Oh Daddy

I am not doing well this morning.

Yesterday morning when I got up my back felt like it was on the mend; it was still a bit painful and tight, but better than it had been the day before so I thought, oh thank you baby Jesus–there’s an end in sight. Unfortunately, as the day progresses it began to hurt more and more until the end of the day, when picking up my back pack was agonizing, as was the drive home. I immediately changed into my sweats (which was painful) and repaired to my easy chair. Scooter climbed into my lap and went to sleep immediately while I caught up on this week’s episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (which really deserves its own entry or an essay; the phenomenon of these shows fascinates me–which is probably why I explored it in Royal Street Reveillon) and then…I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening, really. Paul came home, gave me a pain killer, and I know we watched the final two episodes of Five Days at Memorial (which posed some pretty interesting ethical questions that I don’t know the answers to) and then another of Bad Sisters (which I really like) before collapsing into bed and praying that this morning would be the same as yesterday….

…for naught. The painkiller didn’t really help all that much (although I can see why the drugs with oxy in their name are so addictive) but made me comfortable–I was still aware of the pain, but it was slightly more bearable. Yesterday afternoon I made the right decision–I told my supervisor I was taking a personal day to let my back get better; all that getting up and sitting down yesterday was no help at all–and so I am literally going to spend the day sitting in my easy chair, slathered in generic Ben-Gay with the heating pad attached to my back.

Getting old really and truly sucks. But I do have some reading to get caught up on–I need to reread everything I am working on, I also need to reread My Cousin Rachel as I am being interviewed on a podcast about it and du Maurier in a couple of weeks (seriously, how fucking thrilling is that?) and of course, I want to read the new Donna Andrews. I never did make the to-do list I’ve been talking about on here all week–the back pain really is excruciating–so maybe I can gather everything around me that I need to get to today while sitting in the chair and letting highlights of old LSU games stream on Youtube in the background (oh yes, I rewatch highlights of old LSU games–only big wins, of course–and it always puts me in a better mood, and yes, I am aware how weird that actually is. Sue me.), and hopefully Scooter will sleep in my lap for most of the day. I need to order groceries for pick-up (and Costco for delivery) but I am a little worried about carrying everything into the Lost Apartment.

I also slept later than usual this morning; I’ve been feeling exhausted all week and figured the world wouldn’t end should I stay in bed for an extra hour or two. The good news is I do not feel tired this morning–I am so tired of feeling tired–but, of course, the back is aching. My desk chair feels much more comfortable than my work chairs, for some reason it just seems to fit my back better so it’s not painful to sit here. I cannot explain it, it makes absolutely no sense, but I am going to take advantage of that fact not only to try to get this entry written but do my reviews of Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home and Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, both of which are SUPERB. (5 out of 5 stars, get copies NOW)

I’ve also realized I’ve not done much of a Bouchercon round-up–primarily because all of it was a blur, and maybe, just maybe, I hurt my back from laughing so hard for so long. A laughing injury! It is entirely possible, of course; I noted many times how much it hurt to laugh when I was in the midst of a laughing fit because of something hilarious someone said (I really do know the funniest people), and also all the standing; several times in the evening in the bar I noted that my back was getting sore–so naturally instead of sitting down or doing anything to baby it (because that would be admitting that I am too old to stand for long) I continued doing what made it hurt in the first place.

The uncomfortable airline seats on the flight home also did not help much in that regard.

So, that is the state of the Gregalicious this morning. I just made groceries for pick up tomorrow–I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it–and at some point tomorrow I’ll order Costco for delivery. But for now, I am going to take my heating pad and my aching back to my chair so I can chill for a bit.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader.

Monday Morning

And here we are on another work-at-home Monday.

It has been quite a while since I managed the kind of word count that I did yesterday. I got up at seven yesterday morning, wrote my morning blog entry and then finished writing about how my novel Sorceress came to be (I am gradually working my way through all of my books), started another entry on Lake Thirteen (still to come), and then went to work on my Scotty book. I banged out Chapter Three, and then moved on to another project I am working on for a friend; I was writing a chapter of that book per week to send on to him but it went off-track and I knew it. So, I had to go back and reread those first four chapters that are already completed to see–and the fix was so much easier than I had been fearing, with the result that rather than actually fixing the problem, I simply made notes on how to fix it for the binder where I keep the printed pages (I do this with every book the last few years or so; it’s just easier to print it out, three-hole punch it and put it in a binder where I can access it easily and make notes whenever necessary). So I wrote Chapter Five of that project, bringing today’s word count to six thousand, not counting the blog entries. Whew, did my shoulder hurt once I was done for the day, but I actually felt like I earned the rest of the day off.

So, overall it was a pretty good weekend. I am working at home today with lots of data to get entered before I can take off my spice-mining helmet and head to the easy chair to relax. Labor Day is this weekend, which means it’s also Southern Decadence in New Orleans, and I haven’t really checked the schedule to see what I am going to have to do–if anything–for the day job this weekend. Next week we’re off to Bouchercon, which I am looking forward to; it’ll be lovely, even if smaller than it usually is. It’s the first in-person one since Dallas in 2019 (I still swear sometimes that LSU had the best football season of all time in 2019 and that broke the world) and there will be people I’ll get to see that I haven’t seen since St. Petersburg in 2018. My schedule is already filling up; I had to create a day by day schedule of where I have to be and what I have to do and dates I’ve made with people already (to avoid double booking as well as to keep track); it’s going to be hectic, and I also bet I am not going to get to sleep a lot because of my hotel room insomnia issues, which makes the trip even more tiring and draining. And then I get to come back and go to work at the office all week. Yay.

I’ve done a lot of thinking this summer in those rare moments when I have some time to sit and think about things–I really don’t get to do this as often as I should; I am thinking that maybe once every three months I just need to take a three day weekend and go stay in a hotel by myself somewhere–maybe do some exploring of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, I don’t know–to take stock of my life, evaluate where I am at and where I want to go, and what do I need to do to make the things I want to happen for me actually, you know, happen. The nine-day bout of COVID, with its exhaustion, fatigue and continual brain fog, forced me to not work, to not do much of anything other than trying to just stay on top of my emails. The forced rest actually gave me time to deconstruct my life and everything I do and all of my commitments, and recognize some things about my life and what I want out of it. One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result; I’ve been doing just that for quite some time now. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities over the years with my writing career–and while I am certainly of the mindset that everything happens for a reason and grabbing on to one of those opportunities might have changed my life in ways I cannot conceive, making it entirely possible that my life could be worse than it is now–one of the primary reasons I adopted the old “no regrets about the past” mantra–but I am getting old and many of those opportunities may never present themselves again. Now, I am at the point where my energies and abilities are growing more limited, yet the demands on my time, energy and ability don’t ever seem to ease up or abate in any meaningful way. I’ve made some decisions about my life and my future going forward; I also feel like they are the right ones to make and my mind is made up. (There are few things I find more annoying than making a decision and having that decision questioned, or having people try to talk you out of it. I rarely, if ever, change my mind once it’s definitively made up.)

