I’ve Had The Time of My Life

New Orleans is, of course, more than Mardi Gras; but whenever anyone mentions New Orleans, most people’s minds immediately go there.

It is probably the most famous thing about New Orleans, no matter how hard we try to convince outsiders that there’s more to the city that our annual bacchanal…Mardi Gras is always the default; so much so that the entire season is collectively (and incorrectly) called Mardi Gras; Mardi Gras is merely Fat Tuesday (mardi gras literally translates into fat Tuesday) and the rest of the season is Carnival. No matter how often you try to correct people, it never takes and so I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer correct people. It is what it is.

Likewise, people think of Carnival as a debauched event, and there is some truth to that–women do show their breasts for beads, and I’ve seen guys drop trou as well. However, I can also honestly say I’ve never seen that happen on the actual parade route on St. Charles Avenue; perhaps that happens down on Canal Street during parades, but it doesn’t happen in Uptown. I’ve only witnessed it happen in the Quarter–people on Bourbon Street displaying the required flesh for people up on balconies with a seemingly endless supply of beads, demanding boobs or butts or balls in exchange for a strand of beads. I’ve personally never dropped trou for beads–never will; why on earth would you when they are thrown with such reckless abandon from floats during the parades?

Like most New Orleanians, I had some vague knowledge of the history of Carnival in New Orleans; I knew that the theme song “If Ever I Cease to Love” came about because of a visit from a member of the Russian Romanov royal family in 1872; the Carnival colors of purple, green and gold were also in his honor. I knew that Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex were the original krewes that paraded; that the flambeaux carriers originally were necessary to light up the parades in the darkness of the night; I also knew that the members of those original krewes–that still exist today, even if some of them no longer parade–were made of the city’s ruling class elites, and the krewes were offshoots of the exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs in the city–the Boston Club, the Pickwick Club, etc.–that also still exist today.

But I didn’t know a lot about the history; I didn’t know much beyond what I would read in the annual Arthur Hardy’s Parade Guide, which I buy religiously every year. It’s easier, of course, now; there are parade apps that track the parades so you know where they are; whereas before you just had to stand on the route and wait, or (if you are lucky enough, like we are, to live close to the parade rout) listen for a marching band before heading down to the Avenue.

So I decided recently, since I’m reading a lot of New Orleans history, to read James Gill’s Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans.

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The white men in jackets and ties were obviously out of their element. Normally, at this time of day, they would be preparing to leave home or office for a couple of drinks, lunch, and maybe a card game at their clubs. Now, on December 19, 1991, they shifted in their seats, returning hostile glances from a large contingent of black men and women in the packed basement of New Orleans City Hall. The city council was meeting in spartan surroundings while its regular chambers were being renovated, but the physical discomforts were nothing compared to the general psychic unease as everyone waited for the great debate on an ordinance to desegregate Mardi Gras parades and gentlemen’s luncheon clubs.

New Orleans is a Southern city, with all that entails and perhaps even more. There were slaves here before the Louisiana Purchase; both the French and the Spanish brought slaves to New Orleans and Louisiana. New Orleans didn’t hold out long as a Confederate city; it surrendered to the Federal navy fairly early in the war, and with that surrender, the Union plan to control the Mississippi was one step closer to fruition. Racism, Jim Crow, and all the horrible white supremacy that comes with those things were evident here; the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that established the horrific doctrine of “separate but equal” was a case that originated in New Orleans, and had to do with segregated railroad cars. Several years ago Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city council finally agreed to remove the Confederate statues and other memorials commemorating the city’s racist past; General Lee no longer stands with his back to the North on his plinth in Lee Circle; the statue of General Beauregard outside the entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art was removed, and the statue of Jefferson Davis on the neutral ground along Jefferson Davis Parkway was also taken down. Perhaps the most egregious memorial–the Battle of Liberty Place memorial–was also removed in the dead of night.

