The Orion Mask

This is another one where I had the idea years before I actually sat down and wrote the damned book. I actually got the idea at my first ever Carnival; when I came as a tourist in 1995. We were at the Orpheus Parade on Monday night–I caught some beads thrown by Barbie Benton, if anyone remembers who she is–and I had noticed, at the parades since flying in late the preceding Friday for a long weekend, that the majority of the riders wore masks. I think I’d already known that, from books I’d read and movies and so forth, but seeing those plastic face-masks in person was a bit on the creepy side. I was already deeply in love with New Orleans–this was like the fifth or sixth trip I’d made there since my birthday the previous August–and that whole time I’d been thinking about how there had never been a New Orleans romantic suspense novel that I could recall; Phyllis A. Whitney wrote about New Orleans in Skye Cameron, but it was set in the 1880’s and I hadn’t much cared for the book (note to self: reread it!). I wanted something set in the present day, and as I caught more and more beads at the parade, it came to me: The Orpheus Mask.

I somehow even managed to remember the idea after staying out dancing until late at night, scribbling it down in my journal the next day. I honestly don’t remember if I flew home on Fat Tuesday or Ash Wednesday, but I also don’t remember Fat Tuesday, so it makes more sense that I did fly back on Fat Tuesday. I was an airline employee, after all, and since I had to fly standby would I have waited to fly home until Ash Wednesday, when every flight would have been overbooked by about thirty, or would I have flown home on a lighter travel day, Fat Tuesday? I’ll have to find my journals (I’ve been looking for the old ones forever; I distinctly remember finding them a few years back but I don’t know where I put them; perhaps I can spend some time looking for them this weekend?) to check and be sure. But The Orpheus Mask idea was always in the back of my mind somewhere–even after I moved to New Orleans and realized I couldn’t use “Orpheus” in the title, but the krewe and its parade were far too new and modern to work in the story I was developing. Finally I decided to simply invent a krewe, the Krewe of Orion, and thus the book’s title became The Orion Mask.

I also always knew that The Orion Mask was going to be my attempt at writing a romantic suspense novel, using some of the classic tropes of the genre, particularly those used by one of my favorite writers, Phyllis A. Whitney. I grew up reading her juvenile mysteries (the first were The Mystery of the Hidden Hand and The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye) and then I moved on to her novels for adults, the first being Listen for the Whisperer, after which there was no turning back. I went and devoured her back list (I haven’t read all of the books for juveniles) and then she gradually became an author whose books I bought upon release in hardcover. The last I read was The Ebony Swan; the quality of the books had started to slip a bit as we both got older plus the world and society had changed; even I had noted earlier that her characters were often–I wouldn’t go so far as to say doormats, but they didn’t seem to stand up for themselves much, and often the “nice” heroine was put in competition and contrast to an “evil” villainess; a scheming woman who didn’t mind lying and scheming to get what they want–which also included tormenting the “nice heroine”. (There were any number of times I thought read her for filth or whatever the saying for that at the time was.) My main character wasn’t going to be a pushover or weak; but I also wasn’t going to make him an asshole, either.

Taking this trip was probably a mistake I would regret.

I finished my cup of coffee and glanced over at my shiny black suitcases. They were new, bought specifically for this trip. My old bags were ratty and worn and wouldn’t have made the kind of impression I wanted to make. My cat was asleep on top of the bigger bag, his body stretched and contorted in a way that couldn’t possibly be comfortable. I’d put the bags down just inside my front door. I’d closed and locked them securely. I’d made out name tags and attached them to the handles. I’d taken pictures of them with my phone in case they were lost or misdirected by the airline. My flight wasn’t for another three and a half hours, and even in heavy traffic it wouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes to get to the airport. I had plenty of time; as always, I’d gotten up earlier than I needed to, and finished getting ready with far too much time left to kill before leaving for the airport. I checked once again to make sure I had my airline employee ID badge, my driver’s license, my laptop, and the appropriate power cords in my carry-on bag. I was flying standby, of course, but I’d checked the flight before leaving work the previous night and there were at least thirty seats open with a no-show factor of fifteen The only way I wouldn’t get on Transco flight 1537 nonstop from Bay City to New Orleans was if another flight to New Orleans canceled or this one was canceled for mechanical problems. But should that happen, I had my cousin’s cell phone number already loaded into my phone so I could give her a call and let her know what was going on.

I got up and poured what was left in the pot into my mug, making sure I turned the coffeemaker off.

The occupational hazard of flying standby was that your plans were never carved in stone and were subject to change at any moment.

They’d offered to buy me an actual ticker, of course, but I’d said no.

I wasn’t really ready to take any money from the family I didn’t know just yet.

I sipped my coffee. Has it really only been two months? I thought again.

I’d known they’d existed, of course, since that day I accidentally found my birth certificate when rooting around in my father’s desk drawer.

Phyllis A. Whitney’s books almost always involved two things: a murder in the past that cast shadows on the present, and someone going to meet a family they’ve been estranged from–usually not through any fault of their own–since their childhood. Another popular trope was that the murder involved one of the main character’s parents; in this case, I made it his mother. I named him Heath Brandon (after a co-worker), and the mystery from the past was his mother’s death. When Heath was a very small child, his mother was murdered by her lover, who then committed suicide. Heath’s father–never a fan of her family, the Legendres–took his son and left, cutting off all communications and never telling Heath anything about his mother. He always knew his father’s second wife wasn’t his mother, but all he knew about his mom was she died when he was young and talking about her upset his father, so he never brought her up and never even knew her name.

