one of the many reasons I don’t think I’ll ever write a memoir; my memory lies to me all the time and I never know what I remember correctly, let alone times and timelines and so forth. For example, when I was writing my essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” for Love, Bourbon Street, I went into it thinking I spent weeks in Kentucky at my parents’ after the evacuation, when it was actually less than three before I returned to Louisiana. That was a shock, believe me…but it’s true: we evacuated on August 28th, and I returned to New Orleans for good in early October after several weeks on the North Shore at my friend Michael’s. Stress and age and everything else combines to make things seem different in memory; and I’ve also noted, many times, how often people look back through a rosy glow of nostalgia. (I’ve always thought people view the past nostalgically because they aren’t happy, for one reason or another, in the present; they think oh, everything was so much simpler and easier back then. It’s usually not that true.)

So, Gregalicious, why did you decide to write a murder mystery built around a reality television show filming in New Orleans?

I didn’t watch An American Family, the first true reality show, back in the 1970’s on PBS, as the Loud family allowed their lives to be filmed for the entertainment of the masses. The show, which was the baseline for everything that came later, was quite controversial–I remember reading in the newspaper that one of the sons came out as gay on camera, which was kind of a big deal in the 1970’s–but in the 1990’s, I was a big fan of MTV’s sociological experiment, The Real World, and it’s sister-show that came later, Road Rules. But as the shows went on, they went from being a sociological experiment (hey, let’s take a group of seven kids from completely different backgrounds, make them live together and work on a project, and see what, if anything, they learn from each other) to being exploitative (hey, if all of them are young and beautiful and damaged, and we encourage them to drink and hook up, drama will ensue!), which was when I lost interest in watching them anymore. I also watched the game show version–The Challenges–primarily because the young men were always hot, often shirtless, and sometimes even less clad than that, plus watching the competitions was interesting. But it, too, eventually paled in interest to me–they were so repetitive, and the producers never intervened when violence broke out, and that was more often than not–and so I stopped watching.

The Real Housewives was different for me. Back in the day, we used to watch Bravo a lot–Inside the Actor’s Studio, Project Runway, reruns of Law and Order and The West Wing–and when they started promoting a new show they were doing called The Real Housewives of Orange County, I sniffed disdainfully at it. At that time, one of the hottest shows on network television was Desperate Housewives, and this seemed to be a rip-off, an attempt to cash in on the success of another network’s show by copying the title and so forth: “oh, if you like that show, here’s the real women of the area who are housewives, and what there lives are like.” The previews I’d see didn’t really encourage me to watch–the women seemed, for the most part, like horrible people, particularly Vicki Gunvalson–but as the show spawned spin-off shows in other cities and regions, I became more than passingly acquainted with them. They usually ran marathons on Sundays, and when it’s not football season Sunday television was pretty much a wasteland. I’d flip on the marathon for background noise while I read a book and Paul napped on the couch–but I also began to absorb the shows through a kind of osmosis. I knew who the women were and what their lives were like–but still didn’t watch regularly until around 2010, or 2011 or so.

And once I started giving Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills my full attention–yeah, I was hooked.

Paul would even watch with me from time to time…and we played a game: if they did a New Orleans version, who would they cast? It was fun, because we also were relatively certain none of the women we thought would kill it on such a show would ever remotely consider doing such a show (Southern Charm New Orleans proved us right), and then I began to think…but such a show here would be absolutely the perfect background for a murder mystery, because of the way everyone here is so connected to everyone else and there would be backstory and history galore.

I always saw it as a Scotty book, but when I turned it into the Paige novella, that changed things. I still wanted to do a Scotty book about a reality show, and I started making notes for one called Reality Show Rhumba. And, if you’re wondering, that’s where the character of Frank’s nephew Taylor Wheeler came from; when I added him to the regular cast of characters for the Scotty series, my intent was to have him eventually be case in a Real World-type show here in New Orleans, and anchor a murder mystery. But then…the Paige novella series went nowhere, and I hated losing such a great idea..so as I went into Garden District Gothic I introduced Serena Castlemaine to the boys, thus planting the seeds for Royal Street Reveillon, knowing I could keep some parts of the story but would have to change others–which was cool, because I always felt that the original novella was kind of rushed, and I didn’t have either the time–or the space (since novellas are by nature shorter)–to make the story what I wanted it to be.

And now, back to the spice mines.

285654_10151224009396509_1642606770_n

Let’s Get Rocked

How about dem Saints? Damn, they look like the Alabama of the NFL.

A long day in the car stretches before me. Just thinking about it makes me tired, oh so tired.

So don’t think about it, bitch.

In exciting news, I can now announce that my story, “Neighborhood Alert,” has sold to Mystery Tribune.