New Orleanians like to pretend that New Orleans doesn’t have that same vein of racism and white supremacy the rest of the South does; but it’s definitely there. It might have more a genteel veneer over it, but it’s definitely there. Orleans Parish is probably the most progressive parish in the entire state–but that’s also an incredibly low bar to set. The vast majority of people I know were in favor of the removal of the memorials, and whenever it came up on a local news website, the comments against the removal were almost inevitably from non-New Orleanians, and usually ginned up the standard Louisiana complaints about New Orleans: out of control crime, poverty, crumbling infrastructure. But all of those things were also true when the city was segregated and operating under Jim Crow; anyone who reads New Orleans history knows that the city was always a hotbed of crime and sin and debauchery.

Lords of Misrule opens with the attempt by the city council in 1992 to desegregate the krewes; my first-ever attendance at Carnival was a mere three years later, and people were still talking about it. The result was three old-line krewes (Comus, Momus, and Proteus) decided to stop parading rather than desegregate (there is a krewe now parading under the name of Proteus again; I don’t know if it is actually the same, original Krewe of Proteus or a newer krewe who took the name). Opponents of the ordinance claimed it would kill Carnival, which is now one of the primary economic engines of the city; nearly thirty years later we can attest that didn’t happen. Modern Carnival attendees don’t now about those krewes and they aren’t missed. But Gill uses this battle at the city council as a jumping-off place to examine the history of the racial politics in the city, and throughout, he uses Carnival–and how racist events in the city, such as the Battle of Liberty Place–to illustrate and illuminate that history.

It’s an enjoyable read, a little eye-opening in places, but a good read, and he also does an excellent job of exploring how Comus was not only  Confederate, but later, if not directly tied to, then definitely sympathetic to the Klan and the cause of white supremacy. Some of these civic leaders who would be, or had been, King of Comus or King of Rex also were leaders of the rebellion, the Klan, and so forth.

And it isn’t until the final chapters that any bias on the part of Gill becomes even remotely obvious; I got the distinct impression in the final chapters that Gill opposed the desegregation of the krewes–but he never comes out and says that; the final chapters simply read that way to me. I could be wrong.

But I do recommend it. It’s a good, interesting read, and sheds some important light on forgotten parts of New Orleans history.

Yes We Can Can

It’s Friday and we survived another week, Constant Reader!`

I switched my schedule today to work in the afternoon–we’re short-staffed–and thus was able to get a nice, relaxing night’s sleep (to make up for Wednesday night’s restless night) and hopefully allow my back to get some rest and heal up whatever the hell I did to it on Wednesday. I got a lovely night’s sleep last night, and so today I am going to get caught up on a lot of stuff that had slid while I was working on the massive volunteer project–my email inbox in particular, has raged out of control for quite some time now–and finish paying my bills before heading into the office this afternoon. I did get some work done on a short story last night, and managed to get to bed fairly early.

Royal Street Reveillon officially is released in about four more days, and yes, I am going to talk about the book pretty much every day until it is officially born into the world. The cover is completely fantastic; it might be my favorite Scotty cover ever, and I’ve pretty much loved them all.

When I first wrote about Scotty, obviously the first book was set during Southern Decadence. When I got a two book contract, essentially turning a stand alone novel into the nascent beginnings of a series, I thought well, the personal story can work through a trilogy; and I’ll set the three books during the gay holidays–Decadence, Halloween, and Mardi Gras. And when the series continued beyond the original trilogy, the next one, Vieux Carre Voodoo, opened with the Gay Easter Parade. Eventually, the holiday theme was discarded as the series continued–Who Dat Whodunnit was built around the Saints’ trip to the Super Bowl; Baton Rouge Bingo was built around Louisiana history and the legacy of Huey Long; and Garden District Gothic not only set up the new book, but was built around an unsolved crime in the past that was affecting the present day negatively. With Royal Street Reveillon, I decided to go back to the holiday thing; it’s set during the Christmas season, as the title implies, and the gorgeous cover reflects that (one of the things I love the most about the cover is that one of the lanterns at the entrance to Jackson Square isn’t lit; nothing is more New Orleans than only three of the four lanterns actually working).