I need to make writing a major priority again in my life. Yesterday it felt marvelous to get up in the morning, drink some coffee, and then sit down at the computer and start writing. I don’t know if my Scotty book is coming along well or not–it could be shit; and first drafts are usually pretty awful anyway–or if the other project is working or not, but it literally was so satisfying to sit at the computer and just create for hours. When I was finished for the day, too, I felt like I’d actually accomplished something and I liked the feeling. If I write a chapter of the other project every week while still managing to get two or three chapters of Scotty done every week, the Scotty will be finished on deadline and the other will have a completed first draft in another fifteen weeks. Juggling two completely different books and two entirely different styles is going to be a challenge, but I’ve always been about challenging myself when I write. (Even if it doesn’t seem like it.) I’ve also really been enjoying revisiting my books and remembering where the ideas came from, what I was trying to do with the book and story and characters; I hope those blog entries are entertaining. But…if they aren’t, you can always skip them, Constant Reader. I won’t mind. I’m also trying to write the book entries slowly, take my time with them, not write them all in one burst in one sitting the way I do the daily “this is what I am doing” entries.

I suppose I’ve always used this blog incorrectly. I probably should use it to do giveaways of copies of my books or engage with readers more, or turn it into a writing advice blog or something like that; develop a plan for it and stick to it rather than just pantsing it every morning. But that’s how I’ve always done it, and maybe when I’ve retired and don’t have to get ready for work every morning (the blog is part of my waking up to go to work process) I can take it another direction. Ah well, that’s about four years into the future, so I can worry about it then–if I even live that long.

We also binged Bad Vegan last night, which was insane but interesting, and of course episode 2 of House of the Dragon, which was markedly better than the first episode. (I did laugh at the opening credits of Episode 2, which weren’t included in episode one…reusing the Game of Thrones theme and using the same kind of “model” assembling itself was an interesting choice.)

And on THAT cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Watching Scotty Grow

As I get ready to write another Scotty book, I am busy making his acquaintance all over again. It might seem strange, but yes, although I’ve written eight books about my ex-go-go boy/personal trainer/private eye, it remains true in this as in all other aspects of my life that my memory is not what it once was; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever written a Scotty book since the first three without having to go back and revisit the series again. I have made continuity errors over the years (Scotty’s mother’s name changed over the course of the series, from Cecile to Marguerite and back to Cecile again), and I may forget things about his past and things I’ve written in previous books, but the one thing I never ever forget is his voice.

No matter what else is going on in my life, Scotty’s voice is very easy for me to slip back into, like a house shoe, and it somehow always feels like coming home to me in some ways. This is odd–because I would have always thought Chanse was the series character I was more connected to rather than Chanse, but that’s not the case at all. Scotty just won’t go away; but I ended the Chanse series and only every once in a while do I regret it (although I am beginning to suspect that I am going to probably end up writing another Chanse novel at some point in my life; I have two ideas that he’d be perfect for, but it also might be better and more challenging for me to simply come up with a whole new character for those stories rather than resurrecting Chanse); Scotty just won’t ever go away.

The idea for the Scotty series famously came to me during Southern Decadence, 1998.

(Well, I don’t know about famously, but I know I’ve told this story before many, many times. Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to see how I remember the birth of the character and the series now)

It was a Sunday afternoon, and Paul and I had somehow managed to get prime balcony standing spots–at the Bourbon Pub/Parade, right at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon where the railing curves at the corner to head alongside the upper floor down the St. Ann side; so we could look down directly into the roiling mass of sweaty, almost completely naked bodies of hundreds of gay men from all over the country. That was my favorite spot for Decadence sight-seeing (Halloween, too, for that matter), and as I looked down into the crowd, I saw a guy in booty shorts and a very very loose fitting tank top, carrying a bag and trying to get through. I recognized him as one of the out-of-town dancers working at the Pub/Parade that weekend (I may have tipped him the night before) and as I watched in sympathy as he tried to get through that tightly-packed crowd of gays in various stages of being wasted, I closed my eyes and an image of him–or someone like him–fighting his way through the Decadence crowd while being chased by bad guys with shaved heads popped into my head just as Paul said, next to me, “You should really write a story set during Decadence” and then it popped into my head: someone escaping the bad guys has slipped a computer disc into one of the dancers’ boots on Friday night as he danced on the downstairs bar, and the bad guys want the disc back.

I didn’t have any way to write it down, obviously–I was wearing booty shorts, socks, and half-boots that came to my ankles, with nothing underneath the shorts and I had my tank top tucked through a belt loop like a tail in the back–yet even the title popped into my head: Bourbon Street Blues. The idea clearly stuck, because when I got home the next morning at about six or seven, dehydrated, drenched in sweat and having lost the tank top at some point during the night, I remembered it and wrote it down.

At some point over the next two years, I wrote a short story called “Bourbon Street Blues” about my stripper–only instead of being from out of town, I made him a local, filling in for someone booked from out of town for the weekend who had to cancel–and wrote about seven thousand words. It felt very rushed to me–the story–and I kept thinking it’s too long for a short story, it would have to be a novel but I also wasn’t sure there was enough story there for a novel. But I liked the idea, no one (at least, to the best of my knowledge) had written anything like it, and I thought, someday I’ll get a chance to write this story and develop this character.

Flash forward to 2001. This was during the time Paul and I had moved to DC to work for the Lambda Literary Foundation, we were miserable there and wanted to move back to New Orleans but didn’t have the money to do so, and the release of Murder in the Rue Dauphine was still at least a year away. I was talking to an editor on the phone about one of his new gay releases, and out of the blue I just pitched Bourbon Street Blues to him. He loved the idea, and asked me to write a proposal and email it to him. I had never written a proposal before, but I thought what the hell, how hard can it be? and so I wrote a two page proposal for the book. Two months later they made me a two-book offer–and the money was good enough to pay for Paul and I to move back to New Orleans as well as to live on for a while. I had only seen the book as a one-off, but they wanted a series. I needed and wanted the money, so I thought I can figure this out later and signed it.

Three months later, we moved back to New Orleans and I started writing the book.

The one thing I wanted to do with Scotty was make him unabashedly, unashamedly, gay. I didn’t want him to have any hang-ups, a sad backstory, or parental issues. I wanted him to be a free spirit who embraces life with both hands, lived in the Quarter, and loved having sex, loved being found desirable, and never really said anything or thought anything mean about anyone else. I made him a personal trainer, and his poverty–he agrees to do the dancing gig for Decadence because he’s behind on his rent and other bills; he teaches aerobics and was a personal trainer–comes from his grandparents freezing his trust funds when he dropped out of college to go to work for a booking agency for male dancers. He has since stopped doing that, but fills in when needed (and when he needs the money) at the Pub/Parade. I also based the shitty politician running for governor–and trying to mount a Christofascist takeover of the state, beginning with an attack on Southern Decadence–on an actual politician who ran for the US Senate shortly after we moved here; we saw him being interviewed on the news and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a joke, some kind of performance art–but forget it Greg, it’s Louisiana.

I also want to let you know that while I was working on this manuscript my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, was released–and I got a “damned with faint praise” review from the Bay Area Reporter, which complained that “it would have been nice to see inside the heads of the other characters”, which took me aback as the book was a first person narrative, which made that impossible. What the reviewer I think was trying to say was that she wished the book had been told in the third person; that to her that would have made the book more interesting to her. But in my baby-author naïveté, all I could think was how can you see inside the heads of other characters in a third person narrative unless the main character was psychic?And the proverbial lightbulb came on over my head. Make Scotty a psychic. This was also an integral key to the puzzle of who Scotty was; the reviewer also yawned over my “gay stereotypes” in Rue Dauphine, so I decided to make Scotty the embodiment of all the worst stereotypes of muscular gay men who worked out and had a lot of sex. Just writing that down now, I realize how incredibly insane it was for me to use my new series book and character to respond to criticism o my debut novel; and when the book came out I braced myself for the inevitable backlash to come.

