So Hard

Monday has rolled around again, and for the most part, I’m okay with it, really. I had a lovely weekend away from the Internet, which was enormously relaxing, and was able to get two stories revised yesterday. Of course, later on last evening I realized there’s yet another deadline looming, but I think I can make it. It is Friday, and Friday is when the 4th of July holiday lands for me; yes, a three day weekend to look forward to, and a deadline for Friday. So, in the worst case scenario, the story I want to submit for Friday needs at most another read through and polish; should the week go to hell (as they’ve been known to do lately) I at least have Friday to do so.

I spent most of the afternoon and early evening trying to get my computer files organized so I could more easily find things I need to be working on, and that was certainly a time suck. But it was necessary and needed to be done, and I made significant progress, which is always a plus. I had intended to start reading Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths–I opened to the first page and read the first few paragraphs, which are simply marvelous–but then got deep into the file organizing, so it will have to wait until this evening and the reading hour–I’ve decided to spend at least an hour every day devoted to reading, as it’s the only way I’ll ever get caught up on my reading (which is a Sisyphean task, as more books I want to read come out all the goddamned time).

I did manage to get the revisions on the two stories done yesterday, as I explained earlier, and today I am going to try to find the time to line edit them as well as read the other story that’s due on Friday. I have so much to do–my email situation is truly tragic–but hopefully I’ll have some time to get everything I need to do together into a comprehensive to-do list today. Obviously, the first thing on the to-do list is to make a comprehensive to-do list.

And maybe, just maybe, when I get these stories out of my hair I’ll be able to get back to work on the Secret Project this coming weekend and get it finished once and for all and out of my hair. And maybe then I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows, which I am going to change from a y/a into a book not for teens, which may not be as easy as I would like to think it is. For one thing I need to rewrite the entire beginning–which is predicated on our main character being a high school student; I’ve decided to age him to college graduate preparing for graduate school in New Orleans, but still be from Chicago–and it won’t be as easy to make changes later on, yet I think it’s for the best, to be honest. It’s very Gothic in subject matter, after all, and plus–the y/a publishing world, at least on-line, is a snake pit.

I’m also thinking about what the next Scotty should be. I’m still wrapping my mind around a quarantine mystery; as I’ve said before, I have the title already, but I think I would like to write something in the period between the end of Royal Street Reveillon (Christmas) and the quarantine; which gives me an approximate three month period with which to work. I really do want to write about Mardi Gras again, with Scotty older and perhaps not quite as into it still as he was in Mardi Gras Mambo–I kind of want to capture that weird feeling and horrible energy the city had during this past Mardi Gras. I had an idea for a Mardi Gras short story, featuring Venus Casanova, “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” but I’m not so certain I have the right to–or should–write about a Black female lead. I’ve been writing about Venus for almost twenty years now, as a supporting character in both the Scotty and the Chanse series, and have always wanted to explore the character in greater depth–I have another story written with her as the main character, “Falling Bullets,” and an idea for a novel, Another Random Shooting–but I don’t think I should be writing such books and stories now, if ever; now is the time to amplify actual “own voices” rather than taking publishing slots away from actual Black writers, who already have enough issues in trying to be heard and paid for their work equitably.

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

Casting a Shadow

And it’s Friday again! Cue the dancing horses.

I have a lot that I want to get done this weekend. I need to get those stories pulled together, and I want to get started on finishing off the Secret Project. Stupidly, I also started writing another short story yesterday, “The Flagellants,” which I am not really sure what it’s going to be about, or how to even finish the stupid thing. (An\d because I am twelve years old, sometimes when I think the title quickly it sounds like flatulence, which is a joke I may make in the story because I am twelve years old.) And yes, I got the idea from the bubonic plague chapter in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror; during the fourteenth century’s bubonic plague outbreak, the church was already in disrepute and many felt that the plague was God’s judgment on a sinful mankind, so there were some religious cults that sprang up; the flagellants movement was one of these, and it was enormously popular and spread throughout central Europe, primarily Germany. These penitents would march through town and flagellate themselves with whips and cat o’nine tails and knotted ropes, trying to take on the sins of all mankind.