His father is now dead and Heath is working at the Bay City Airport for Transco Airlines (my go-to whenever I need an airline), when one night he notices a very attractive bald man in a tight T-shirt and jeans watching him work at the ticket counter. When the man appears the next night, Heath wonders if he should report him to security–but the man approaches him, invites him out for a drink and promises to tell him about his mother’s family. Heath in intrigued–he found out about how his mother died after finding his birth certificate and doing some on-line searches. But the man–Jerry Channing, who has also popped up in the Scotty series–is actually a true crime writer who doesn’t necessarily believe the story of how Heath’s mom and lover died, and is looking into it with an eye to writing a book. Jerry puts Heath in touch with the family, and now…he is going to meet them.

The Legendre plantation, Chambord, has been in the family for centuries. At one point, it became known for glass-making; I tied this somehow into Venetian glass, particularly the famous Murano style, and while the glass-making has long since fallen by the wayside, Chambord houses a Chambord glass museum on the property as well as a high-end restaurant–and also does the de rigeur plantation type tours. Once Heath arrives, any number of mysteries present themselves to him: why is his first cousin bear him such animosity? Why does is aunt? Why is everyone so afraid of his grandmother? And he begins to feel an attraction to his cousin’s handsome, sexy cousin–who runs the restaurant with her. Their marriage doesn’t seem happy–his cousin is kind of a bitch, as is his aunt Olivia–and he gets signals from the married restauranteur. Could it be?

And then, is it his imagination or has someone tried to kill him?

He also inherits his mother’s house in the lower Garden District of New Orleans (a house that is real and I’ve been in love with for decades), and when he goes to stay there for a night or two, he discovers a clue to the dark secrets that hang over Chambord–and what really happened in the boathouse when his mother and her lover died.

One of the things I realized while writing The Orion Mask how freeing it was for me to write a Gothic with a gay main character; Whitney and her colleagues were constrained by the rules of their genre and what their readers expected these books to be. I didn’t have either those fears or constraints; and whenever I would think oh I can’t do that Whitney would have never–then I would stop and think, you aren’t Whitney and you aren’t writing in her time period, and besides, your main character is a gay man not a young woman; of course you can do that even if its against the rules!

That realization also made me admire the talents and skills of Whitney and her contemporaries, and what they were able to accomplish within the boundaries of their genre, even more than I had previously. I will most likely write more of these style books in the future; it was a lot of fun writing this and playing with the conventions of romantic suspense.

Chambord was sort of based on Houmas House–I think I even reference that “Chambord” was made famous by a film with two aging stars that was filmed there (obviously, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte); I also referred to Belle Riviére in Murder in the Arts District that same way.

The joys of a Greg multiverse!

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

Thursday morning and my last day in the office of the week–tomorrow I took the day off for miscellaneous appointments and things (and yes, a trip to Metairie is required, sigh) which will be nice. I don’t have to get up super-early to go, for one thing, so I can allow myself to sleep in a bit, and then I can leisurely enjoy my coffee throughout the morning before it’s time to head out there. I am also going to stop at Costco on the way back home, so it’ll be a big day for one Gregalicious. I imagine by the time I get home I will be hot, sweaty, crabby and ready to spend the evening inside with the air conditioning.

Such an exciting life I lead!

I slept really well last night–an enormously pleasant surprise, given the questionable sleep I got the previous two nights–but according to my Fitbit, it was yet another bad nights’ sleep. I am beginning to think my Fitbit doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to my sleep, you know? I feel rested and a bit groggy this morning, which hopefully the coffee will take care of (fingers crossed) but I will say yesterday I felt a bit out of it for most of the day. I didn’t get nearly us much accomplished as I’d intended when I got home from the office last night–I didn’t really do much of anything, to be honest. I wrote for a little while before retiring to the easy chair, where I fell into a spiral of videos about French history, which is always fun for me. When Paul got home we watched Obi-wan Kenobi, which I am really enjoying, on-line haters be damned, and the little girl who plays Princess Leia is fantastic–it’s completely believable she would grow up into Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, and props to Disney Plus for pitch-perfect casting. The show is also doing a really great job of filling in some gaps in the story of Star Wars, too.

Today hopefully will be a good one. I want to get some more writing done–for whatever reason, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is finally taking shape the way I want it to, although now I am worried that its going to wind up being far too long, and far too melancholy, than I want it to be. Its a melancholy story, really, so that’s probably a really good thing, but…I don’t suppose melancholy is the right mood; I am thinking I want to go for a Daphne du Maurier tone (which I love); I don’t want to call it gothic either, but if you’ve read du Maurier you know what I mean. Hmmm, perhaps I should dip into her collection Echoes from the Macabre again, to get a better sense of what I am talking about here…that is actually a really good plan, now that I think about it.

You can never go wrong rereading du Maurier.

One thing that is interesting/kind of fun about writing this novella is that it is set in a place that no longer exists–New Orleans in 1994. I was talking to some of my younger co-workers (ha ha ha, they’re all younger now, I am the old man of the department by a LOT now) about how different New Orleans was when I moved here in 1996 than it is now; and I was thinking about that some more last night. Gentrification hadn’t really gotten started in the city yet; it was a crumbling, dying city whose glory days were in the past. The Lower Garden District was considered a bad neighborhood back in those days; we moved in just as it was started to regenerate…but there was still a crack house next door, and of course the Camp Street on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection was still there, about fifty yards of concrete climbing into the sky and just ending (if you ever watch the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise version of Interview with the Vampire, there’s a scene when Louis–Pitt–leaves a movie theater in New Orleans that is showing Tequila Sunrise. That was the Coliseum Theatre, which was closed but still there when we moved into the neighborhood. It burned to the ground a few years later. Anyway, as Louis/Pitt walks out, the camera pans back and shows a highway on-ramp with cars going up–that was the old Camp Street on-ramp, still in use when the movie was filmed but not when we moved here two or three years after the movie’s release). I also imagine that on-ramp, when it was still connected to Highway 90, was a bitch for traffic in the neighborhood, since the bridge backs up all day now; I imagine there were times when that ramp backed up all the way down Camp to probably the Garden District. Where it was now is a lovely neutral ground that separates Camp and Coliseum Streets, beautifully designed and landscaped so it seems like a perfect extension of Coliseum Square. That’s why I want to write about that time period, when gay bars still occasionally got raided by the cops, when there were still two bathhouses in New Orleans, when many of us could only be openly gay when we went to the bars in the Quarter on the weekend, and how frenetic and wild and crazy those weekends were; all the gay bars in the Quarter were packed every weekend, and of course, deeply closeted gays from the surrounding areas–the rural parishes and Mississippi–would come into the city so they could let go and be free.

