All You Had to Do Was Stay

Ironically, yesterday when I was talking about vampires, I buried my own lede; I actually have done some vampire fiction myself. (Clearly, I am terrible at this self-promotion/marketing thing.)

When I first moved to New Orleans, the city was somehow synonymous in my mind with vampires, which was primarily due to Anne Rice’s novels. This doesn’t, on its face, make that much sense; the novels are, for the most part, set in various other places around the world more so than in New Orleans. Louis, the main character of Interview with the Vampire, is from Louisiana, and he encounters Lestat and is turned originally in New Orleans–and while there are passages in the book set here and in Louisiana, the story itself is being told to the reporter in San Francisco. The Vampire Chronicles themselves occasionally return to New Orleans; but for the most part the stories themselves rarely take place here. (It would actually make more sense for me to have had that association from Anne Rice’s work made between New Orleans and witches; as most of The Witching Hour takes place in New Orleans.) After moving here I also discovered local author Poppy Z. Brite; his novel Lost Souls might actually be the definitive New Orleans vampire story. Since that well–New Orleans vampires–had been drawn from so often, so well, and so memorably by other authors already, I never really thought about writing vampire stories set in New Orleans. How could I compete with either Rice (with her legions of adoring fans) or Brite (with his smaller but equally adoring fan base)?

I was writing the Scotty series for Kensington when my editor there suggested I write a vampire novella for a collection they were doing called Midnight Thirsts; they had already done one volume of gay-themed erotic vampire stories that did very well for them, and I was enormously flattered to be asked to write one. As is my wont, when I started writing “The Nightwatchers” I began to slowly create an entire universe of supernatural beings, with rules; it actually grew from an original story I had written several years earlier with a female main character that was set in a theater group; more talented than the woman who always got the lead roles, she and her other actors believed that the woman getting the leads was sleeping with the director; one night at rehearsal a mysterious man shows up in the back of the theater, later approaches the main character and somehow–I don’t remember this part–shows her that her suspicions are true, and promises her eternity; she accepts his gift and then uses her new power to kill the director and the lead actress. It wasn’t a very good story, frankly, and was poorly thought out and poorly written, but it contained a structure that I wanted to use for “The Nightwatchers.” Several thousand words into the rewrite/adaptation I realized it didn’t work, so I got rid of the theater company and turned my gay male lead into a hustler who lived in one of those wonderful old decaying buildings in the Quarter, where you used to be able to get cheap rent if you didn’t mind rotting and tilted floors, insects, poor insulation, cracks in the walls, gaps around the windows, and staircases on the verge of collapse. His best friend, Rachel, lived in the same building in the apartment across the landing from his; she worked at a coffee shop on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. One night while Rachel is working–one of those wonderful foggy winter nights in the city–an older man with a foreign accent is in the shop and she’s waiting for him to leave so she can close. Philip, meantime, is off to a regular client in Uptown New Orleans. Philip is, unbeknownst to him, being stalked by a vampire; the old man is a “Nightwatcher,” who is aware the vampire is after Philip and is enlisting Rachel’s help to save him.

It’s actually not a bad story, really; (I was rereading it because I couldn’t remember many of the details, like character names and so forth) I had even considered writing an entire novel based on the premise, in which this would serve as the introduction..but I never got around to it. Life has a habit of interrupting my plans.

A few years later, when I was asked to write another novella, this time using the Todd Gregory name, for Midnight Hunger, I wrote “Blood on the Moon,” and used a lot of the same concepts I had originally used for “The Nightwatchers.” (I had originally planned on having Philip, who was turned in “The Nightwatchers,” be the vampire my main character encountered in the Quarter during Carnival; but since I was using a different name, didn’t see any point in trying to link them other than using that same universe.) And since I was writing the “fratboy” books as Todd Gregory, I made the guys down in New Orleans for Carnival fratboys from my fictional fraternity’s Ole Miss chapter. Cord Logan was the main character, and he falls in with a fraternity of vampires when he “gets separated” from his buddies and explores the gay end of Bourbon Street. He also winds up getting targeted by a male witch, having to be rescued, etc etc etc, and the story ended with Cord being completely turned, and joining his new brotherhood. I brought Cord and his best buddy from the actual fraternity back in the story, “Bloodletting,” which eventually became the first chapter of my one and only vampire novel, Need–which I’d hoped to be the first in a series of supernatural erotic gay novels; the next was going to be Desire, and I was going to get deeper into the mythology I had created with that one, as well as bring in the rest of the characters from “The Nightwatchers” (Rachel and the old man were a part of Need).

Cord was a special breed of vampire because he not only had become a vampire but had also drank the blood of the male witch–which to some of the other vampires made him an abomination; and he certainly was one to the witches, which meant the Council of Thirteen, which oversees all the supernatural creatures of the world, wanted him dead–as well as his fraternity brother, whom he’d had to turn. That was going to be the primary plot thread of Desire, which alas never came to be.

Here’s how “The Nightwatchers” opened:

Go home, old man, Rachel thought, tapping her black fingernails on the counter.

It was quarter till nine, fifteen minutes before she could lock the doors. Everything was clean, and the cash register was already counted down. All she really had left to do was dump the remains of the day’s coffee down the sink, lock the cash drawer in the safe, and turn everything off. She’d be gone by ten minutes after at the latest.

She glanced out the big windows fronting the coffee shop. The streetlight just outside cast a yellowish glow in the thick mist pressing against the glass. She shivered and looked back at the old man. He was sitting in one of the tables in the far corner, with the same cup of coffee he’d ordered when he came in around seven thirty. He hadn’t touched it. It was still as full as when she’d filled the cup, only no steam was coming off the black surface now. He didn’t seem to be watching for anyone, or waiting. He never glanced at his watch, which she’d spotted as a platinum Tag Heuer, nor did he ever look out the window. Every once in a while he would look up from his newspaper and catch her staring. He’d smile and nod, then go back to his reading.

Apparently, he was determined to read every word.

She stood up, bending backwards so her back cracked. The night had been really slow. The Jazz Café, even on weeknights, usually was good for at least thirty to forty dollars in tips. Tonight, when she’d counted out the tip jar, yielded less than seven dollars. Just enough to get her a pack of cigarettes and a twenty ounce diet Coke at Quartermaster Deli on her way back to her apartment. It wasn’t, she thought, wiping down the counter down yet again, even worth coming in for.

See what I mean? Not bad.

Although talking about this stuff has made me intrigued by it again; it really is amazing how many book ideas went nowhere for me. Maybe someday I will write Desire.

And now you see why I never get anything done. I call it creative ADHD.

And on that note..let me get back to work.

Vampires

And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.

I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.

Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.

It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.

I really miss doing my job every day.

And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.

Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.

We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.

So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.

Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.

I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.