Naturally, I found this interesting, and I really liked “The Flagellants” as a title, and we’re kind of in the midst of a pandemic…granted, we’re not that far into it as of yet, but we’ve already seen ridiculous behavior in the name of Jesus–so far, nothing I’m aware of from other faiths–but I began to think about it some more and wondered, what if this becomes more lethal and lasts longer than anyone is even considering now? The second wave of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 was much worse than the first, and in the wake of the Great War (aka World War I) and said pandemic there was a huge religious revival in the US during the 20’s–we tend to only think of that decade as flappers and bathtub gin, but that wasn’t all that was going on during that decade (it was also the decade that inspired Sinclair Lewis to write Elmer Gantry, and the decade of Aimee Semple McPherson)…and the old “what if” questions started running through my head, and I remembered the religious fanatics who always protest at Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence…and yeah, that’s kind of how stories get born. I’m not sure where this story is going to go or what it’s going to become–it’s kind of fun and different than anything I’ve written before–and I’m not entirely sure it’s going to end up as a crime story, which makes it even more fun.

I slept really long and well last night, and didn’t want to get up this morning, which was lovely–and a long time coming. It’s been a while since I’ve had such a great night’s sleep, and it was absolutely wonderful. I feel rested and ready to go mine some spice this morning.

As expected, Joey Burrow was the Number One draft pick last night, taken by the Cincinnati Bengals–and I said to Paul, “it’s going to be weird rooting for the Bengals now”–one of the many reasons I don’t get so far into the NFL is it is impossible for me to not root for former LSU players and their new teams to do well; and I really can’t devote more time to the NFL than I already give to the Saints. But after last night, I feel it’s pretty safe to say the Saints are Louisiana’s favorite team, and now the Bengals are our second favorite. I also never pay attention to the NFL draft, but I did last night because I wanted to see how the LSU players would do in it. Five players in the first round, I believe–Joey Burrow, K’Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen,  Justin Jefferson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (which is a record, I believe, for LSU and one short of the overall record)–and now I need to go read the Advocate to see how the rest of the team did, and where they wound up.

Obviously, I will always love this 2019 team and everyone on it. It’s kind of hard not to, after the dream season they just gifted us with–and it’s going to be a very hard act to follow; every LSU team going forward is going to be compared to this one.

This weekend, I hope to get some more writing done. I didn’t get hardly anything written this week (after having such a great writing weekend last weekend), but I do need to finish revising and polishing these stories that are due, and maybe even work some more on some of these ones that are in progress–I may just keep writing “The Flagellants” and see where it goes, just letting it develop as it goes–and I need to start getting some other stuff prepared to get back to work on. I also want to do some reading this weekend; I’ve really fallen behind on that, and I want to make reading more of a priority; it certainly is a better thing to do with my time than falling into Youtube rabbit holes.

And now back to the spice mines.

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I Hope You Dance

New Orleans is almost completely shut down.

Yesterday I ventured forth to the office, to do my data entry and to clean my desk area. We had several meetings via the Internet, and several trainings–including one in which we were taught how to do work from home–and I wound up bringing my work home with me. We also had a department meeting on-line, to explain things we could be doing while self-quarantined and to make up hours lost by the shutting down of our testing programs. After my enormous freak-out on Monday (yes, it wasn’t a pretty thing when I got home from the office Monday afternoon), I feel a bit better about my job. It’s so weird, because I am used to being out there on the front lines doing testing and getting people treated…and to be instead isolated at home is a strange thing. What was even weirder was driving home. Under normal circumstances I would never leave the office at six; if I did, I wouldn’t take the highway home because I have to take the big off ramp from I-10 West to I-90 to the Westbank, and the bridge traffic usually has the highway backed up to Claiborne, where I get on the highway. Yesterday I didn’t even have to brake, that’s how light the traffic was–at six pm on a Tuesday. There were cars on the highway; I could see cars on the streets below (the highway is elevated as it passes through downtown)–and there were some peoples strolling on St. Charles…but other than that, nothing.