No one was more surprised than I was at how readers embraced him. The book got great reviews, even from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal (Kirkus, of course, has always pretended I don’t exist). Bourbon Street Blues was even nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery of 2003 (I lost, I think to John Morgan Wilson?) shortly after the sequel, Jackson Square Jazz, was released.

Jackson Square Jazz’s story was actually a recycled idea I had for a spin-off book for Chanse’s best friend Paige. The original concept was that someone would steal the Louisiana Purchase from the Cabildo–and somehow Paige stumbled onto the theft, and knew that the one on display currently there was a copy. (I was calling it, originally enough, Louisiana Purchase.) I decided to make that the basis of the second Scotty book. (This was inspired by a documentary I’d seen about the Cabildo fire of 1989–that may be the wrong date–and how the fire department tried saving everything in the museum before fighting the fire. I remembered how in the documentary they literally were placing historical objects and paintings against the fence at Jackson Square and thinking, anyone could have walked off with something during the fire…and my imagination immediately was off to the races.) Unfortunately, when I met with the museum director–whose actual first day on the job was the day of the fire–I found out that 1) the copy of the Louisiana Purchase at the Cabildo was actually only a replica and the original was stored in the weather-protected underground archive at the Library of Congress and 2) it was more than one page long–I’d imagined it was one large document like the Declaration of Independence; it is not. However–he also suggested I make the MacGuffin the Napoleon death mask–one of the three originals made when Napoleon died–and gave me some great backstory on it as well that I don’t remember if I used in the book or not; but it was a lot of fun talking to him (his name escapes me at the moment, alas) and was a great example of why it is important to actually do research and talk to people.

I also wanted to include figure skating–the working title for the book was Death Spiral, which the publisher made me change, asking for something alliterative, like Bourbon Street Blues–and so I decided to open the book with Scotty having a horrific hangover and then realizing someone was in the bed with him (it’s to this day one of my favorite book openings; what slutty gay man hasn’t been there?)…and then I remembered I’d introduced two love interests for Scotty in book one, and here he was in bed with someone else entirely. (The young man he woke up with was a figure skater in town to compete at Skate America, being held in the Smoothie King Arena.) I loved both of his love interests, and knew I was going to have to bring both of them back somehow, and then I was going to have to figure out which one he’d end up with. (Spoiler: I couldn’t decide, so he wound up with both of them.) I also threw in a ghost, a billionaire artifact collector, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. I turned in the book, along with a proposal for Book Three, in which I finally decided I was going to resolve the threeway relationship personal story, and that would be the end of the Scotty trilogy.

Man plans and God laughs. (Jackson Square Jazz was also nominated for a Lambda; I think this was the time I lost to Anthony Bidulka.)

Mardi Gras Mambo turned out to be an entire other kettle of fish.

I’m not entirely sure I remember exactly what the original plot of Mardi Gras Mambo was going to be, but I know it had to do with the Krewe of Iris (Scotty’s sister Rain belongs) and the book opened at the Iris parade on the Saturday morning before Fat Tuesday. It was due in June of 2004, and of course, I wasn’t nearly finished by the time Memorial Day rolled around, and was planning on asking for another month on the manuscript on the Tuesday after. Of course, that was the Memorial Day weekend when Paul was attacked and everything went to hell in my personal life. My publisher was incredibly kind; they took the book off schedule, told me to take care of Paul, and get the book done whenever I got the book done.

I started writing it again in January of 2005, shortly after I began keeping a blog in order to get me writing again. That was when the Christian/Virginia nonsense happened, and everything got derailed again. When I started writing the book again, I threw out everything except that first chapter at the Iris parade–which did wind up in the final book–and I do not recall what the second plot I chose to write was at this time, other than I knew I was bringing in a Russian character, inspired by someone I’d seen around in the bars for years and had always been just awestruck by his body–and yes, that Russian turned out to eventually be Wacky Russian, my personal trainer. I actually kept this as an inspiration–Eclipse used to be the nightlife insert for IMPACT News, a queer newspaper that died out in the early aughts:

Finally, it was April 2005, and I started writing Mardi Gras Mambo again. I had the plot all figured out–it was completely insane–but I also realized I couldn’t end the personal story with Scotty the way I had hoped and wrap it all up with Book Three. There had to be a Book 4, and so when I finished the book at last and turned it in, I included a proposal for a fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle–which was going to be set during an evacuation for a hurricane that missed New Orleans…I always thought it would be interesting to write a mystery story set during such an evacuation.

Of course, I turned the book into Kensington on August 14th, 2005. Fourteen days later, Paul, Skittle and I fled from New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina.

I wouldn’t come back for good until October 11. Paul didn’t come home until after Thanksgiving.

Of course, I wrote to my editor a day or so after the levee failure to say, well, I don’t think I can write that book I proposed now.

I didn’t see, for a very long time afterwards, how I could write another Scotty book–light, funny, zany–in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then one day I was walking to work from where I’d parked my car and some people on bicycles came riding toward me. They smiled and waved and I smiled and waved back…and realized oh my God, that was Brad and Anjelina. Their house wasn’t far from my office–in fact, it was quite literally around the block from where Scotty lived–and I thought, you know, Brad kind of looks the way I describe Scotty–wouldn’t it be funny if someone tried to kill Scotty because he looked like a movie star who lived in his neighborhood? The more I thought about it, the funnier it became, and I started writing the proposal for Hollywood South Hustle when I got home from work that night. I was so certain they would take it that I started developing the characters and writing out a detailed synopsis…and they turned it down.

I wasn’t expecting that, but it was a marketing decision. Even if they signed the book immediately, it would still be another year before it would come out, and they felt by then Scotty’s audience was long gone, if it wasn’t already. It was disappointing, but right around the same time Alyson came back to me for a fourth Chanse book but they needed it right away–like within ten weeks–so I turned the Scotty story into Murder in the Rue Ursulines. I finished the book, turned it in, and figured the Scotty series was dead, alas.

Shortly thereafter, during the Gay Easter Parade an idea for a different Scotty book occurred to me . The parade was over and I was walking back to my car to drive home when I walked underneath a balcony…just as they started watering their plants. I got soaked–you can’t get mad, it happens in the Quarter periodically and it’s just one of those New Orleans things–and I thought, you really need to write about this. As I walked to the car, dripping, I pictured Scotty hurrying to catch a ride on his parents’ business’ float for the Easter Parade–and of course, he’d wear a white bikini, rabbit ears, and have a rabbit tail–when the exact same thing happened to him, only his bikini would become see-through when wet. By the time I’d driven home, I’d figured that the person on the balcony would be an old friend of his parents’, he’d invited Scotty in to dry off, and when Scotty was on his way home from the parade, the cops would be there because the friend had been murdered. Using The Moonstone as my inspiration, I came up with another MacGuffin story, a way for Colin to come back and explain everything that happened during Mardi Gras Mambo, and I had the perfect ending to Scotty’s story. I just didn’t have a publisher.