It’s funny that it took me so long to write about New Orleans at Christmas time; I wrote and published a Christmas story over a decade ago, “The Snow Queen,” which was included in my anthology Upon a Midnight Clear, which has been out of print since around 2008, and will probably be included in my short story collection Monsters of new Orleans, should I ever get around to finishing writing the stories for that. I love New Orleans at Christmas time; the city always likes decorating for the holidays, and people go all for Christmas. The French Quarter almost becomes like a little Christmas village, with the fronts of houses decorated and bushes and trees and balconies festooned with decor. The massive live oaks that line our streets are often filled with lights; the enormous facades of the houses on St. Charles are also decorated with lights and the yards are filled with reindeer and Santas and snowmen. Celebration in the Oaks is something we try to go see every year–the trees in City Park along the drives are all decorated and holiday decor everywhere–and is simply breathtakingly beautiful.

As I’ve gotten older, I care less and less about Christmas; Paul and I have always been astonishingly not sentimental, and the older we get the less sentimental we are. I generally view Christmas as little more than a paid two days off from work (we also get Christmas Eve as a paid holiday). Scooter’s inability to resist attacking the decorations has resulted in us not decorating the Lost Apartment since he destroyed the Christmas tree that first year he spent the holiday with us; he also tries to chew the wires for lights, so we no longer string lights along the railing for the staircase (Skittle would knock a low-hanging ornament off the tree and then get bored). We still get each other gifts, of course, and I try to remember to send cards every year but don’t always succeed. I don’t watch Christmas movies anymore, or Christmas specials, and we certainly don’t play Christmas music in the apartment–it’s so incessant everywhere else in the world during the season that there’s no need–and other than going to Pat Brady’s annual Christmas party, we don’t really do much for Christmas anymore.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s sad, but then remember it doesn’t bother me in the least, and cease worrying about it.

Writing about Scotty during the Christmas season did raise an interesting question: how would Scotty and his immediate family celebrate the holiday, given his parents aren’t Christians, nor was he or his siblings raised that way? But Christmas, originally a Christian usurpation of a pagan holiday, has really lost its religious meaning here in the United States over crass commercialization (A Charlie Brown Christmas actually explored the true meaning of Christmas versus the growing commercialization of the holiday, seeing it as a huge problem, back in the early 1960’s, and the lesson was clearly lost on its audience as the commercialization has only gotten worse in the decades since, despite the show airing every year)m and it’s actually become a secular holiday; everyone gets the day off from work, pretty much, and much of the symbolism of the holiday as we know it today has no basis in faith. (This is why “merry Christmas” doesn’t bother me–I no longer consider myself to be a Christian, and haven’t for decades, but to me, saying “merry Christmas” is no different than “Happy New Year” or “enjoy your 4th of July” or “happy Thanksgiving”; but that could also be the unconscious privilege of being raised Christian, besides, saying “happy holidays” instead doesn’t hurt anyone other than those whose faith is so shallow it needs to be reinforced by others every time they turn around.)

But one of the great joys in writing Scotty, and why I still write about him, and enjoy almost every minute of it, is that Scotty finds such great joy in life, no matter what’s happening or how bad it may be; his eternal optimism and belief that the world is actually full of good people, and is actually a good place, and bad people are outliers makes writing about him one of the great pleasures of my life as a writer. As I wrote in Mardi Gras Mambo, Scotty loves Carnival and doesn’t understand people who don’t; even saying “You don’t get sick of Christmas, do you?” And there’s really the key; of course Scotty would love Christmas, would love decorating and buying presents and all the things that come with Christmas; he has an almost child-like love of the holiday, and another one of his appeals is that no matter what has happened to him–and bad things have–he never loses that child-like sense of love and wonder and awe for the world at large. Of course he would love Christmas.

Of course he would.

And despite all the crazy shit dropping in his lap this particular Christmas season, never once does Scotty ever think the holiday is ruined. Because of course it isn’t.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Heartbreaker

Adjusting to normality after the madness of Carnival is never an easy thing to do.