We finished watching Toy Boy last night, which was terrific and a lot of fun, and ending its first season with a terrific cliff-hanger to set up the second season. It’s great for bingeing, y’all; good trashy escapist fun to make you forget that we are trying to survive and live through a terrifying pandemic and the even more terrifying economic fall out from said pandemic. I also have to remember that I cannot stay inside the entire time; I need to get out of the Lost Apartment and take walks, enjoy the sunshine and the weather, and to take my phone or camera with me. No matter how introverted you are, you need to get out of the house sometimes–unless, of course, your introversion has turned into agoraphobia, which naturally means going outside would be the absolute worst thing for you to try to do.

I still have three stories to try to get written by the end of the month, and I am definitely going to give it the old college try. My mind has clearly been somewhere else over the last week or so–it’s hard to believe it’s only fucking Wednesday; this past weekend seems like it was years ago, last week a different life entirely and Mardi Gras? A different reality completely.

I haven’t even been able to focus enough to try to read–which is weird, as reading is always where I go for escape.

But the nice thing about working from home is that I can clean while taking a break from my data entry; I can also have trainings or webinars on my computer to listen to while I clean and organize the kitchen–and I can even broadcast said trainings and webinars to my television while cleaning the living room. This is a strange new work reality–it’s been years since I worked at home primarily–and one I am going to have to adapt to. I saw someone posting on social media yesterday a poll over whether people thought once this has passed, if things will go back the way they were or will be different. It’s a silly question, because this is a big cultural and societal change; it can never be the way it was before again–just like New Orleans isn’t the same city it was before Katrina, and it will never be that city ever again. Things never go back the way they were; just like the United States will never be the same country it was before 9/11 again.

We don’t know what our new reality is going to look like once we get past this crisis, so trying to speculate is kind of an exercise in pointlessness.

But one of the things, the mantras, that helped me get through the aftermath of Katrina was to focus on the things I could control. One of those things was my body; post-Katrina was probably the most dedicated periods I’ve ever had to my health and fitness and my physical appearance. Since the gyms are closed that’s not really a possibility this time around; although I can still stretch every day and go for nice walks, it’s not the same thing as hitting the weights three times a week. I also focused on my writing and editing; I didn’t write as much as I did before the interregnum–there were times I thought I’d never write again–but that didn’t stop me from my editorial duties, and I did eventually start writing again; this was the period that produced Murder in the Rue Chartres and “Annunciation Shotgun” and Love Bourbon Street. I also think writing–particularly since I’d be writing about a non-virus non-pandemic world–will provide a nice escape for me.

I also signed the contract with Mystery Tribune yesterday for my story “The Carriage House”–remember how last week actually started out with good news in my world? That also seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? I’m always happy to sell a short story, and it’s always lovely to sell one to a mainstream market with a gay main character. (You can talk about how publishing needs to diversify all you want, but it’s still not easy to sell a story with a gay main character to a mainstream market.) It’s a terrific story, or at least I (and the people at Mystery Tribune) think it is, and it’s a concept that’s been lying around in my head ever since we first moved out of the carriage house and into the main house the first time, in June 2005, and came back to me when we moved back into the main house in December 2006. Many years ago–probably when I was far too young–I read a book by (I think) Gerold Frank, a true crime account of The Boston Strangler. There was a bit in the book about a woman who ran a boarding house, and began to suspect one of her tenants might be the Strangler; he was always agitated and acting strange the day of the murders, etc.; lots of circumstantial evidence but nothing ever definite. She remembered one day him staring at an advertisement in a magazine featuring an African-American woman for about ten minutes or so, rather obsessively; and she thought to herself, the next victim will be a black woman and sure enough, it was. You know, that sort of thing; the sort of thing that would be the basis for a Hitchcock movie (I’ve never seen The Lodger, which is a Hitchcock film–possibly based on a novel–about a woman who begins to believe one of her tenants is Jack the Ripper. I’ve always wanted to see it.) and it’s always been something that’s fascinated me. I used to joke that I never wanted to be one of those people interviewed on the news with a caption under my name (NEIGHBOR OF ACCUSED SUSPECTED NOTHING), but the concept of living in close quarters with a serial killer, or a thrill killer, or a killer of some sort–and beginning to suspect that you do, has always been an interesting thought and something I’ve always wanted to write about. “The Carriage House” is a culmination of all those thoughts and inspirations, and I am delighted you will finally get a chance to read it.

It’s also one of those stories that I originally thought would be a short novel, but it works much better as a short story.