But Bold Strokes Books, a primarily lesbian publisher, had started doing books by and about gay men. I’d taken an erotica anthology to them when it was orphaned by the death of its original publisher, and so I wrote and asked if they wanted a Scotty story. They did, and thus Scotty came back to life one more time…and I figured that was the end of it. I wrapped up the personal story about the three-way relationship in a way that was organic and made sense; and I also added a new wrinkle to Scotty’s personal life: Frank’s late-in-life decision to become a professional wrestler. (One of the things we locals learned from Hurricane Katrina was to not put off following or chasing dreams or goals; my attitude thus became go for it and I started chasing down dreams I’d pushed to the side for years.) Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo were both nominated for Lambdas, but at this point I can’t remember who I lost to in both of those cases–for the record, Lambda has never rewarded a Scotty book with an award–probably because they are inevitably funny and over-the-top, which never wins awards because funny is seen as “not serious,” despite the fact that humor/comedy is much harder than drama/tragedy.

I didn’t think I was going to write another Scotty book then, either. But then something miraculous happened: the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, and I wanted to write about what it was like to live here during that incredible time. It didn’t seem like the right story for another Chanse book, so I thought, well, I can pull Scotty back out and write it from his point of view.

And of course, Who Dat Whodunnit was just sitting there for the title. How could I not write that book?

I had already established over the course of the series that the two sides of his family–the Diderots (maternal) and the Bradleys (paternal) didn’t really get along. The Diderots go back to Iberville and the 1718 settling of New Orleans; the Bradleys were Americans who came after 1803, and thus are not only parvenus to the aristocratic Diderots, but also l’Américains. Perish the thought! We’d also established that the Diderots were not nearly as conservative as their State Street living in-laws, but we’d never actually seen much of the Bradley side of the family, so I thought why not do the Bradleys and let us get to know the other side of Scotty’s family? It was around the same time I started reading about a megachurch out in Kenner (or Metairie? I don’t recall) that was rising to prominence in local politics and was, as you can imagine, homophobic. The same-sex marriage wars were also being fought at this time; and during one of those pageants (Miss America? Miss USA?) the reigning Miss California was asked about same-sex marriage during the question portion by judge Perez Hilton (why was he judging a beauty pageant for women is a mystery for the ages) and she responded that her faith had taught her that marriage was between a man and a woman (the audience started jeering) and she apologized by saying “I’m sorry, but that’s how I was raised!” She wound up as First Runner-Up, and some felt, rightly or wrongly, that her “politically incorrect” answer cost her the title. In some ways, I felt bad for her (although it’s not my fault it’s how I was raised I have always thought was an incredibly stupid thing to say; you have free will, and you should be capable of making up your own mind rather than simply parroting things without question you were raised to believe. So if your parents were racist white supremacists…) but then of course, the Right tried to turn her into a martyr and heroine, and she dove right into that headfirst, erasing any sympathy I might have felt for her (I still think the question was inappropriate for a pageant, as would be anything polarizing–and yes, well aware that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be polarizing, but here we are), and of course, Miss Upright Moral Christian had a bit of a shady past that eventually came out and that was that. I decided to base the murder victim in the book on this girl, and tried to explore the influence of this megachurch on her. I also gave Scotty a first cousin who was the darling of the Bradley grandparents because he was a jock and was on the Saints team as a player–but also a homophobic asshole. The Bradleys were like something out of Tennessee Williams–I think I even named Scotty’s uncle (the football player’s dad) Uncle Skipper as an homage to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

There’s a lot of story there left in the Bradley side of the family, now that I think about it–and I’ll be digging into that in the new one, rest assured!

Funny story: After I wrote Who Dat Whodunnit, I decided I was not going to write another Scotty book. This had been Book 5 of what started as a stand-alone and then became a trilogy and yet somehow, I’d kept going on top of that. I kind of felt played out a bit with Scotty, and the longer the series went on, the more problems I was having with things like character ages–Scotty was getting older, which meant his parents were getting older, which meant his grandparents were getting older, too. I didn’t want to deal with the deaths of his grandparents (or Aunt Sylvia, who was his grandmother’s age and had married Uncle Misha), and so I had two options: pretend they weren’t getting older and not talk about their ages, or let the series go. I was still writing Chanse at the time, and I kind of figured that would be the series that went on longer. But I was on a panel at Saints and Sinners and someone from the audience asked me if there would be another Scotty.

GREG: Probably not, but if I can figure out a way to include Mike the Tiger (the live tiger mascot at LSU), Huey Long, and a treasure hunt for Huey’s deduct box, I will.

(I had read T. Harry Williams’ award winning biography Huey Long and had become fascinated completely with him. All I had known about Long going into reading that biography was that he’d been a demagogue (thanks, US History textbook from high school) and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men had been loosely based on his life and career. Mention Long’s name to anyone and they immediately reply with “oh, he was so corrupt”–which amused me, since every Louisiana politician is corrupt to a degree–and I knew Roosevelt and others had worried about him as a populist politician who reminded them of Hitler (and the way he crushed his opposition in Louisiana and essentially became the state’s dictator, who could blame them?), but what was the real story? And Huey Long made me start to have what was at first a grudging admiration for him which grew into a kind of fandom the more I learned. (There are some similarities–more than one would think–between Long and LBJ in the Caro biographies, as well as with Robert Moses, another Caro biography; which would make for a very interesting comparison/contract essay at some point.) But the more I read about Long, the more I wanted to write about him. He fascinated me, and the fact that his trove of cash–the deduct box–was never recovered after his murder was even more fascinating to me.)

And don’t you know, later that night, it came to me. A few months earlier there had been a bomb threat at the LSU campus, and there had been some controversy about how the administration had handled the situation–they’d evacuated Mike the Tiger off the campus before the mass evacuation call for the students. It made sense to me (but I didn’t blame the students for being upset because it absolutely looked like the administration cared more about the tiger’s safety than the students’)–in the chaos of evacuating the campus, getting the tiger out safely would have been a nightmare, and God forbid something happen and Mike got loose. Then it hit me: what if some animal rights’ activists had staged the bomb threat in order to steal the tiger in order to set him free somewhere? (Mike is a frequent target of PETA, who often calls for him to be released into the wild–not in the US, of course–, or sent to a big cat sanctuary.) So, I had the tiger kidnapped, and since Huey Long was responsible for LSU being what it is today, it only made sense for the treasure hunt to have to do with his missing “deduct box”–Huey always used cash, after his assassination the deduct box containing thousands and thousands of dollars in cash disappeared–and there we had it: a plot involving Mike the Tiger, Huey Long, and the deduct box.

This was also the book where I decided to extend Scotty’s family a bit further by adding a new, younger gay character to the mix: Taylor, Frank’s nephew, disowned by Frank’s sister and her homophobic husband after he comes out to them after a semester in Paris, and so he comes to live with Scotty and the boys in the house on Decatur Street. I wanted to bring in someone younger, and gay, with literally hardly any gay experience in the world to reflect the change between generations of gay men and how they view being gay and the rest of the world.

I also figured this would be the last one, but like I said, Scotty just won’t go away.

SIDENOTE: I had to write to the administrators of the Huey Long website for permission to use some quotes from the site in the book. Needless to say, they were very wary of me when they responded, so I emailed them the chapter where I would use the quotes–Scotty was doing some research on Long, and came across the website. Like me, Scotty had always been told Long was corrupt and a demagogue…but demagogues also don’t get things done, which Long did. Some of Long’s programs–like the Homestead Exemption–still exist as public policy in Louisiana. They wrote me back, granting permission…and that was when I found out the person I was talking to was Long’s great-granddaughter, who was rightfully suspicious of anyone writing about her great-grandfather. I sent her a copy of the book when it was finished, and she sent me a lovely thank you card, which is probably one of my favorite writing souvenirs.

The genesis of Garden District Gothic was weird, but yet serves as yet another example of my adage never throw anything you’ve written away.