“Neighborhood Alert” was one of the stories I wrote in the flurry that was the first quarter (or first half?) of the year. I’d had the idea for a long time; the inspiration came to me one day when we were living back on Camp Street. I never used the front door of the apartment–or rarely, at any rate–because we had off-street parking and I usually came in through the apartment’s back door. But one morning when I was coming home from training a client I noticed there was a white piece of paper stuck in the mail slot in the front door. When I retrieved it, it was one of those sex offender notices–we are required by law to let you know a sex offender has moved into your neighborhood–and while I certainly understand why this is done…at the same time, there’s an element of continuing to punish the criminal after they’ve served their time about it that makes me a little squeamish.  But if I had a child I’d want to know, and if I were a woman I’d want to know. So, therein lies the intellectual and moral dilemma.

And, in the back of my head, I always wanted to write a story which opens with a character getting one of those notices on his/her front door. And vóila, at some point early in the year I wrote that story and started shopping it around.

And now, it has sold. How lovely is that?

I will talk about the story more when it is closer to seeing the light of day.

I’ve successfully managed to download A Game of Thrones to my phone, so hopefully I’ll have that for listening as I drive north, and I’ll decide if audiobooks are indeed something I can make a part of my reading life going forward. I’ve added the Duolingo app to my iPad so I can continue with my Italian lessons–some of the words are starting to stick with me, but being able to hear and identify the words isn’t going quite as well.

I also read “The Nature of My Inheritance” by Bradford Morrow, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

In the wake of my father’s death, my inheritance of over half a hundred Bibles offered me no solace whatsoever, but instead served to remind me what a godless son I was and had always been. Like the contrarian children of police officers who are sometimes driven to a life of crime, and professors’ kids who become carefree dropouts, my  father’s devotion to his ministry might well have been the impetus behind my early secret embrace of atheism. In church, listening to his Sunday sermons, as I sat in a pew with my mother near the back of the sanctuary, I nodded approvingly along with the rest of the congregation when he hit upon this particularly poignant scriptural point or that. But in all honesty, my mind was a thousand light years away, wallowing, at least usually, in smutty thoughts. His last day in the pulpit, his last day on earth, was no different. I cannot recall with precision what lewd scenario I was playing out in my head, but no doubt my juvenile pornography, the witless daydream of a virgin, did not make a pretty counterpoint with my father’s homily.

One of the fun things about reading anthologies is discovering new writers, or rather, new-to-me writers. I’d not read Morrow before, but I’ve added him to my list of writers whose canon should be explored. This story is interesting and goes places I certainly never imagined; and the voice of the young man who is telling the story–a slightly amoral young man whose father’s devotion hid a lot of secrets, which his son will slowly uncover, is exceptional. The story could have just as easily been called something like “Lessons My Father Taught Me” or something like that; but this title is just fine–it doesn’t give anything away, and it’s truly a wonderful, fun story. I was very pleased with it.

Once I get caffeinated and clean the kitchen, I’m hitting the road.

IMG_4383

The Streak

Yesterday was, for the most part, a great day (do NOT mention the travesty/joke that was the LSU game last night; that entire officiating crew, including the booth, should be fired with extreme prejudice. I am not one to blame officiating for losses, but LSU won the game three times and they kept giving A&M just one more chance. Fuck. Off. It’s very hard to not begin–after so much of this the entire season, and not just against LSU–as corruption from the SEC office on down. Greg Sankey needs to resign. NOW.). I got up early and started trying to play catch-up (I was unplugged for most of the week) and then had coffee with my friend Pat, who is a noted historian and a terrific person. I was picking her brains about New Orleans research and she also had an experience I wanted to know about as background for a short story I am writing (“Please Die Soon,” if you must know), and we wound up spending almost three hours chatting, and she also gave me some more ideas for Monsters of New Orleans, which was a lot of fun. We met at the PJ’s on Maple Street in a part of Uptown I’m not sure what to call (Uptown? University? Riverbend?) but it was quite nice to see a part of New Orleans I rarely go to–and discover things–like there’s a lovely breakfast place next door to PJ’s, along with a Christian Science Reading Room (who knew?) and a Starbucks across the street (“Caffeine Alley,” I joked). So after we were finished, I went over to the Starbucks and got some espresso beans for the house, and an insulated travel mug. From there it was about a ten minute drive to Costco, and then back home. I finished reading End of Watch, did the laundry, cleaned and organized the kitchen, and started organizing and doing things in the living room while football games played in the background.

One thing about staying with my family–my mother makes Joan Crawford look like a filthy hoarding slob–was all I can see is how dirty the Lost Apartment is, and how irrationally and inefficiently organized it is. So, yeah…I’m working on that, and probably will today as well.