More on that to come, of course, and now, back to the spice mines.

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I Can’t Stop Loving You

Thursday, Thursday, what a day for a daydream.

The weather took a turn last evening; sometime after the sun settled in the western sky a storm blew in, with high winds and a lot of rain and a significant temperature drop as well. It was quite a shock when I went to get in the car after work last night; I’d worn a polo style shirt to work–even had to use the air conditioning in the car (IN EARLY MARCH), and so was freezing and shivering by the time I walked across the lot to my car. It’s gray and dreary outside right now as well, but I don’t think it’s very cold–it’s certainly not noticeably cold in the Lost Apartment, which means its undoubtedly warmer outside.

I had a lot of errands and things to do yesterday before heading into the office for my half-day; and one of those errands was, of course, going to the gym. Now that I am adding weight every week, it’s getting to be more work and more strain on my muscles, but it’s a gradual thing and quite nice to be working hard again. I don’t really have any goal as far as appearance goes–which was what my workouts were always predicated on before; I initially started working out to get in better shape and improve my health, but vanity soon began playing a part in it as well. I think after 2000 was when I started focusing on peaking my body at Southern Decadence and then again at Mardi Gras; Id always clean up my eating for a few months before and also do more, and more intensive, cardio in those months so that I’d look my best for those occasions. Decadence and Mardi Gras actually make the most sense for me to use as goals for my workouts, but I don’t know if I want to even think that way again. I don’t know that vanity is going to be enough of a motivator this time around…maybe it will eventually come back into play again, but it hasn’t reared its ugly head yet. Anyway, with the extra weight now the workouts are harder and I am feeling them a lot more–especially the legs. But I am not sore this morning–I’ve not woken up sore the morning after a workout since I got back to it–but my muscles are certainly tired afterwards, and for the rest of the day. But this morning I woke up feeling somewhat rested–there’s some tightness in the hip flexors, but that’s to be expected.

But it feels so damned good to be working out again!

Tomorrow, though, I think I’m going to wait until after work to go to the gym. It’s hard to go in the morning and then go to the office, even on a half-day, so yeah, I think it’s going to be better to go after work. I”m pretty pleased with myself–I’ve resisted the temptation to skip every single time–even to the point where I don’t even think about skipping, which is pretty awesome. I’ve only missed my Wednesday workout on Ash Wednesday, and that was primarily because the gym didn’t open until noon that day so I couldn’t go.

I did get sort of caught up on my emails yesterday morning, but of course this morning they are out of control again, which is certainly Sisyphean, isn’t it? I’m not quite awake yet this morning, so I probably won’t be able to make any progress on them until at least after I finish my second cup of coffee this morning. I also just went out to feed the outdoor kitties, and it’s brisk out there; I definitely need my skull cap today.

Yay. But in fairness, the warmer weather earlier this week was definitely an aberration.

I wrote another few sentences last night on my Sherlock tale, which was something–given how tired I was last night when I got home from work–so I am counting that as a win. Progress has been ridiculously slow on this story, but I am hoping to get through it this weekend, as well as starting to revise two other stories (I remembered there’s another anthology with a due date at the end of the month); i really need to make a to-do list this morning, and get back to getting organized as well as stay there once I have achieved that glorious state. I have too many things going on at the same time now for me to allow myself to remain as scattered as I’ve been; I was beginning to feel like I had a handle on everything and then of course it was Carnival and I’ve been treading water ever since. I always feel like there’s something I’m forgetting, and then it turns out that of course, there was indeed something I was forgetting.

In fact, yesterday I was talking to a client about the parade deaths this year, and it popped into my head that I remembered how–everything is material, remember–those tragedies could work in a short story I already had in progress, so I of course made a note and perhaps–just perhaps–I need to go through my notebook and my journal and start tracking the things I need to get done better. I remember I used to make a monthly to-do list, as a macro, and then use that to make my weekly to-do list, and then would make a daily one every morning. Extreme? Perhaps, but it worked and I was always able to get everything done that I needed to get done.