I had always wanted to spin Chanse’s best friend, journalist Paige Tourneur, off into her own series. I had always intended to do so; from the first time I thought her up for Murder in the Rue Dauphine I thought, “she’s fun and witty and interesting and that weird name–there’s so much more story there than we can get to as a supporting player in a series about someone else.” I have so much written down about Paige and her origin story; how she came up with that name and why; how she wound up at LSU; and so on and so forth. A friend started an ebook publishing company, and wanted me to write Paige novellas for her; I did two–Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans–but the sales, frankly, weren’t there and I didn’t have the necessary time to put in marketing them to help drive the sales, so even though I’d started a third, The Mad Catter, we agreed to kill the series and pull the first two from availability; ultimately, I was working too hard for too little pay-off. I was disappointed, obviously; Paige was kind of a passion project for me–I’d made any number of false starts writing a series book for her, and it was sad to see that there wasn’t an audience for her after all. But I had about four chapters of The Mad Catter in place, and I didn’t want to waste the time spent on them…so I decided to turn them into a Scotty book, which became Garden District Gothic.

I also brought in a new character–a true crime writer with a shady past of his own–who actually wrote a book, a la Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, about the case. The name of his book? Garden District Gothic. I brought him in, thinking I would spin him off into his own book/series–I thought it might be fun to write about a writer…(I thought about using him as the main character in another book based on an actual unsolved string of murders in a rural Louisiana parish, but very quickly realized he was simply an amalgamation of Scotty and Chanse, so that book–The Bodies in the Bayou–went onto the backburner. I think I may have created the character before, in the Chanse series, but I could be remembering that wrong. I also used this book to sort of set up the next; I will explain that further when I am talking about Royal Street Reveillon. I also crossed the character of Paige Tourneur over from the Chanse series into the Scotty series (I loved the character, hated to sideline her after I ended the Chanse series and the novella series didn’t pan out); not that she will be a big part of the Scotty series, but hey, every so often I need a journalist, and why not use a character I am very fond of already and wasn’t ready to stop writing about?

The book was loosely based, obviously, on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case–a decades old notorious murder of a child in the Garden District that was never solved. I wanted to examine and explore issues of class in New Orleans, but I am not entirely sure I pulled off what I intended with the book.

Then again, I think that with every book, don’t I?

And we now come to the (so far) most recent book of the Scotty series, Royal Street Reveillon.

Originally I’d envisioned the Scotty trilogy (when it morphed from a stand-alone) as encompassing the three big gay holidays in New Orleans: Southern Decadence, Halloween, and Mardi Gras. Jackson Square Jazz wound up taking place just before Halloween, alas; Scotty talks about their costumes in the epilogue, but I hit the other two holidays out of the park. When I added a fourth book, I tied it to the Gay Easter Parade–Scotty is on his way to ride on the Devil’s Weed’s float when the book opened–and then of course the next book was sort of Christmas/sort of Mardi Gras/sort of the Super Bowl. Baton Rouge Bingo was the first book that wasn’t tied to a holiday of some sort; neither was Garden District Gothic. But for the next Scotty book, I wanted to do a Christmas book. I’ve never really written much about Christmas, and I do love the season, especially in New Orleans. I wasn’t sure what kind of plot I was going to use, but I knew it was going to be set during Christmas season and I knew I wanted to use reveillon, the Christmas season meal you use to break your fast for Mass, in the title. I had introduced one of the characters from Dead Housewives of New Orleans in Garden District Gothic, so it only made sense to me (or so it seemed at the time) for me to take the framework of Dead Housewives–the entire Real Housewives spoof I wanted to write–and build this new story around it. I changed a lot–made the overarching story much more complicated, and especially complicating the “whodunnit” aspects of the three murders that all occurred within twenty-four hours of the premiere party for Grande Dames of New Orleans.

I also did a couple of horrible things to Scotty and his loved ones over the course of this book…which will have to be dealt with in the new one, alas. I hate when I do this to myself! But with Royal Street Reveillon and its darker themes, I wanted to show how much Scotty has grown and changed over the course of the series; he’s evolved as a person, partly because of the changes to his life and partly because of what he experiences through the murders he finds himself involved in. Do I wish, as I start writing Mississippi River Mischief, that maybe I hadn’t given so many growth opportunities over the years to Scotty and his gang of family and friends? Absolutely. But that’s part of the challenge of writing a series, and what makes it so much fun.

*Funny story about the original cover of Bourbon Street Blues. Back in the day, publishers used to meet with reps from Barnes & Noble and Borders to show them covers and get their input; covers were changed based on those meetings. The Bourbon Street Blues cover was so in-your-face it took me aback when I first saw it; and they had toned the original image down dramatically, mainly smoothing down the bulge so it wasn’t so in-your-face. The Barnes & Noble buyer told them, “he needs a bigger bulge” so they made it bigger–but were still cautious; the image’s original bulge was still bigger. I do think that story is hilarious.

Love Child

Monday morning, you gave me no warning, of what was to be.

I had thought the Super Bowl was an evening game–what can I say? I never watch as a general rule, and when the Saints won it, it was a night game–so was very pleasantly surprised to find it on early last night, so I started watching. I was sorry to see the Bengals lose, but as I said yesterday–if I learned anything by watching Joe Burrow play at LSU, they won’t lose next time, and it will probably be next year. The Bengals are also only going to get better with every passing year. So, heads up, Cincinnati fans–you have decades of greatness before you. Congratulations to the Rams are in order as well; the Bengal defense didn’t get the job done when they needed to in the end.

It was a good weekend around here, in which I did manage to not only get rested but got a lot done. “The Rosary of Broken Promises” is out of my hair now for good; I worked on the anthology; and I started getting the draft of “Condos for Sale or Rent” underway. I do still have a ridiculous amount of things to get done this week, but am feeling much better about the entire thing now. Parades start on Friday, which makes working and getting home from work and running errands entirely problematic for the next two weeks; but when it is all over it will be March and time will start running out across the board. Heavy heaving sigh–where did February go? I have emails to answer this morning and more organizing to get done today–it’s really non-stop, to be honest–but I am no longer tired the way I was last week and feel more motivated than I have in a while, which is a good thing. That fatigue last week was the fucking pits, frankly, and now I worry that I’ll require time from every trip to recover going forward, which wasn’t something I had in the cards for this year.

But…you have to play what you’re dealt, right?

I also reread Chlorine yesterday, and was…well, in all honesty, I was a little underwhelmed by what I have written already in this manuscript. Sure, the voice and tone are right–but the word rhythm is off, and I could also tell that I worked on chapters without revisiting what had already been written; lots of contradictions and changes from chapter to chapter which, obviously, will need to be corrected and changed when I start working on it full force again around April, most likely. But I managed to get some needed and necessary research taken care of over the weekend that will help pull it all together in some ways, plus it anchors the book in a time of the year which I hadn’t been doing up to now. It kind of messes with some other history, but that means I can play around a bit more with fact and fiction, which is also incredibly fun.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Don’t have much to say today, really–sorry about the brevity of the entry–but I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, I suppose it’s time to start spreading Christmas hunk cheer around here, so enjoy today’s hunky elf–who actually makes me think about my story “The Snow Globe.” I’m not really sure when the anthology it is in will be coming out, but I am looking forward to it. I so enjoy getting short stories into print, and do wish I had more time to write them. Then again, perhaps if i stopped wasting so much of my time maybe I could get more stories written. I know I’ve committed to three more that I’ve got to finish (two only need a final edit/revision; one had to be written almost entirely from scratch) for the new year, and once I get this current book finished–well, after the new year and so forth I am going to be rather too busy to write a book for a while; at least, to focus on writing a book, at any rate. I have the Bouchercon anthology to work on, the release of #shedeservedit is right around the same time as the new book is due, and….yikes.