But even that wasn’t a guarantee of anything, either. Death stalked the gay bars back in those days–another reason I want to write about that time–and you couldn’t really trust the cops and sometimes it was dangerous to walk back to the lower Quarter or Marigny where you’d parked your car. There was this weird sense of being an outlaw; despite the Lawrence v. Texas decision there’s still a sodomy law on the books here in Louisiana, and once this Supreme Court gets to decide Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided (because make no mistake, this Supreme Court is definitely going to dial us back to 1900, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take the right to vote away from women, too), once again my sex life will become an enforceable crime in Louisiana yet again.

Sigh.

Well, writing that last paragraph certainly made me melancholy. Too bad I don’t have time to work on the novella before heading into the office. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

In My Arms

Thursday and working at home today. Data to enter and condoms to pack; but at least I don’t have to go out in public today, which is a blessing both for me and the public when it happens. I decided to stop and make groceries on the way home from work last night, to make this possible, and it’s an absolutely lovely thing to contemplate that I was smart enough to think ahead so I can just work from home and not go anywhere today, other than to the gym later on. My body isn’t happy that I’ve not been to the gym in weeks, and it is most definitely letting me know of its deep disapproval of this conduct. I may not even lift weights–but stretching is definitely on the agenda. I need to really stretch every day, to keep my muscles from tightening and knotting, and all the knots and tightness and tension I am feeling this morning is yet another example of why self-care, particularly in trying times, is so absolutely necessary.

I also really need to get back to writing more regularly. I always feel better when I’m working, writing, than when I am not. You’d think after over twenty years of writing, this would be firmly imprinted on my brain: writing and creating are imprinted into your DNA and when you aren’t doing it, you’re making yourself miserable. I’ve always believed the the so-called trope of “writer’s block” is actually a symptom of depression; there’s something else going on in your brain that is preventing you from creating. (I cannot, as always, speak for writers other than myself; this is my belief and my experience. I’ve also come to recognize that I don’t want to do it mentality when it comes to writing for me is my own personal version of writer’s block–the depression and the imposter syndrome insidiously doing its work on my brain: why do something you love to do when you can not do it and feel bad about yourself and question your ability to do it?) There have been a lot of distractions lately–really, since The Power Went Out–and I need to stop allowing shit to take me out of the mindset that the most important thing to do in my free time from now until January is to write the fucking book.

The book is the most important thing right now.

I did spend some time revising the first chapter last night, despite having the usual “third day in a row up at six” tiredness last night. It felt good, as I knew it would, and spending some doing something I truly love really gave me a rush of sorts; I was able to sleep deeply and well last night, I feel very even and stress-free this morning, and some of the knots in my shoulders, neck and back seem to have relaxed this morning, and I feel rested, more rested than I have felt in quite some time. Untangling the thorny knots of problems in a manuscript–while forcing me to think and use logic and reason while being creative–is perhaps the best cure for anything I have going on at the time. Escaping into writing has always been my solace, going back to the days when I was that lone queer kid in Kansas, and it still works to this day.

It’s actually an interesting challenge for me–writing a book set in New Orleans that doesn’t center a gay man or any gay issues. (There will be queer characters–I can’t write anything without including some; sue me.) The book is also centered in a neighborhood with which I have some familiarity, but I obviously don’t know it as well as the Lower Garden District (where Chanse lives, and where Paul and I have always lived) or the Quarter (where Scotty lives); it’s the same neighborhood where my main character in Never Kiss a Stranger also lives, so I need to get more familiar with how it is NOW…I tend to always think of neighborhoods as they were not as they currently are; which means I need to go walk around and take some pictures and get a sense/feel for who lives there, what it’s like now, etc. This neighborhood used to be considered sketchy when I first started coming here/when we first moved here; the price ranges for rentals and properties now (well, every-fucking-where in New Orleans now) are hard for me to wrap my mind around. (When I was writing my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, I made a reference to “million dollar homes in the Garden District; this was in the late 1990’s. My first reader–beta reader, they’d call it now–highlighted the sentence with the note there are no million dollar homes in New Orleans. The Internet then was not what it is now, of course, so I was surprised to look in the real estate listings in the Times-Picayune to see she was correct. Now, homes in neighborhoods that used to be considered ‘dangerous’ go for over $400k; I just looked at “houses for sale” on Zillow in the neighborhood I am using and was not in the least bit surprised to see that a house like the one my character lives in is listed for 1.15 million…which is actually a plot point I am going to use in the book. And while verifying this just now didn’t surprise me, per se, it did make me shake my head and wonder, who is paying this for a house in New Orleans?)

I don’t see how any working class people can actually afford to live here anymore, really. Sure, there are still neighborhoods that “affordable” when compared to the neighborhoods adjacent to the levees, but the fact that our original apartment, that we paid $495 per month for, now goes for $2100. And that’s something I think I should address in an upcoming book–whether in this new series, or in a Scotty.