Fortunately, it always involves a short work week–three days–and before I know it the weekend will be here and Monday will be when things really get back to normal around here.

In other exciting news, my own Mardi Gras Mambo was included in a round-up of crime novels set during Carnival, along with noted writers whom I admire, such as Bill Loefhelm, James Sallis, James Lee Burke and Barbara Hambly, among others. (You can check out the entire list here.)

Isn’t that lovely? It’s always nice–and a bit of a surprise–when I find myself on lists like this, whether it’s “gay crime writers” or “books about New Orleans” or “New Orleans crime writers” or pretty much anything, really. I must confess, whenever I see a list where I could be included and am not, it always stings a little bit; I suppose that’s something I will never get used to…and I always wonder, is it because I’m gay? Do queer writers not count? Of course when it’s a list of queer writers it can be a bit maddening, but if you let things like that derail you or hurt your feelings…you’re in the wrong business.

You have to not let the exclusions bother you and celebrate the inclusions…which isn’t easy.

Yesterday was a day of utter discombobulation as I tried (and failed, really) to adapt back to my work schedule, which means I did go to work but the rest of my life floundered around the edges. I didn’t even get around to answering emails yesterday, which was a priority, or paying the bills. But this morning I paid the bills (which is always a crushing blow on pay day) and have another hour or so before I have to get ready for work–so the goal is to tear through my emails and get as many answered as possible.

Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also started rereading Bury Me in Shadows last night; and yes, the first chapter is, as I feared, a total mess–but it’s fixable, and I am going to continue rereading those first ten chapters this week and work on fixing them before moving on to the rest of the book. I just need to get past this weird feeling leftover from Carnival, where I don’t feel like I am actually a part of my life but am kind of drifting alongside it, observing but not participating in it, if that makes any weird kind of sense.

But I am hoping today will sort that out. The kitchen is a mess–I did the dishes when I got home last night, but there still is a mess everywhere in here and the floor needs to be done–and get some more things sorted and organized. I slept really well last night and didn’t want to get out of bed this morning; tomorrow is a get up at the crack of dawn morning but it’s also only half-a-day, so I am going to try to get all my errands done tomorrow afternoon on the way home from work so as to be able to, once again, not leave the house this weekend.

I find that I really do enjoy those weekends when I don’t leave the house.

I also managed to read another short story last night, from Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There?, titled “The Bird Bath”:

Opening her door for the first time to Mr. Mitson, Mrs. Pryor felt a sense of recoil. He looked like a tramp of the kind not often seen nowadays. He had a very red face, sharp red-rimmed little eyes, and a week’s growth of beard. He wore a dirty old army greatcoat, made for a bigger man, and a hat which had long ago lost its original color and shape. He smelled strongly of beer.

Nearby, however, actually in her tiny drive, stood a reassuring sight, a white pony, plump and shiny and with the placid look of a well-treated animal. Attached to the pony was a small cart, bearing in white paint the words–J. Mitson, Dealer. This morning J. Mitson was dealing in firewood.

Over the next few days, as the widowed Mrs. Pryor settles into her new home–having returned to England after years abroad with her husband–in East Anglia, Mr. Mitson keeps coming back and selling her things…with the final thing he sells her being a strange bird bath; a plinth with a wide open space at the top.

And that’s when things get interesting.

Another enjoyable, Gothic style, softly whispering ghost story. I love that Lofts isn’t into outright horror or jump scares, but like The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House, her whispered stories make the hair stand on end and the skin crawl.

SO glad I got this book!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Drivin’ My Life Away

We left the Orpheus parade last night when it started raining and the wind picked up. It was already cold out there, but that weather shift was going to take it from merely unpleasant to intolerable pretty fast, so we skedaddled back to the Lost Apartment and called it a night.

But Orpheus is a beautiful parade, and the floats simply breathtaking.