FOCUS, Greg, you need to FOCUS. And make lists.

And breathe.

Yesterday was a really good day, though. I got up early, got caught up on some blog entries about books I’ve read recently, made serious progress on the cleaning and organizing, and I worked on the book. I got another chapter finished; it’s not very good at the moment, but I know what I need to do to make it better, and I also made it to the gym yesterday afternoon, which was also lovely. I need to work on the book some more today–I also have to make a grocery run at some point–and finish the cleaning and organizing I got started on yesterday. The kitchen office looks a lot better than it has in a very long time, and while there are still some odds and ends to touch up, and file, and forth, I feel much better about everything.

Part of the organizing yesterday also included gathering and sorting all my notes for this book and putting them into one, easily accessible place–as well as sorting out the file folders, etc. that had been gathered at some point that have the same title or a similar title or may have some old notes and so forth; I was actually very surprised to see how many times I’d started writing a traditional mystery over the last decade or so–and in my head I conflated them all as the same story, which SURPRISE! They were most definitely not–but I filed those other fits and starts in an easily accessible place, where I can get to them if this first book turns into a series, or if it doesn’t–well, I can then try again with another idea I’ve already made lots of notes on in the past. (I am talking about physical files here, of course; my electronic files continue to be an utter and complete disaster.) But after a terrific day of getting things done and kicking ass and taking names (okay, Chapter Five isn’t very good but it’s a first draft, okay?) I went to the gym and saw some of the Georgia-Alabama game on the television there. After coming home and doing the dishes and some more filing (and making a protein shake), I curled up in my easy chair with Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and turned on the television. I read while glancing up periodically to keep an eye on the game–Jesus, Georgia, even LSU was able to play decent defense when they played Alabama–and kept an eye on my iPad and watched part of the Michigan-Iowa game until Paul got home from the office (late) and we switched over to Gossip Girl (the original is so much better than the sequel that we probably won’t even bother going back to the new series, even though there’s only two episodes left). I also got a pretty good night’s sleep last night as well, which was quite marvelous–I seem to be sleeping better these days, which is lovely.

Today, as I said, I have to make a bit of a grocery run, and need to write and finish these odds and ends of filing around here, as well as write some more on the book–I should do another chapter today–and I’d also like to get some more reading done on the Christie; the murder/mysterious death has already occurred, and now I am wondering if Agatha Christie did, indeed, write cozies; there’s certainly no sense of community here in this book–how can there be, since Miss Marple is visiting a resort hotel on the fictitious island of St. Honoré (an island name I may abscond with at some point), but now that I think about it, the sense of warm community that is a hallmark of most cozy mysteries doesn’t really exist much in any of Christie’s books–but then again, my memory is faulty and I don’t remember much of the plots and stories and characters the way I used (and I do miss that recall skill I used to possess in abundance). But I read almost all of Christie’s books a million years ago, when I was in high school, and I simply cannot revisit all eighty or so of them (I never read the ones she wrote as Mary Westmacott, either), so I will leave commentary on the Christie canon (other than the ones I actually reread) to those who are expert.

But over all, I am feeling pretty good about life in general. As always, I am buried under and busier than any one person probably should be; but it’s how I function best–and I am not sure why that it, probably has a lot to do with the short attention span and having to always balance multiple things at once, and also why taking the time to actually sit down and get organized, making lists and so forth, is the best way to go for me. Paul is getting me an old-fashioned day planner for Christmas, because even though it’s become a thing of the past, I discovered that having a physical journal to write down random thoughts in or brainstorm plots and so forth in was much more effective for me than the electronic system modern technology had forced onto me–so it’s not really much of a stretch to think that having to physically write things down as opposed to making entries into a digital calendar will be even more effective and increase productivity and stop me from forgetting things. (I will continue to use the electronic calendar for bills; that is one thing that has worked remarkably well for me.)

And so now, I shall return to the mines for more spice. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

I’m On My Way Back Home

Saturday morning and I feel remarkably well rested this morning, and better than I have for weeks when I wake up. I’m not sure what this is about–I am not going to talk about the absence of insomnia lately, which has been marvelous–but I am merely going to take it as a lovely occurrence and run with it.

I guess the most exciting news around here is that we have a mouse in the house, living inside the walls and emerging from behind the dishwasher/refrigerator to occasionally raid Scooter’s food dish. The exterminator came yesterday–and we also discovered the reason the dishwasher is leaking is because the fucking mouse ate through a hose, the little shit–so hopefully this problem will be rectified soon. Scooter has done a good job of keeping the mouse trapped in his area–but he’s not always downstairs. I saw the mouse the other day, eating out of Scooter’s food bowl, and chased it back to his hiding place/residence. It’s not a terribly huge deal–with this old house and all the wildlife thriving in this jungle, tropical climate, it’s really amazing we’ve not had one in over ten years; my theory is the mouse came exploring under the house, and was chased into the house by one of the outdoor cats, and once he was inside, well, wouldn’t you live in the walls of the nice safe house where you can hide out of reach of the predatory cat inside, rather than in the dangerous wilds below the house where any number of cats roam?

I guess we should be glad it isn’t an opossum–the family that was living in the crepe myrtles have disappeared since some of the trees were cut down and the ones left behind trimmed down. Those are almost impossible to get out of the house.

Last night we watched Ted Lasso, which was marvelous (I teared up several times, as I do with every episode, and yet the show always leaves you feeling joy), as well as some other episodes of shows we’re watching but right now I cannot think of what any of them were. How peculiar. Oh, of course, The Morning Show. Foundation is also up on Apple TV now, and i really want to watch it, but am not sure if Paul will be interested. I read the entire Azimov series (ironically, when I read it, it was simply called The Foundation Trilogy, because there were only three at the time; same with Dune. The fourth books in both series were released after I’d read the original trilogies, and now both have been adapted at around the same time!) when I was relatively young–it was definitely before the release of the fourth book, Foundation’s Edge–and I greatly enjoyed them; they were my window into the world of Azimov’s science fiction, which I eventually read a lot of (he eventually connected his other trilogies–the Robot books and the spacer books–to this same trilogy into a sweeping history of the galaxy, really) and greatly enjoyed. I don’t really remember many characters or much of the story of Foundation, other than mathematician Hari Seldon could, using mathematical formulas, accurately predict the future, and when the series opens, his calculations show that the mighty Galactic Empire is falling–and the period of darkness for humanity that will follow in the wake of the collapse of the Empire will last for ten thousand years. However, if he and a team of Encyclopedists are given funding and a place to work without interruption or interference for a thousand years, collecting all the knowledge and history of the galaxy in that time, the darkness will only last a few hundred years or so because of the Encyclopedia. This is the basic premise of the series, which eventually proves to be so much more involved and so much else going on…it was fascinating. But I am not sure how it will work as a series–the trailers look epic–so it might not interest Paul, which means something else I’d have to watch on my own.