I’ve also found myself going down wormholes about Louisiana and New Orleans history a lot lately; I’ve never been conversant in either other than the basics–Bienville arrived and set up camp; why English Turn is called English Turn; Spain takes over from France, and so on. Both city and state have a deep, rich and sometimes horrifying history; it’s little wonder the city is so haunted. So much ugliness, so much violence, so much criminal activity! (Which kind of thematically what I was exploring in Bury Me in Shadows–how the history of violence and ugliness in a particular area can poison it) It’s why I am always amused that the white-supremacists-who-don’t-want-people-to-think-they-are will always cry and whine about crime in New Orleans–when they haven’t lived here in decades and were part of the white flight when the schools were desegregated–they left because of crime, not because they didn’t want their kids to go to school with black kids, oh no! It was the crime! (But if you give them enough rope, they will always bring race into it eventually). New Orleans has always had a dark past, has always had high crime rates, has always had corrupt politicians…but the crime here is why they left…even though the white politicians were also always criminals, and there has always been a lot of violent crime here.

Anyway, I went into a wormhole the other day about the possible murder of Louisiana’s first Black lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn–who may or may not have been murdered in 1871. What a great historical true crime book that would make, wouldn’t it? Post war, the racial tensions in the city, Reconstruction going on…and on the other hand, it could also make a great historical mystery novel as well! Yet another idea, yet another folder, yet another possibility for the future.

It never ends.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Money Can’t Buy You Class

Saturday and the start of a three day weekend. Huzzah? HUZZAH!

I slept well last night–despite some odd dreams–and even slept later than usual this morning, which was strange. (Never fear, alarm clock Scooter finally woke me up because it was past his feeding time.) I am still a bit groggy this morning, but I am certain my coffee will wake me up and make me lucid eventually. Yesterday was an exciting day of data entry and condom-packing, after which I went to the gym (HUZZAH), and then came home to read Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow. I am really enjoying this book, I want to be clear–but Scooter of course climbed into my lap and went to sleep while I was reading, and of course–it being his superpower–I dozed off as well. I do not want to give the impression that I am not enjoying this book, because I really am–but between being tired and all the writing I’ve been doing lately, I just haven’t been able to carve out the time to read like I would like. I do plan on finishing it today, though–as well as writing.

I didn’t write again yesterday, which has all my alarm bells going off (YOU BROKE THE CYCLE NOW YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO WRITE ANYMORE OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU), but I am also aware it’s kind of like going to the gym; once I sit down and start seriously writing again, I’ll get back into it and enjoy myself and next thing you know I will have written multiple thousands of words and all will be right in the world again. Honestly, I am not sure why I go through this kind of thing all the time–whether it’s writing or going to the gym, anything I actually enjoy doing, really; I always have to make myself do it and then find myself enjoying the hell out of it once I do. I am easing myself into working out again after a lengthy break of just over a week–but I realized, as I lifted yesterday, that I don’t have to be so easy on myself after missing a couple of workouts; my body has adjusted to working out again and thus I am not only going to not be sore, it’s not going to be a strain. Yesterday was a return to three sets of everything and guess what? It was easy. Moving up in weights as I intend to do on Monday (the gym is open normal hours on Monday; it’s a holiday for me, and is only open from 9-12 tomorrow, and I can’t see myself getting my act together and to the gym in that narrow window of time tomorrow morning) is what I probably should have done this week, despite the lay off due to the tooth…and so yes, it’s time to start actually pushing myself. I am going to keep adding weight this month every week, with a goal to changing the work out into separate body parts beginning in August, and possibly adding a day or two of cardio in September. I am excited about this–and it’s only a few months later than when I had planned to do so this year already.

I also need to finish a load of laundry this morning and finish the cleaning of the downstairs that is dramatically overdue. I have the entire weekend to get the cleaning done, but step by step and piece by piece is always a greay way to get things started. I also think it’s time to clean the vacuum cleaner filter–I am trying to take care of this one better so it will last longer and continue working longer. I also want to figure out what to do with these boxes under my desk–I have four boxes of folders under my desk (filled, of course) that i want to move out of here. I probably should put them in the attic, but that would mean taking things out of the attic to make room for them, and that would mean going through boxes of books–again, not a bad thing and something that needs to be done, but just thinking about doing it makes me feel tired.

Sigh. And that right there is the classic example of how things never wind up getting done around here.

After I went to the gym yesterday, I detoured on my way home and walked back on the uptown side of Jackson Avenue, which is the Garden District. (Jackson Avenue is the border between my neighborhood, the Lower Garden District, and the enclaves of the wealthy, the actual Garden District.) I took numerous photographs with my phone as I did, posting some of them to Instagram/Facebook, but there are of course any number of others in my phone that I didn’t actually post. Taking these pictures is of a two-fold purpose; one, to have things to post on my social media, and two, to give me the opportunity to look around at the beauty of my city and drink it in, actually making me notice and pay attention to how beautiful this city, particularly the part of it in which I live, is–and by doing so, reconnect with it and appreciate it again. Despite the heat, I am thinking that I need to be doing this more frequently, and expanding into other neighborhoods as well. Oh, I have to pick up the mail? Let me detour on a street in Uptown and take some pictures. The heat and humidity, of course, are always oppressive, but at the same time I need to be out in it and experience that, if I intend to continue writing about New Orleans, noting the weather and thinking of other, new ways to describe how the weather feels here, its peculiarities and how it feels on the skin, on the body, and so forth.

Or, I will let laziness win as I so frequently do.

And on that note, I am going to read an Art Taylor short story while enjoying my coffee, and then get my day actually started. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

Rhythm of the Night

And now it’s Thursday, and a work at home day–the first of my two of the week, followed by a three day weekend HUZZAH!