I need to start digging through all the emails that piled up while I was gone, and I also need to pay bills and update my checkbook. Heavy sigh. But I’ve slept well since coming home, which is lovely, and today I have to make a grocery run, which I will do later this morning.

One thing about driving across country is one is reminded precisely how beautiful this country actually is, or how incredibly vast. New Orleans to Kentucky is over seven hundred miles and takes about twelve hours to drive; and that’s not even close to being halfway across the country. As I drive through Mississippi, Alabama, a small piece of northwest Georgia and through Tennessee–particularly Tennessee–I cannot help but marvel at how beautiful it is; the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee between Chattanooga and Knoxville in particular at this time of year as the leaves are turning. Every time I drive through there I wish I had more time, so I could stop at Scenic Lookout points and take photographs so I can share the amazing beauty with you, Constant Reader.

On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the Confederate flags mounted on the front license plate frames of pick-up trucks and BMW’s and Hondas. This always saddens me when I see it; this clinging to a horrible past and ignoring what that flag actually means to most Americans. Its use, to me, is basically saying fuck you, slavery was a good thing to everyone who sees it, and rather defiantly, at that. As I drove home on Friday, after seeing a proliferation of these on the highway between Fort Payne and Birmingham, an idea for an essay came to me (“Song of the South”) about the “heritage not hate” mentality, and developed that thought even further after talking to Paul about the trip when I got home.

I have so much to write, and so very little time to do it in. Heavy sigh. Sometimes it feels to me that time is nothing more than sand held in my cupped hand on a windy morning at the beach; the grains slipping out of the palm and through the fingers as I desperately try to cling to it.

Heavy sigh. I also want to write up A Game of Thrones and End of Watch.

But I did read short stories while I was gone, and next up is “Mystery, Inc.” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler.

I am very excited! For at last, after several false starts, I have chosen the perfect setting for my bibliomystery.

It is Mystery, Inc., a beautiful old bookstore in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a town of less than two thousand year-round residents overlooking the Atlantic Ocean between New Castle and Portsmouth.

For those of you who have never visited this legendary bookstore, one of the gems of New England, it is located in the historic High Street district of Seabrook, above the harbor, in a block of elegantly renovated brownstones originally built in 1888. Here are the offices of an architect, an attorney-at-law, a dental surgeon; here are shops and boutiques–leather goods, handcrafted silver jewelry, the Tartan Shop, Ralph Lauren, Esquire Bootery. At 19 High Street a weathered old sign in black and gilt creaks in the wind above the sidewalk:

MYSTERY, INC. BOOKSELLERS

NEW & ANTIQUARIAN BOOKS

MAPS, GLOBES, ART

SINCE 1912

As you can clearly see, Constant Reader, Mr. Penzler only recruits the upper echelon of crime writers for his Bibliomysteries, and few literary names have as much luster as the highly-acclaimed Joyce Carol Oates. Again, Ms. Oates is an enormously prolific and gifted writer; I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Oates canon but her work often leaves me awestruck and inspired and more than a little humbled.

“Mystery Inc.” is another one of her toothsome tales of darkness; the main character in this story owns several mystery bookstores in New England and has decided that this lovely bookstore in a small town on the New Hampshire coast is the next one he wants to acquire. The loving descriptions of the store, the artwork and rare books for sale make it sound, in Oates’ delightful prose, like a place I’d certainly wish to visit and somewhere you would have to pry me out of with a crowbar. The main character covets the store, and rarely have I ever read such a story of covetousness I could identify with so completely. But the main character not only wants the store, but has a dark plan for acquiring it. And, as always in an Oates story, things in the store might not be what they seem on their surface; the store has a dark, ugly history which the present owner shares…terrific story, absolutely top tier.

And now, back to the spice mines.

IMG_4386

Come and Get Your Love

I just need to make it through this day and I am on vacation.

Huzzah!

I am in the dreaded part of the draft-in-progress, the part that always works my last nerve and reminds me why writers drink: the second act.

One of the lovely things about being a writer is you never, truly believe you are one; and even if you–I am, of course, only speaking for myself rather than anyone else–do get something published, or have several books in print, etc., you always fear it’s going to go away. Your publisher might drop you, the well might run dry, people might stop reading your work…it’s a non-stop cycle of self-doubt, self-recrimination, and self-loathing.

The perfect career for me to pursue, right?