I also started looking through The Charlotte Armstrong Treasury last night–you know I’ve chosen her Mischief as my next reread–and I was reading the introduction by Alice Cromie, and thinking, yes, this is all very true, Armstrong’s heroines were all women going about their every day lives and then had to buckle up and get to the bottom of something. I also reread the first page of The Witch’s House, and Armstrong’s skill at sucking her readers immediately into the story was incredibly apparent. I seriously had to resist reading more; Mischief is the reread, not The Witch’s House, but I might definitely have to come back around to it.

I also had a brilliant inspiration for “Festival of the Redeemer” yesterday. I admire Daphne du Maurier’s short stories immensely, particularly the longer ones, and I don’t precisely remember why or how this inspiration for the story came to me, but I am very pleased with it, and it makes the story much more du Maurier-like, which naturally made me like it even more. I always have trouble with the middles of my stories and novels, as you are probably already aware, and this idea is simply perfect, especially given the way the story opens. I also discovered, when I got home last night, that I had actually written a lot more on my story “You Won’t See Me” than I thought I had, which is always a plus. Sometimes I think I’ve written something and I actually haven’t; I just thought about it, and the thought is so vivid that later I think I actually wrote it all down and didn’t.

Or I did and lost the document, which is also always a possibility.

Okay, I can feel the caffeine kicking in, so it’s back to the spice mines with me.

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Family Tradition

Normal is an interesting concept–particularly when you live in New Orleans.

It’s hard to explain to people who don’t live here (or, as we say, Not From Here) to understand just how disruptive Carnival is, and how much harder it makes getting anything done, or accomplished. I live inside the parade box (in local parlance, “inside the box”) which means anything requiring the usage of my car has to be accomplished and the car has to be back “inside the box” no later than three-thirty on any parade day. This means, if you have to go to work you have to leave early, and try to schedule whatever errands you need to do accordingly–bearing in mind that you will also have heavier traffic to deal with. (Case in point: on Muses Thursday–a day when the parades were cancelled because of the weather) my five to ten minute drive home took almost forty minutes. It’s exhausting. When our office was on Frenchmen Street I used to have to walk to the office and back home on parade days–if I was able to walk straight there without detours, 2.3 miles going and 2.3 miles home (and there were always detours walking home during parades). And on the nights when I had to do condom outreach…yeah, was walking anywhere from six to ten miles per day; and then going out to the parades….why, you may be asking yourself, why on earth would you also go to the parades on top of that? Because you’re too exhausted and stressed about everything to do anything else–plus, enjoying the parades makes the work of living here around them sort of worth it.

I can’t imagine how miserable it would be to not go to the parades on top of everything else–especially when you can hear them.

But when it’s all over, readjusting to normalcy and getting your body back in sync is no easy task.

Plus, no more King cake. Womp womp.

I literally have no idea where I am at and what I should be doing with any and everything. Pre-Carnival life seems like it was a million years ago…it always takes the rest of the week of Mardi Gras to re-acclimate back to New Orleans normal.

It’s incredibly disorienting.

But Carnival–whatever you may think of it, no matter how much it may inconvenience you, no matter what–is wonderful. I absolutely positively love Carnival season, and I love the parades. I love seeing the families and kids having a ball along the parade route–and it crosses generations and ages. I love seeing grandparents dancing to  marching bands. I love our public school marching bands–every last one of them from Orleans Parish. I also love the Marching 100 of St. Augustine. I love the specialty throws and the stuffed animals and the bracelets and the medallion throws and the cups and all of that. I love that feeling of neighborhood and community that comes with hanging out on the parade route. I love getting an enormous corn dog, slathered with mustard and ketchup. I love funnel cakes, which are really just twisty beignets and are also covered in powdered sugar.

You can never go wrong with deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar, for the record.

Today I woke up early and feel great. I slept deeply and well–probably could have gladly stayed in bed another hour or two, but as I’ve been saying–Carnival has put me very behind, as it is wont to do, and as I am often paddling madly beneath the surface while treading water, a shake-up to the daily routine makes things ever so much worse. As much as I would like to spend the weekend relaxing and reading and writing, I’m afraid I’m going to have to spend some of it actually working on non-writing related things, which is terribly unfortunate; but it’s not like this was a normal week in the first place. I hated missing the gym yesterday morning, but I can go tomorrow and get back on track with my usual Sunday-Wednesday-Friday gym schedule. I did write for a while yesterday–not on the Secret Project, of course, which is what I need to be doing, but rather I wrote a bit on “Festival of the Redeemer” and a little bit on “He Didn’t Kill Her” and also a little bit on “You Won’t See Me.” Progress, of course, is progress and I am always happy to get any writing done at all these days, of course; I think my decision to simply go ahead with some of the short stories until this weekend, when I can spend some serious time with the Secret Project–which has been worked on very haphazardly, and you simply can’t be that scattered with something and expect it to be good–and make the decisions that need to be made with it. I think that I am probably very guilty of overthinking things with this; rather than going with my instincts and trusting myself. It’s something that’s completely outside my comfort zone, which is actually a good thing.