I didn’t write last night–I wanted to get phô and a spring roll from Lilly’s Cafe, and a chicken banh mih for Paul, but alas, they are closed until July 9th for summer break, so it will have to wait until next weekend. It was a bummer, of course, but it was also a remarkably cool early evening for June/almost July in New Orleans, so I walked around Magazine Street in my neighborhood to look at how things have changed since the last time I walked around Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District–taking pictures for Instagram, natch–and by the time I got home (not sweaty, I might add), I decided to take the evening off from writing. I’ve been on a roll lately, and while there is something to be said for maintaining momentum when it’s going, there’s also something to be said for letting your batteries recharge for a day or so. I want to get a lot of writing done over this holiday weekend, and I thought it would be best to take an evening off. I was also in a remarkably good mood, so I also had a martini last night while watching television before bed, and slept really well. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I also like martinis so I may have another one tonight.

We continue to watch High Seas, whose second season got off to a rather interesting start–apparently now the ship is haunted, and they picked up survivors from another ship that sank, one of whom is apparently a psychic unironically named Casandra–but it’s so entertaining I kind of hope the Barbara de Braganza never docks in Rio, frankly. The kids at work were watching a show on Netflix this week in their community space called Happy Endings, which looked rather funny, and so we gave it a whirl last night and it was funny. It apparently ran for three seasons on network television in the early part of the last decade, but I’d never heard of it, and as Paul pointed out, even as early as when this aired (2012) we had already moved on to bingeing shows–we may have been watching DVD’s from Netflix (remember that?), but we weren’t really watching anything regularly from week to week, except on Sundays, when we would watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones (I still miss that show, and really need to get back to reading the books at some point…maybe when he publishes the next one? Ha ha ha ha! I’ll probably be dead before that happens.)

Looking around at the office/kitchen this morning, it really is amazing at how big of a mess I can let this place become during my three-days-at-the-office; how awful did it get when I went to work five days a week? The mind reels…but I also used to work two half-days and one day I didn’t go in until eleven thirty; so I had late afternoons and mornings most of the week to repair it gradually to order for the two twelve-hour days I used to work (which seems completely unbelievable to me now; how the hell did I ever have the energy and wherewithal to get up at six and work twelve hours two days in a row? JFC, where did that energy go?). I certainly don’t think I’ll be able to go back to that work schedule again, frankly. While I am not overly fond of the three get up before dawn work days, I do like getting home in the late afternoon/early evening; and that has proven to be a good time for me to get to the gym as well as write. I was thinking yesterday–part of the reason I decided to take the night off from writing last night–that I’ve actually written in excess of thirty-five thousand words in slightly less than three weeks, which is actually kind of impressive, and if I am able to keep going at that pace, think of everything I can get done the rest of this year…

But I am also smart enough to know that’s probably not very likely. There will be fallow days when words won’t come no matter how much I try to write them; days when I’ll be too tired; days when I will just be flat out too lazy to do any work of any kind. Again: be kinder to yourself and don’t push too hard.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines I go! Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

Love on the Rocks

Yesterday was kind of lovely, actually.

I got up early because of that weird stress-inducing dream I’d had, and then spent the morning doing things–organizing the kitchen, doing some laundry, taking out trash, vacuuming (God, what a difference a good vacuum cleaner can make; I am so glad I bit the bullet and spent the money on a good one Saturday–and I am reading the manual AND will be taking care of this one, to make it last), and yes–I actually spent some time writing “Festival of the Redeemer,” which was lovely. I am actually enjoying writing this novella or whatever it is going to be–I can’t get it out of my head, so I keep writing on it, even though I should be working on other things, but there’s no deadline for anything and so why not while I wait for my edits on the two manuscripts I turned in? I am trying for a Daphne du Maurier Gothic style, but am trying very hard not to reread “Don’t Look Now” or “Ganymede”–her two Venice stories, much as I desperately want to because I don’t want it to be derivative; I really like the voice, and I like my untrustworthy narrator a lot. (oops, shouldn’t have said that, I suppose) It’s also interesting writing about a dysfunctional couple, one where there is an enormous power differential as well as an undefined relationship; which helps keep my main character off-balance–he wants to know but then he’s afraid to have that conversation because he is afraid of the answer–and while I know how I want this story to end, I am finding my way there slowly; I am just writing in free form without any real sense of what I am writing and where it is going and you know, just seeing where it is going to wind up as I keep writing. I’m not writing at the pace I generally do–but I am writing, which is kind of nice, and there is an element where I kind of want to get this finished instead of putting it aside; I kind of want to finish something since I’ve had so many false starts since turning in the Kansas book. (I’ve also had a few more ideas while working on this, but am just writing notes and coming back to this.)

We had quite a marvelous thunderstorm last night–which was undoubtedly why it was so oppressively humid yesterday; I think I must have sweated out ten pounds of water walking to and from the gym. Oh yes, I made it to the gym again yesterday and the stretching and weight lifting felt absolutely marvelous. I was actually a little surprised that my flexibility gains hadn’t been lost during the fallow weeks of not going, and as the summer continues to get hotter and more humid daily, there will undoubtedly be days when I won’t want to go. But I also need to remember how good I feel during and after–especially the next morning. I also took a lot of pictures on the walk home for Instagram, which I am really starting to enjoy doing. I don’t know why I never really got into Instagram before, but since I love to take pictures and I live in one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–cities in North America…it seems like it’s only natural that I bring them all together into one user app. I’ve talked about how I’ve felt sort of disconnected from New Orleans for a while now–several years at least; I feel like I’m no longer as familiar with the city as I used to be; the changes and gentrification plus all the working I’ve been doing in the years since Katrina have somehow weakened or lost my connection to the city. Yesterday, walking home and detouring a bit around Coliseum Square, I felt connected to the city again in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I also took and posted a picture of the house where Paul and I first lived when we moved here in 1996; the house, in fact, where Chanse MacLeod lives and runs his business from…we were living there when I wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine, in fact…and I started remembering things from when we lived there and were new to the city. This is a good thing, making me feel anchored and tethered to the city again, and if I am going to write another Scotty book–well, the strength of my books set in New Orleans is that sense of love for the city I always feel and try to get across in the work.