I think I am going to borrow an Audiobook from the library for my drive to Kentucky. I’m a little worried that listening to a book will be problematic for me; that I might get so lost in the story that I won’t pay attention to driving. This is always an issue for me; when I drive long distances listening to music my mind starts wandering to books/stories I am either writing or have already written or are some state of progress. (I’m actually hoping to have some serious thoughts on Bury Me in Satin–which I dreamed up on one of my many drives  to Kentucky over the last nineteen years.) I’ll start thinking up ideas for stories as I drive past the Alabama state line and the next thing I know I’m almost to Chattanooga–which scares me more than a little bit.

And it should.

So, this weekend is going to be spent cleaning and organizing, trying to get some things written, and preparing for my five day absence from home. Wish me luck, Constant Reader. I am also only taking my iPad with me, rather than the MacBook Air (which I thoroughly loathe) and will be trying to use it as a computer for the first time. We’ll see. I am hoping I can train myself to write on it.

And now, back to the spice mines.

IMG_4380

When I Look Into Your Eyes

GEAUX SAINTS!

Friday, while running my errands, I decided to finally stop at the Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue and get my goddamned library card. Yes, I have lived in New Orleans for over twenty-two years and had never gotten my library card. I had tried once before but that was when you had to fill out an application. Mine was denied because I used my mailing address rather than my actual home address; I got the denial in the mail and was highly annoyed. Instead of being an adult and thinking, oh, I’ll just swing by another time I never did; even though I have actually been to the Latter Library a gazillion times in the meantime. So Friday I finally did it; and amazingly enough, it’s all automated now. She entered my information into the computer and activated my card and voila, I walked out of there the proud owner of a New Orleans Public Library card.

I am really pleased with myself, which is kind of interesting. As I’ve said before, I’m reading Empire of Sin, and am wanting to do even more research into New Orleans history–and of course, the library card is an important first step for me. Part of this is my desire to write a short story collection called Monsters of New Orleans, which would be my foray into horror; I have some things already written that would work for it, but the majority of the stories would be original and new, and I want to base them in actual New Orleans history. Empire of Sin has been a veritable treasure trove of ideas for me; I am also looking at writing a historical mystery novel set here sometime between 1900 and the 1920’s. Maybe it will end up just being my short story “The Blues Before Dawn,” or maybe it will be a novel called The Blues Before Dawn.

Maybe both. Who knows?

The Saints are playing the unbeaten Rams today; this has not been a good football weekend for me; kudos to Alabama. I don’t see anyone even staying close to them in a game this year; other than possibly Clemson. The lovely thing about LSU being out of contention now means that I don’t really have to commit so thoroughly to watching college football games all day on Saturdays anymore; I’ll only need to watch the Tigers so my Saturdays have suddenly become more free. Ultimately, not a bad thing.

So, GEAUX SAINTS indeed.

One of the funny things about being a football fan is how committed one can become to one’s own superstitions; there are certain LSU shirts I won’t wear during games anymore, and the same with a pair of sweatpants, pictures to use on Facebook, and so forth. I realized how silly this was yesterday–like anything could possibly do has any effect on the outcome of a game, as opposed to the other hundreds of thousands of fans–and wrote down some notes for an essay about how weird being a fan can be; more fodder for The Fictions of My Life.

And yet…I wouldn’t wear my yellow LSU sweatshirt yesterday. I just couldn’t make myself do it.

I realized yesterday as I watched the Georgia-Kentucky game that we are several days into November and I haven’t yet started my unofficial Nanowrimo project, Bury Me in Satin; I intend to rectify that this morning. That extra hour of sleep has me up before eight this morning and feeling rested and inspired; it only took three days to get to this point. I did manage to clean yesterday during football games; I wasn’t terribly committed to watching Georgia-Kentucky, and during the stretches when Auburn was stinking up the field against Texas A&M I also organized and vacuumed and washed clothes, etc. So this morning, the Lost Apartment is relatively–relatively being the operative word–clean and looks nice. But not feeling fatigued this morning is quite lovely, to be honest; I worried I’d have one of my patented lazy moods today, and that is most definitely not the case. I want to get the chapter headings put in for the Scotty so I can get it turned in at long last; I want to get those tweaks done to Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories done; and of course, I simply have to get started on Bury Me in Satin. I also spent a lot of time reading Empire of Sin yesterday; I am now up to the part about the Axeman, and it’s absolutely riveting, particularly since I want to write a Venus Casanova story called “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” which I’ve already started, honestly. I also made some notes in my journal yesterday. Progress comes in all shapes and sizes, and I will embrace any and all of them that I actually experience.

And now, on that note, it is back to the spice mines. I should take full advantage of being wide awake so early in the morning; if I can get all of this stuff finished and done and out of the way before the Saints game, well, more power to me indeed.

And I may even be able to finally finish reading Empire of Sin today at long last–something to help keep my mind off the Saints game.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

44382249_2098481553537808_1381184684083380224_n