And there’s nothing like Carnival to make me remember why I love this city so much. Carnival is pretty much unavoidable , no matter how hard you try, and there’s no point in resisting it because it isn’t going away. Even those who hate Carnival (which I don’t understand, unless they are also the people who kick puppies and so forth) have to ride the wave until it’s over. Today is the last day of my Carnival related vacation, and it’s been absolutely lovely. Did I get everything done that I wanted to get done? Of course not. I never do. But I did do some thinking, and thinking time is often in short supply. I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the WIP–I may go back and revise the first ten chapters to weave in the threads that are missing before writing the second half of the book–and with any luck, I can have a decent draft of it finished by the end of March.

Fingers crossed.

It’s very cold this morning for a Mardi Gras Day, and I kind of am glad Paul and I don’t do Fat Tuesday anymore. Not that it wouldn’t be fun, but all the costume planning and so forth, and I doubt seriously I could drink all day anymore and still make it to work on Ash Wednesday and be functional. Sigh, the pleasures of getting old. But I always feel like my time is borrowed, and the life I have is a gift I never thought I would see. So there’s that, you know?

I do have some cooking to do today; I need to make bacon for lunch sandwiches and I am going to make the chili today–thank goodness it’s cold, right? I am also going to go ahead and make chicken salad for Paul’s lunches this week.

I am trying to decide what I want to write next, if I do another Scotty. There’s an amorphous idea boiling in the back of my head that’s been back there for quite some time–Hollywood South Hustle–which would combine two stories I’ve been pondering for a while (I am leaning toward this one as the next Scotty because the other two–Bywater Bohemia Bougie and Redneck Riviera Rhumba–don’t have even an amorphous story dancing in my head other than the titles. I think Redneck Riviera will have to have something to do with Frank’s wrestling career and the other has to do with gentrification, but that’s all I’ve got. Hollywood South on the other hand has two different plots I want to write–one about a film industry scam that actually happened here in New Orleans, and the other about the victim of a vicious assault, twenty years later. It’s just about trying to figure out, really, how those two plots roll into each other and can run parallel to each other in order to make a cohesive story. Plus there’s another plot element that needs to be wrapped up, carried over from the current, and I think this plot can accommodate that story pretty well. This is kind of the Scotty book I originally intended to write as the fourth book in the series, but Katrina pretty much buried that, at least for a while. (I’ve already spun part of that original plot into Murder in the Rue Ursulines; but since it was a Chanse book it changed a lot; enough so that using the original idea as a Scotty would absolutely work.)

But…it’s nice to have another idea for Scotty lingering in my head, on the back-burner. Maybe I’ll even get to it later this year.

Stranger things have happened.

I also want to work on Monsters of New Orleans. I’ve not done any short story work in a while, and I kind of miss it. I had another story turned down by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, but that’s only whetted my appetite to try to get something else published in there. There’s a long story, novella-length, called “Never Kiss a Stranger” that I’d also like to get back to work on, but on the other hand, I’m wondering if the story might make for a better novel than long-form story. I suppose I should finish a draft before making a decision, one way or the other.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines for me. I was thinking about working on some stuff today, since I’m not leaving the house, but I think I’ll just read instead.

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone.

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Desire

It’s a lovely morning, with a blue sky and the sun shining, and it might be a bit chillier than it was yesterday–but the high is forecast for the seventies and there’s no rain in the forecast.

I slept deeply and well last night, partly from exhaustion. Paul, of course, is in the final weeks before the Festival so has been working late at the office and then staying up till the wee hours of the morning working at home, so yesterday he was catching up on sleep most of the day so I was, alas, without my trusted parade route partner as I wandered down to the corner for the Pontchartrain and Choctaw parades. I did well for myself with bead-and-throw catching, but it started sprinkling while I waited for the third parade, so I walked back home. As soon as I sat down in my easy chair, however, exhaustion set in. My legs and lower back were aching, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip the next parade. As Sparta and Pygmalion were coming later, I started watching Versailles and actually got through three episodes. Paul got ready for the night parades…and it started raining. There was also thunder here–which also means lightning–and I decided that it simply didn’t make sense to stand in the rain and possibly catch a chill that would ruin the rest of the season, so I remained ensconced under my blanket in my easy chair and watched television: the CNN docuseries The 2000’s is very well done. This morning my back is still a bit sore and all the joints of my leg–hip, knee, ankle–ache a bit; but I have far too many friends riding in King Arthur to skip that one today.