The LSU game today is on at eleven, which is insane and unusual and really kind of puts a fly in the ointment of the day, doesn’t it? There aren’t many good games today–the only other one of even slight interest is Arkansas-Texas A&M–so I should be able to get through the emotional rollercoaster of the LSU game early enough to get things done; at least finish reading Velvet Was the Night, which is what I really want to do, and maybe do some writing/editing; it’s way overdue, but I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the writing lately, so it’s time to put those thoughts onto the page before other thoughts and ideas push them out and they languish, forgotten and abandoned, in the deepest and darkest recesses of my brain. Christ, the Saints game is also at noon tomorrow. Whatever happened to night fucking games?

I did manage to get some cleaning done up in the kitchen yesterday after work; I got caught up on the dishes (which have been piling up since the dishwasher started leaking; the days of rinsing something out and/or using a sponge to clean it with soap before placing it in the dishwasher to keep the sinks free are gone until that hose is replaced; the handyman is theoretically going to do it on Monday) and the laundry, started picking up things around the living room, and also pruned some more books off the shelves. Now if I can get the desk area/office space better organized…maybe I can even make myself sit at the computer and write for a while? Stranger things have happened.

I am also doing a promo thing for my publisher tonight at six o’clock central time; it involves a reading and a chat about my book along with other Bold Strokes authors who have books coming out in October; you can register here if you would like to.

And at some point today, I’ll need to pick a small section of the book to read from; and practice a bit.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Vicious Circle

Ugh, Monday morning. I slept really well again last night–woke up before the alarm, in fact–and feel relatively well rested, if not completely mentally awake yet. I am sort of feeling like myself again; like my batteries have finally recharged, even if it meant putting some things off for a few days and just allowing myself to relax completely. The Lost Apartment is all pulled back together again; I’ve made some terrific progress with my writing, and my creativity is firing on almost all of its cylinders again, which is more than I ever thought would happen for me again. I finished reading The Russia House yesterday–it’s quite good, if unexciting; the writing itself is so marvelous the coldness of the story itself doesn’t matter, really–and we started watching season two of Very Scary People, getting through the Son of Sam and Night Stalker cases, and then part one of the Coed Killer (honest takeaway from this series: California sure has a lot of mass murderers and serial killers/rapists) before retiring for the evening. I also started reading Jack Olsen’s The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders (interesting title, because the term “serial killer” hadn’t really been coined yet), which is extremely well written, and also paints an interesting picture of Houston; coupled with Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money–I’ve always wanted to write about Houston. I lived there for two years, and then six months again a few years later, and it’s an interesting, complicated city that no crime writer, at least that I am aware of, has set a crime series in, or written a crime novel set there….which is something I find interesting. I think it’s also true of Dallas.

Interesting trivia Greg fact: the Chanse series was originally set in Houston, and the first book was called The Body in the Bayou. I later, when I started writing it seriously (and got beyond two chapters) I moved the series to New Orleans and the story evolved into Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which is the real reason why Chanse was from Texas: he was originally supposed to have lived in Houston, playing for the (at the time) Oilers after attending Texas A&M before getting injured and becoming a private eye. (In the published series, Chanse went to LSU instead of A&M, and was injured in his final college game, which kept him from playing in the pros.)

I still think someone should write a cop or private eye series set in Houston. As wild and crazy as these true crime books set there make Houston seem, I doubt very seriously that the city isn’t wild and crazy still. I remember going to see the stage version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) there, the very first time it was publicly performed (little known Greg fact), and the audience was interesting….I loved the guys in their formal jackets, ties, Wranglers and boots escorting women in evening gowns and furs and dripping with diamonds ( needless to say, I was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt, but I spent the intermissions and the pre-performance time in the lobby literally just staring at the fascinating fashion choices for Houston’s moneyed class).

Oddly enough, there were not many children there; considering it was the stage production of a Disney animated film, you’d think there would be more kids there…but it was a world premiere, and more about Houston’s higher class showing off jewels, furs, and gowns more than anything else.

I also had fun brainstorming the background work for Chlorine over the weekend; naming characters and loosely sketching out bios for them, as well as trying to figure out how to pull off the plot and how to make it work. This is the really fun part of a book–figuring out everything–before the drudgery of actually writing it starts. I am very excited about writing this book, though, and it’s been a hot minute since I was excited about writing a book–in fact, so long that I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to write a book–it may have been Lake Thirteen, all those years ago–which is different than being happy to write a book. I also have to be careful not to worry about expectations of other people, too–Chlorine began its life as just a vague idea I had one morning while writing my blog, which somehow caught on with some of my friends on Twitter who started tweeting at me (some of them still, periodically, will bring up Chlorine on social media, wondering where it is and when I am going to write it), excited about the idea.

I also spent some time yesterday coming up with a to-do list, which I always enjoy doing when I’m not stressed and worn out. When I am stressed and worn out (hello, first three months of this year), to-do lists simply make things worse more than anything else; emphasizing how far behind I am and how much I have to get done and sometimes–not always, just sometimes–the to-do list defeats me once it’s written. Just looking at it causes me stress. I’m not sure how long I am going to be able to hold off stress at the moment–it’s always just lurking there, in my peripheral vision, waiting to pounce on my like a tiger and hold me down–but I am hoping that having the apartment back together and having the two deadlines in my rearview mirror will help stave off it’s inevitable return for a little while, at least.

Tonight I am planning–we’ll see how that goes–to return to the gym for the first time in a couple of weeks, which means basically starting over with one set of everything, which means I won’t be there for terribly long, which for a Monday night is a good thing, most likely. Here’s hoping this will also help me fall asleep tonight; insomnia so frequently derails me. The office is also on track to going back to full staffing and regular open hours, possibly as early as May; I am curious to see how that winds up going. I’ve gotten used to the tumbleweeds blowing through our mostly empty department, and it will seem weird having other people around when they actually starts to happen.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, all, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Crazier

And here we are at Monday again, another weekend down and a brand new week with all of the challenges and headaches and yes, possible joys that may mean. This is my first week of the clinic being open for three days, so I imagine this will make me quite crusty by Thursday, but I am glad to be able to see more people each week than I have been seeing. I managed to get the essay rewritten and notes made on the short story revision I needed to get done this weekend; on my lunch break today I am going to reread what I’ve done and see if I can trust them to be sent back to their respective editors.

Stranger things have happened.

It’s very dark out there this morning; the time change seriously can’t get here soon enough for me. There’s something–to me, at any rate–that is disconcerting about getting up for work while it’s still dark outside; one of the reasons I dislike the winter is getting up while it’s dark and then coming home in the dark after I get off work. I don’t like that, really. I feel like it should either be light out when I get up or light out when I come home; but not dark both times.

I did sleep really well last night, though–I actually think that doing this three days a week rather than just two is going to have a bigger effect on my sleeping patterns.

We finished watching The Boys last night; and were pretty pleased with how the season ended up going. I wasn’t really sure where they were going to take the story, to be honest, but they wound up doing a pretty terrific job and won me back over about halfway through the season. They also did a pretty nice job of resolving the main stories; where there will be a third season or not remains to be seen, but they also did a relatively good job of setting up said third season as well. If there isn’t one, the story ended; if there is, they’ve already set it up, which is great–and an interesting new direction for the show. The Saints play tonight, which is probably what we will end up watching this evening–but I am going to go to bed around tennish, whether the game is over or not. They actually started playing well in the last game, but it wasn’t consistent–there was concern the Lions would come back and win the game at the end–but it was a big improvement over all previous games in this season thus far. I’m ready to write off this football season as yet another casualty of 2020 already, frankly; I don’t know how many more games LSU will lose this shitty season, or the Saints either, for that matter…but I am really not liking this new trend towards basketball scores for football games I am seeing develop this season. Whatever happened to defense?