I also had weird dreams last night. I rested well, but drifted in and out of sleep most of the night. I’m not sure what the deal is with the dreams; I dreamt that someone I went to high school with in the Chicago suburbs came to New Orleans with some of her friends from her current life and wanted to connect again; and I did so, primarily out of curiosity other than anything else. (Maybe it was all the tourists I saw out and about yesterday?) But it was very strange–going to the casino and watching them drink the insane tourist-targeted colored drinks; meeting them at their hotel on the West Bank, listening to them talk about New Orleans to me in the insane and often offensive ways tourists will speak to locals about the place where we live, not even realizing they are being insulting and offensive. I don’t know; I cannot say for certain what is the deal with the weird dreams lately, but I’ve been having them.

We rewatched Victor/Victoria last night–we’ve been talking about rewatching it for a while now, and it recently was added to HBO MAX. I don’t remember what brought it up, or what made us think about it–I know it was Paul who did; I had already added it to my watchlist when it dropped and when he said he wanted to watch it again, I replied, “Its on the HBO app so we can, whenever we want to” and so last night we did–primarily to see if it still worked, if it was still funny, and watching it–a relatively tame movie, really–last night I remembered (rather, we remembered) how incredibly subversive it was at the time it was released in 1982; it depicted homosexuality and drag in a nonjudgmental way years before being gay was less offensive to society at large, as well as bringing drag into the mainstream years before RuPaul’s Drag Race. The performances are stellar–especially Robert Preston and Lesley Anne Warren in supporting roles–and the humor is kind of farcical and slapstick, which never really ages; as Paul said, “that kind of humor is kind of timeless.” It also struck me that it was very Pink Panther-like; the film, not the cartoon–which makes sense since Blake Edwards wrote, directed and produced both. Some of it wouldn’t play today, of course, and the movie probably couldn’t be made today–some of the sex humor was misogynistic, not to mention men trying to spy on “Victor” to find out if he was really a man or a woman, which is incredibly invasive and horrible, plus it was very binary about gender and gender roles. 1982 was also the year of Tootsie, which I also kind of want to rewatch now to see how it holds up as well. It would seem that both films–which were both critical and box office hits , rewarded with scores of Oscar nominations–seemed to signal a new direction for Hollywood when it came to queerness and gender; it was also around this time that the soapy Making Love was released as well. but HIV/AIDS was breaking around this time as well, and soon the repressive politics of the 1980’s would change everything.

Tonight after work I am going to run some errands and then I am going to be guesting on Eric Beetner’s podcast, along with Dharma Kelleher, to talk about three queer writers everyone should be reading year-round, not just during Pride Month. That should be interesting; I am also appearing on a panel for the San Francisco Public Library tomorrow night being moderated by Michael Nava–one of my heroes–which should also be interesting and fun.

And on that note, it is time to go back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

O Come All Ye Faithful

As Constant Reader may or may not know, the Lost Apartment–hell, the entire house–is a haven for stray cats. We feed them and take care of them, so does our landlady, and so does our neighbor on the first floor on the other side of the house—and Jeremy in the carriage house does too. I think the largest the herd has ever been is five cats, but I could be wrong. We’ve been down to two–Simba and Tiger (who has the most seniority)–for quite a while now, and there’s a tuxedo cat that pokes around sometimes, but runs whenever you try to get close to her, but this past week a new cat has shown up, and has taken up residence beneath the house: a a tiny black kitten we’ve not really named yet, but have taken to calling the Dark Lord, because he’s completely invisible once the sun goes down. He doesn’t let us get close–he’ll come out to look at us, but scampers away whenever we try to pet him or get him to come near. We’ve started feeding him, as we feed the others, and Paul will eventually make sure that he becomes friendly, so we can catch him and get him to the vet. I don’t think he’s old enough to be fixed now, anyway. He can’t be more than a month or two old.

I always wonder where these strays come from, you know? Tiger was clearly always feral, but Simba is much too friendly to not have been someone’s cat. And a kitten? Where did the kitten come from?

Ah, the mysteries of being the Crazy Cat Couple of the Lower Garden District.

LSU defeated Mississippi yesterday 53-48 in what wound up being a completely insane game in Tiger Stadium; one in which they managed to go up early in the third quarter 37-21, only to fall behind 48-40 with about eight minutes left in the game. True freshman quarterback Max Johnson (who is 2-0 as a starter) managed to connect up with true freshman Kayshon Boutte (you cannot get a more Louisiana name than that, seriously) on two impressive scoring drives, sandwiched around an impressive defensive stand, to pull ahead with less than two minutes left in the game to go up 53-48; the defense held again, forcing a fumble to end the game with less than a minute to go to escape having the first losing season since 1999 and give Tiger fans–so beleaguered this season–a lot of hope for the future. That team that finished strong after the pasting by Alabama was mostly freshmen and sophomores….and in these last two games there were guys playing I’d never heard of before. Our back-ups pulled off an upset of Florida (which gave Alabama all they could handle in the SEC title game) and then Mississippi (the LSU-Mississippi games are always exciting; for some reason Ole Miss–it is an old rivalry game–always seems to play their best against LSU and the Tigers inevitably have to rally to win the game in the end. Paul’s and my first game ever in Tiger Stadium was the Mississippi game in 2010, which the Tigers needed a last minute score in to win); so pardon us for thinking perhaps next year will be a good one and the year after that a great one–which is the LSU way, really. It was very exciting, and I’ll be honest, I thought we were done for when the Rebels went up 48-40 and our defense looked very tired–very very tired–but in a downpour the Tigers pulled it off and thus made my day.