And I also go on my little staycation on Wednesday, so there’s that, as well.

I do love parade season, I have to say. I may even have to write another Scotty-at-Mardi-Gras book at some point.

Or just some Mardi Gras set book. I could write a hundred books or stories about Mardi Gras and never really cover it all, you know.

How I do love New Orleans.

I also managed to revise a chapter of Scotty yesterday; I should be able to do another this morning as well. I read some more of Lori Roy’s superb Gone Too Long while I was grilling yesterday; it’s most excellent and you need to preorder it immediately. I also managed to get some emails cleaned out; hope to do some more this morning as well as reading the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, and perhaps another Norah Lofts ghost story.

I suppose I’ll watch the Oscars tonight after the parades. It’s really not much fun anymore, as all the pre-awards kind of take all the suspense and excitement out of the Oscars. The acting winners will be Regina King (who deserves all the awards), Mahershala Ali, Glenn Close, and Rami Malek, barring the every-once-in-a-blue-moon surprise. I’ll probably read while it’s on…although I’d love to see Olivia Colman win; not only was she amazing in The Favourite but her acceptance speeches are pure gold. But Glenn Close is way overdue; she should have won for both (or either) Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, which I’d actually like to watch again.

And now, I am waking up and needing some sustenance; perhaps some peanut butter toast or a bowl of honey-nut Cheerios?

And then it’s back to the spice mines.

Happy Carnival, all!

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Pop Muzik

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

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

I’m so bad at these things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Think of Laura

Zulu is passing now; I can hear the drums of the marching bands. It’s a gorgeous morning, the sun is shining and I am betting the crowds up at the Avenue are deep; they certainly were last night for Orpheus. Paul and I both have to work tomorrow, so we’re ending our Carnival early; taking today to rest and recover so we can hit the ground running on Ash Wednesday. I also have a lot of things to do today; emails to answer, things to write, things to edit, things to read, a kitchen to clean. Even though it was abbreviated this year (I was in Alabama for the first weekend of parades), I enjoyed every bit of Carnival this year; and am already melancholy to see it end as always.

I’ve also been enjoying the hell out of the Winter Olympics, and like millions of people worldwide I am–what’s the word kids use now? Oh yes–stanning Adam Rippon. As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve known of Adam long before these games; I remember when he had a mop of floppy curls; when gossip websites were pairing him and Ashley Wagner as a couple (I rolled my eyes every time I saw the photos), and I remember when he came out. I blogged about homophobia in figure skating a while back; when Adam came out while still on the Olympic eligible circuit I thought to myself you’re never going to win anything now; so I was pleasantly surprised to see him win US Nationals and make the world team in 2016; he missed last season with a broken foot, and this season he is full-on out: his short program is to gay club music, and his long program, as everyone saw the other night, is breathtaking. I’m so happy for both him and Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics that same night; they earned bronze medals as part of the team competition, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them–all of the Americans on the team, to be honest. Adam is so funny and refreshingly himself; a big personality and a natural wit he doesn’t try to hold back, and that honesty…I just can’t get enough. I had tears in my eyes when he finished his long program the other night; Paul and I both screamed when Mirai landed the triple axel. Seeing the trashy homophobes on Twitter trashing him or going after him makes my blood boil; I’ve resisted the urge to reply to them He’s got an Olympic medal and you’re a fifth-rate Twitter troll. Congratulations.

So. There’s that.

And in other news of the fabulous, the lucky world of readers can look forward to the upcoming release of a new Laura Lippman novel, Sunburn. I got an ARC at Bouchercon and read it in one sitting on a rainy Saturday back in October.

sunburn

It’s the sunburned shoulders that get him. Pink, peeling. The burn is two days old, he gauges. Earned on Friday, painful to the touch yesterday, today an itchy soreness that’s hard not to keep fingering, probing, as she’s doing right now in an absentminded way. The skin has started sloughing off, soon those narrow shoulders won’t be so tender. Why would a redhead well into her thirties make such a rookie mistake?