One should step outside their comfort zone from time to time, I think. It makes you a better writer–even if the project isn’t good, frankly; sometimes you need to do something like that to shake things up inside your head, clear the cobwebs and dust, and get a fresh perspective on what you write, your career thus far, and where you want it to go. (I also remember those glorious days when I actually used to plan ahead for my career. Man plans and God laughs.)

We are also slowly but surely watching the final season of Schitt’s Creek, and enjoying it, even if we know with each episode we watch that the end is nigh.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Lovesick Blues

Everywhere else it’s just Tuesday. Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!

It’ll be nice to be back to some sort of normalcy around here tomorrow–or whatever passes as normalcy in non-Carnival season New Orleans. It’s seems like the parades have been going on forever–a normal thing to feel on Fat Tuesday morning–and tomorrow’s collective, city-wide hangover is always an interesting thing to experience firsthand. Ash Wednesday is very subdued in New Orleans, as one can imagine–everyone’s tired, worn to a nub, and most likely hungover as all hell.

The switch from insanity back to reality is never an easy one, but one that will take place as always, at midnight tonight, when the bells of St. Louis will toll and the mounted cops will clear Bourbon Street, followed by the cleaners sweeping up the mess. I’ve only made it to midnight a few times on Fat Tuesday in the Quarter–it’s a long day; everything gets started around seven in the morning, and people drink all day–but I would always go up on the balcony at Oz or the Parade to watch the solemn processional officially ending the Carnival season.

I am very pleased to have survived another Carnival, and while there were times when it seemed touch-and-go–I was so tired yesterday–it looks like we’ve made it. I do think I need to write another Carnival novel, and maybe a short story or two; I had an idea a while back about someone having an open house for Fat Tuesday on St. Charles Avenue for Zulu and Rex, with people in and out of the house all day, only to find a dead body in one of the bedrooms later–a dead body no one in the family knows. I don’t know how that could possibly work as a short story, frankly; but on the other hand I don’t see how to make a novel out of it. Maybe I’ll make some notes, brainstorm in my journal, or something; but I’ve had that idea for quite some time now and maybe it’s time to do something about it. I also, the more I think about it, like the idea of the Carnival parade thrill killer–I’ll make some notes on that as well. I want to use that for a short story, but again–how do you compress an investigation stretching over two weeks of parade deaths, with all those interviews of witnesses, some of whom aren’t certain that someone was actually committing these crimes and they weren’t all horrible accidents?

But if someone dies every night at a parade…yeah, they wouldn’t be convinced they were all accidents….especially if the Advocate was getting open letters, a la the Axeman, making threats about someone dying that night on the parade route. Hmmm.

I’ve been feeling particularly creative lately, which has been nice. It’s always nice to have my creativity flourishing; I always worry during the down spells that it’s not going to come back. I have several word documents open on my computer screen even as I type this; two new stories I started this past weekend, and of course one that I was already working on. I need to get back to work on the Secret Project; I’d like to be finished with it by the end of the month but since that’s this weekend, it’s probably not going to happen. But on the other hand…you never know.

I feel like I’ve not completed anything since turning in Royal Street Reveillon last year, and I kind of…haven’t, other than my story for The Faking of the President (available for pre-order, right now!), which is kind of a sad, unsettling thing. The one lovely thing about deadlines is they require you to focus on one thing, and my creativity is all over the map when I am not forced by a deadline to focus on something. I do have a short story due for the end of March that I am still piecing together in my head; I need to get this secret thing finished so I can focus on writing that story and making it the best story I can make it.