I also managed to unlock the puzzle of Chapter Eighteen and got it finished, and by doing so I realized I perfectly set up the final act of the book–which will make these other chapters more challenging, but that’s okay because I still have plenty of time to get this all finished and ready to go on schedule, which is very exciting.

I also read very far into The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and I have to say, gay Hollywood history is very interesting, and that particular period, post-war into the 1950’s, is also extremely interesting. I actually kind of wish I was more knowledgeable about the period, or had studied it in greater detail. I’ve already written a short story based in that dangerous era for gay men, “The Weight of a Feather”, which is included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and of course, Chlorine is set in that time period. I actually have several historical gay noirs planned–Obscenity, Indecency, and Muscles–that will take place during different periods of twentieth century gay history–the 1970’s, the 1990’s, and the early aughts–which will reflect the changing moods and dangers of being gay during various decades, and how different life was for gay men in each decade. It’s an interesting concept, and one I hope readers will embrace.

Plus, the research will be endlessly fascinating.

The Saints play the Chiefs today, and apparently Drew Brees will be playing again. This presents a dilemma for me, clearly; I love the Saints, but the Chiefs have several of my favorite former LSU players on their roster (Tyrann Mathieu and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, to name two) and it’s hard for me not to want to see them do well. Perhaps the best way to handle this is to not watch at all. I don’t know. I have to write Chapter Nineteen today, and am trying to decide if I should go to the gym today, or wait until tomorrow. I overslept this morning–an hour, didn’t get up till nine–and I also only have to get through the next three days at the office before the holidays AND my brief between Christmas and New Year’s vacation–I hope to not only get this book finished by then but have the time to work on my MWA anthology submission and reread and plan the final version of #shedeservedit.

Then again, I’ll also probably be horrifically lazy a lot during that time–it happens.

And on that note, more coffee for me before the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Mad Woman

And now we ease into Friday and what will hopefully be an enormously productive weekend for one Gregalicious.

Yesterday was a lovely day, if not as productive as one would have hoped. When five pm rolled around, my mind was fried from the condom packing (I watched The Stunt Man while making them; more on that later) and so instead, I cleaned up around here and did some brainstorming. I did a shit ton of laundry last night, and did some other cleaning as well….but I really hate that I didn’t get to the book yesterday evening. Definitely tonight it’s on my agenda, and hopefully if I stay motivated I can get quite a bit finished this weekend. I am still hoping to get this draft version finished before next weekend, so I can stick to the plan of writing some short stories next week before getting back to the final polish on this manuscript so I can get it turned in. The next deadline–the two months for #shedeservedit–is going to be much rougher on me than this revision was, so getting this one finished sooner rather than later is definitely something I need to be focused on.

We watched The Flight Attendant’s new episodes last night–I’m not sure why the release two at a time, quite frankly–but it definitely feels like the show is being padded to fill it out to the necessary (or needed) length. My mind started to wander during the first of the two episodes, but the second one picked up and became more interesting. Kaley Cuoco is a very charming and likable actress, so playing such an unlikable character is, I am sure, quite a stretch for her as an actress; yet the character is so unlikable–and as the show progresses, becomes more and more unlikable–that it becomes very hard to continue rooting for her as she makes bad decision after bad decision–and of course, she is clearly an alcoholic, and the alcoholic fog helps keep her from dealing with her own deeply problematic past. There were some big reveals in the second episode–although one was pretty predictable from the get-go, and the second one didn’t make nearly as much sense as the writers perhaps wanted it to; I won’t get into it here because SPOILERS, but while the show is very well done there are some things that feel rather self-indulgent and unearned. But Kuoco is, as I said, eminently likable and interesting to watch, so we’ll probably see it all the way through.

I signed a contract yesterday to allow Wildside Press to republish my story “Annunciation Shotgun” on the Black Cat Ebook Site as a “Barb Goffman Presents”, which is very exciting. “Annunciation Shotgun” was one of my first mainstream publications for a story with queer characters–although the queerness wasn’t important to the story, which was part of it’s subversive fun, and made it incredibly fun to write–and I do love the story. It was originally published in New Orleans Noir over a decade ago, and of course, was included in my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories; in fact, I had originally intended to call the collection Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. Ironically, part of the credit for the idea for the story belongs to none other than Poppy Z. Brite; I was reading his novel Liquor and at one point, the book made reference to Ricky and G-man living in a shotgun house on Constantinople Street, and I thought to myself, “Constantinople Shotgun is a great title” and I thought about gay friendships and having that one friend who always seems to be an agent of chaos–the one you’re always have to bail out but he’s so charming and lovable you always, always, get out of bed and throw on some clothes and run bail him out of whatever he’s gotten himself into. It was also born out of my fascination with how we live in such intimate closeness to neighbors here in New Orleans–shotgun houses means you share a wall running the length of the house with someone who might be a complete stranger–and that invasive intimacy with people you barely know is something I’ve turned to, again and again, in my short stories. I started writing it originally when the idea struck; when I was asked to write for New Orleans Noir I was assigned the lower Garden District as my neighborhood, which is where I’ve always lived in New Orleans since moving here–which meant the title no longer worked; Constantinople Street is in Uptown. But Annunciation Street runs through the LGD (it also runs all the way uptown to Riverbend), and it’s an unusual, multi-syllabic name, so I chose it for the title. (I still love the title “Constantinople Shotgun”–but I don’t know that I can get away with writing another “shotgun” titled story; but “Constantinople Camelback” is also not a bad title….hmmmmm.)

But I do love the story, and am glad that this opportunity has presented itself…and I’m making a title note to use “Constantinople Camelback” because of course I am.

I’m also waiting impatiently to get the final cover design for Bury Me in Shadows because I’ve seen it and I love it, and it’s one of my favorites of my own books thus far. The book itself is taking shape nicely; I am refusing to listen to my doubts and imposter syndrome and choosing instead to believe in myself and my abilities and skill as a writer.