And why is she here, sitting on a barstool, forty-five miles inland, in a town where strangers seldom stop on a Sunday evening? Belleville is the kind of place where people are supposed to pass through and soon they won’t even do that. They’re building a big by-ass so the beach traffic won’t have to slow for the speed trap on the old Main Street. He saw the construction vehicles, idle on Sunday, on his way in. Places like this bar-slash-restaurant, the High-Ho, are probably going to lose what little business they have.

High-Ho. A misprint? Was it supposed to be Heigh-Ho? And if so, was it for the seven dwarfs, heading home from the mines at day’s end, or for the Lone Ranger, riding off into the sunset?  Neither one makes much sense for this place.

Nothing about this makes sense.

Laura Lippman has been one of my favorite writers since I read Baltimore Blues years and years ago. I tore through her Tess Monaghan series, and she very quickly became one of my buy in hardcover authors. I’ve never regretted making that switch, and as she has expanded her skills and pushed herself with her exceptionally brilliant stand alone novels, I’ve never once quibbled but I want another Tess novel! (I do, always, but the stand alones are so fucking fantastic that it doesn’t matter–I really just want a new Lippman, and wish she was on a yearly schedule rather than an eighteen month one.)

Laura’s career trajectory has been most impressive from a writing perspective; because as a writer of stand alones, she has gone from being a literary crime writer to a literary writer about crime, if that makes sense. Each of her stand alones are unique and different from the others; about as far removed from her series as any novels can be and still be by the same author. Each one of these novels are rare pearls, individual and vastly different from the others; different themes, different explorations, different everything. The one common thread that runs through these novels is that they are, for the most part, about women, and what women face in their lives; how they deal with crimes and tragedies that take them out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Laura also regularly experiments with form and voice and tense; enormous, dangerous risks as a writer that she somehow always manages to pull off, make engaging and enjoyable, and always manages to tell a story that makes a very compelling point.

Sunburn,  her latest, is as different from anything she has done before as it could be unless she decided to write about vampires or a zombie apocalypse; but she also brings her incredibly powerful sense of empathy to this tale of murder, vengeance, and oh-so-careful planning. The book opens with the main character, Polly Costello, walking away from her husband and child on a beach vacation and winding up in the hard-knock town of Belleville; she is being observed by Adam, who is being paid to keep an eye on her, follow her–but not to become obsessed by her, which is what happens. Their story is told in a very limited third person point of view, alternating between them, and as we slowly get to know them, watch their physical attraction expand and develop into something more, the questions remain: why did Polly walk away from her family and child? How could she do such a thing? Who is this enigmatic redheaded bar waitress?

And just how fucking good does Adam’s grilled cheese sandwich taste?

The prose in this book is lean; not an extra word to be found anywhere, and it is an homage of sorts to the kind of lean, tight, dark noir that the great James M. Cain wrote. (Cain is a hero of mine, and I have always wanted to write something that dark and lean and tight…ironically, one of the ideas I had for such a noir–gay, of course–was also titled Sunburn) I’ve seen, in some of the early reviews, comparisons to Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, which seem obvious; there’s an insurance scam buried deep in the plot, it’s set in a bar/diner, it’s about an unexpected, explosive attraction between a man and a woman; there are side plots that end in mysterious deaths… but if anything, I’d say Sunburn is more reminiscent of Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress than anything else.

The book is extraordinary, and probably Laura Lippman’s best work to date; that wisecracking, tight prose; a complicated and complex plot that grows even more complicated as you read another page; fully developed characters you can help but root for, even if their motivations aren’t exactly pure; and ultimately, the book is about a woman with everything stacked against her all of her life, who  never gives up, and makes plans…risky plans; where she gambles everything, including her own happiness and desire, for her future, yet is flexible and smart enough to always adapt.

Polly Costello is a heroine Cain would have been proud to call his own.