But I am hoping to get a lot accomplished this week, which is great–I always have high hopes for Monday morning, don’t I?–and while my desk area here at home is still kind of messy and in need of organization, hopefully when I get home tonight I’ll have the energy to get that taken care of as well as putting the dishes away (there’s a load in the dishwasher still this morning).

We also watched this week’s episode of The Vow, which was much more interesting than the last few; seeing as how it primarily focused back on the cult itself and the cult members who were trying to bring it down. I imagine they are going to stretch this out to ten episodes; next week’s is the ninth, and I really do feel like it could have been eight in total. The eerie and creepy thing about it has always been that listening to the leaders talking you could see how it drew people in; it seemed logical and even rational. But last night’s was very jarring; they finally started showing the horrific misogyny involved, and how horrifically the women were being treated, torn down, and then rebuilt with their self-esteem and sense of self terribly shattered, thereby making them all the more vulnerable to the predatory behavior of the leader. As people who watched all ten or so seasons of Smallville, it’s very strange to see Allison Mack, who was in almost every season of the show, descend into this madness; I remember when she was arrested and how shocked we were the story broke; it’s still kind of shocking, actually, watching it all play out in this documentary on HBO.

But there are always going to be vulnerable people who predators will recognize and single out to victimize; so there will always be something for crime writers to write about, sadly. There is no shortage of inspiration in the world for us…

I was starting to think about the next Scotty book this past weekend as well; not sure when or if I am actually going to get around to it, but I do know that it’s title is going to be French Quarter Flambeaux, it’s going to set during that terrible pre-pandemic final Carnival season, and it’s going to involve a homophobic closeted local politician, and that once again the plot is going to center Taylor, at least as a starting place. I also have to bring Colin back and resolve the story for him that I started in Royal Street Reveillon, and the more I think about Colin, the more I realize that Scotty, the boys, and the readers don’t know about him. There are innumerable plot threads that need to be wrapped up and resolved; this is part of the reason why I’ve never decided to end this series, or at least, not yet decided; that day is coming. I am thinking at the very most I am going to cap the Scotty series at ten books–but then again, if I still have story left…I certainly have plenty of alliterative, rhythmic Scotty titles left that I have yet to use.

Maybe once I get a rough draft of Chlorine finished, I can start writing another Scotty. We’ll have to see how 2021 goes; I have two incredibly tight deadlines back to back that I need to face down before anything else, and I need to keep my focus on those two manuscripts laser-sharp, else they won’t done and I don’t really need that kind of stress.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and may your week be stress-free, relaxing, and marvelous.

I Almost Do

The days storms come ashore elsewhere–but still close by– are always weird.

There’s the guilt and shame at the relief that it’s not coming to where you live–which means you are relieved that others will suffer instead of you–and there’s still a lot of tension. While New Orleans will have nowhere near the damage or destruction western Louisiana, and particularly Lake Charles, will suffer yet again a mere six weeks or so after the last time they were hit hard, you never know. We are–or were–supposed to experience only the effects equivalent to a tropical storm, and those aren’t exactly nothing. Will trees come down, will power be lost, will streets flood? Will the high winds cause destructive tornadoes? And while suffering isn’t a contest, even typing those words riddled me with guilt yet again.

The sky has been mostly gray all day, with only occasional glimpses of the sun and blue during all-too-brief breaks in the cloud cover. The wind picks up and drops off–and some of the gusts are extreme. I went into the office for a few hours to help out with the syringe exchange, and both coming and going there were a couple of times when I could feel the wind battering my car, trying to move it–never strong enough to make me nervous, but just enough to be unsettling.

Scooter is currently sleeping on my backpack, next to my desk, and Paul is still upstairs working. I have laundered the bed linens today–it’s Friday, after all–and I currently am in the process of cleaning up my iCloud drive (and finding new frustrations with the MacBook Air, but it’s not as bad as it could be, and really, once I get the dongle adapter thingamabob to connect the back-up hard drive to to it, it should be fine. And at some point I will take it into the store in Metairie….unless I can still get help on-line for free), which is taking some time, but it has been a mess for quite some time, and therefore I have no one to blame but myself.

We finished watching Utopia this week, which we greatly enjoyed, odd as it was, and last night we started watching The Good Lord Bird on Showtime, which is also odd, weirdly entertaining, and kind of interesting. It’s about John Brown, the abolitionist hero of the 1850’s, and I am never entirely certain whether Ethan Hawke, who’s playing Brown, is giving an incredible performance deserving all the Emmys, or if he is overacting in a manner worthy of Nicolas Cage at his worst. It’s told from the point of view of a young Black slave, freed by Brown in the opening minutes of the first episode, who Brown for some reason becomes convinced is a girl and for another reason (you’d have to watch) starts calling by the name Onion. I’m sure we’ll keep watching–I was always raised to believe that John Brown was a monster, and while he was certainly not the sanest individual, his hatred of slavery was not wrong–and the show is set during the days of bleeding Kansas, which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately (the town in the Kansas book is called Liberty Center, and it’s called that because it was founded as a free town during those days–it’s also a call-out to Philip Roth, because it’s the town where When She Was Good was set), and wanting to write about at some point.

We’ve been holding off on watching The Boys’ second season until all the episodes were loaded (yes, binge-watching has spoiled us; we hate to have to wait) and I do want to go back at some point and finish Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, and I also want to watch The Haunting of Bly House, which just dropped on Netflix (Paul never got into The Haunting of Hill House for some reason), and there’s some other movies and so forth that are streaming now that we want to see (I keep meaning to watch Boys State on Apple Plus–I actually went to Boys State when I was in high school in Kansas, and why I have never written about that I honestly do not know).

But since it’s October and I had forgotten, I decided to start watching some horror this month while making condom packs. I watched Carrie yesterday (still wonderful) and today I watched one from the 1980’s called April Fools’ Day, which I think I watched on HBO or Showtime back in the day. It stars Deborah Coleman from Valley Girl and My Chauffeur (why she never became a bigger star is beyond me), Deborah Goodrich (probably best known for playing the imposter Silver Kane on All My Children), the guy best known for playing Biff in the Back to the Future movies, Tatum O’Neal’s brother Griffin, and a big crush of mine from back then whom I’d forgotten, Ken Olandt (he was also in Summer School, where he played a stripper so of course he caught my eye). It takes the ‘stranded on a desert island’ conceit of And Then There Were None (also similar to the one season favorite Harper’s Island) and plays the trope of the slasher film against it/–but it’s not very gory (back then I had no interest in the genre of slasher films because I didn’t like gore and buckets of blood everywhere, although I made an exception for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies; Paul was the person who got me to watch Halloween and Friday the 13th for the first time). It’s a fun little movie, scary and suspenseful enough, and entertaining enough, but a trifle that didn’t really leave much of an impact on the horror genre or on film in general. I added some more horror movies to my lists on various streaming services–I can give the Cynical 70’s Film Festival a break for a while, I think–and it’s actually amazing to me how many horror classics I either don’t remember, or haven’t seen–Fright Night, for example, and The Fog, for another–and so with so much streaming content, there’s no reason not to finally view these movies, right?

Right.

I’m also going to rewatch Christine, and some other King adaptations I’ve not seen (primarily because I heard they weren’t good).

And on that note, I am going to head into the living room with some wine and maybe watch some highlights of last year’s LSU season until Paul is ready to join me.

Have a lovely and quiet Friday evening, Constant Reader.

Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.