So, other than refreshing my mailbox, my plans for the weekend include revising at least four chapters of the book, perhaps some thinking about the short story I want to submit to the newest MWA anthology (I swear to GOD I will get a story accepted into one of those anthologies if it kills me), and I definitely want to finish reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

So, yesterday I watched The Stunt Man. I saw it many many years ago–I think maybe on one of the pay cable networks in the early 1980’s? HBO, perhaps?–and it was so strange and so interesting that it really took my fancy. I fucking loved Peter O’Toole, since I watched him and Richard Burton chew up the scenery in Becket, and this was only the second film of his I’d seen. He got an Oscar nomination for this–losing to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer, of all things; O’Toole’s failure to win a competitive Oscar is one of the biggest crimes of the Academy–and while this movie isn’t my favorite of his, I’ve always wanted to rewatch it. Essentially, the plot of the movie is this: Steve Railsback (breathtaking in his youthful beauty) is an escaped convict, or is on the run from the cops (and we never really find out why), and he is also a Vietnam vet. While he is running he accidentally stumbles into a movie set and is responsible (this responsibility never really makes sense to me, and over the course of the movie becomes even more and more weird) for the death of a stunt man. The crazed director, Eli, played by Peter O’Toole, doesn’t want to stop filming as he is on a tight schedule and also doesn’t want to deal with the scandal involved with a stunt man’s s death, so he makes a deal with the Railsback character–fill in for the dead stuntman so they can cover it up until the movie is finished, get paid, or turn himself in. Railsback becomes a stuntman–some of the best scenes in the film are him working with a veteran to learn how to do the stunts without harming himself (note: the performance of the guy teaching him to do stunts–an actual stuntman named Chuck Bail–should have gotten an Oscar nomination at least) and of course, O’Toole is stunningly brilliant, as he is in everything. Barbara Hershey is also terrific as the actress Railsback falls for…I also had no idea it was based on a book, which I am now going to have to read. It’s also very cynical–definitely fits in the the Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

Sigh, Peter O’Toole. So talented, so gorgeous. My Favorite Year is also one of my all-time favorite movies, and his failure to win an Oscar as fading star and alcoholic Alan Swann is yet another Academy crime. It’s one of the great performances of all time, and I’ve also always thought someone should turn that movie into a television series–a behind the scenes look at how a television show like that in the 1950’s was made–with a new guest star in every episode and so on. (Just send me my check, Netflix, and you’re welcome.)

Not sure what today’s film is going to be, but it may be another O’Toole 70’s classic, The Ruling Class.

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

Too Hot

Tuesday and the world has gone mad.

Polar vortexes and wind chills around fifty below! New Orleans in a freeze warning with the possibility of snow! Madness, sheer madness.

Yesterday was a pretty good day, over all. It was so lovely, and I’m so happy, that Susanna Calkins was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story for her contribution to Florida Happens, “A Postcard for the Dead.” It’s an absolutely wonderful story, too, an I couldn’t be happier for Susanna, who was an absolute delight to work with and whom I finally met at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg this past year. One of the things I love about being a part of the mystery or crime writing community is how many truly wonderful people are also a part of it, which always makes Bouchercon a wonderful experience for me. I always see old friends, meet new people and make new friends, and I always have the best time. For someone who is used to hiding out in his apartment most of the time being antisocial, Bouchercon and the Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners weekend are seriously over-stimulating; I have a blast but when it’s all over I am drained and exhausted. Happy and still aglow, usually inspired to write, but drained and exhausted nonetheless. All of the Agatha nominees are terrific writers I admire; congrats to everyone.

I managed to proof read the first fifty pages of Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories; remember talking the other day about much I hate reading my own work? What’s interesting–let’s face it, I find myself fascinating–is that I often find myself using the same phrase, or turn of phrase, in more than one short story; which is something I wouldn’t be aware of writing them at different times over the years, and I would never sit down and reread all my short stories all at once. I know that I have a tendency to write about men with black hair, tanned olive skin, and green eyes; dimples also show up often in male characters in my work (Colin in the Scotty series hits all that criteria, and so did Paul in the first two Chanse novels). I also write about my neighborhood, the Lower Garden District, a lot in my short stories (in the novels, Chanse and Paige live in this neighborhood; Scotty lives in the Quarter); in fact, two of the first five stories are set less than three blocks apart. I also tend to use similar names a lot–David is a particular favorite of mine to call my characters; I also use Gary and Tony a lot.

I probably should pay more attention to this than I do.

I also started reading  The Klansman on Sunday night; and it’s not an easy thing to read. I only read a single chapter, and it took me a while. I kept getting memories, memories of the time period the book is set in as well as the summer I read it; a hot, damp Alabama summer with no air conditioning. It’s interesting because that is the setting for the WIP, and so I kept putting the book down so I could scribble down some memories in my journal, things to use for the WIP should I ever get to the point where I can work on it again. What the book is about you can pretty much guess given the title, and it’s hard to read. I don’t remember much of the book; I remember reading it, and I do remember it making me think about the things the book talked about; thinking about them in a different way than I had before. I’ve remembered the book my entire life, but have never gone back and reread it; the copy I read wasn’t mine and I never thought to look for a copy whenever I haunted any bookstore. I’m interested in the period, and I am interested in the pop culture of the period; a short story I am currently working on, “Burning Crosses,” made me think of this book again–and of course, the Internet makes everything easy. I got a first edition hardcover from Ebay for less than five dollars, and my decision to read it again now, as part of the Diversity Project, is because I want to know if the book will make me think as much as it did when I was nine or ten….or if my own values and morality have changed enough from then that I won’t view it in the same way.

But…it’s difficult to read. Not that it isn’t well written; it’s too well-written, if you get what I mean.

And now, back to the spice mines. Stay warm, Constant Reader!

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