And on that note, it’s on with Fat Tuesday. Have a lovely day, everyone!

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Don’t Rock the Jukebox

Monday, and after Orpheus finishes passing tonight, Paul and I are finished with Carnival. While we miss participating in the festivities of Fat Tuesday/actual Mardi Gras–it was always the best day–we both have to work on Wednesday and one last fling is too much for us–the penalty of growing older I suppose. But we both decided over this weekend that next year we’ll also take off Wednesday, and head down there for Fat Tuesday, walking up the Zulu and Rex route and enjoying the costumes and the sights and the fun and–DAMN I DO MISS GOING TO THE QUARTER FOR FAT TUESDAY.

But, as I was forced to admit to my neighbor CLM at the parades the other night–I only know how to do slutty costumes, and I haven’t had the body to do that for nearly a decade.

Maybe now that I am working out regularly again…maybe next year I can get away with Ole Man Slut? We shall see.

I tend to doubt it, but stranger things have happened. I could also up my costume game and do something that doesn’t require a lot of bare skin…

I felt enormously well rested yesterday; sleeping in was definitely the smart thing to do yesterday (after retiring relatively early the night before). But I have to say, despite it being a beautiful day for parades yesterday, the energy at the parades I attended seemed off; weird and not festive. To be sure, there were a lot of people out there, but given there was an another parade-related death on Saturday night at Endymion (causing the cancellation of the parade beyond float 12); that two riders fell off Thoth parade floats and had to be rushed to the hospital; and two people watching the parades from a balcony on a house on St. Charles managed to fall off the balcony (the railing gave way)–it’s not surprising the energy seemed off last night. Naturally, there are now stories circulating on social media and around town that this Carnival is cursed–and it’s because the city never recovered two of the bodies from the ruins of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site. I’m not normally superstitious, and I tend to scoff at things like curses and so forth–but then again, it’s very easy to believe in those sorts of things here in New Orleans. For some reason, the supernatural seems very natural here, and it’s always been that way. Reading all the New Orleans history, as I have been doing lately, has shown me plenty of evidence of the darkness and brutality that has always existed here; the history of the city is, indeed, written in blood and human suffering.

And of course, having a crime writer’s mind, the second death at a parade of someone being run over by a float made me think of a spree-thrill killer, going from parade to parade and shoving people under floats. It would be next to impossible to catch someone doing that very thing–and imagine trying to chase a criminal (any criminal, really) through the massive crowds on the parade route, with all the people in costume and bedecked in sequins and glitter and fright wigs and the Mardi Gras colors–and the still, many others, who are wearing actual costumes. A story I’ve got in some sort of progress already seemed perfect to graft this onto; I emailed myself notes I typed up between floats during Bacchus last night. I also, the other night, started writing two new stories that popped into my mind; “He Didn’t Kill Her” and “Gossip”. “He Didn’t Kill Her” is an entirely new story, that just suddenly took shape in my mind–I’m not sure how to finish it; all that occurred to me was the opening sequence and the title–but “Gossip” is one that’s been rolling around in my brain and subconscious for about thirty or so years. The opening popped into my head on Saturday, and so I started writing, as I am wont to do. (I’ve put off working on anything else until Ash Wednesday–but my mind never takes time off.)

I also spent some time yesterday bouncing back and forth between my reread of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners, which is absolutely delightful, and Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, which is equally delightful. It would be enormously fun to write a crime series with a bookstore as the anchor; the ability to make fun of trends in publishing, authors who are assholes, customers that are jerks, etc. would be enormously fun, I would think. The premise behind the book is that an enormously popular author of a series of supernatural books for kids, Haunted High, is doing a booksigning at main character Darla’s inherited bookstore in Brooklyn–and I’ve laughed aloud several times–and I just got to the part where the author in question–Valerie Baylor–was killed. I’m enjoying both books; I will confess I didn’t enjoy The Moon-spinners quite as much on first read as I am on the second read. I think I was expecting the plot to be more like the Hayley Mills film, which in retrospect is terrible. The main character, Nicola, is very headstrong and determined, and very determined to not be pushed aside because she’s a young woman. She’s intelligent and capable and quite clever, with the ability to think on her feet quite brilliantly; in other words, she is a typical Stewart heroine and not a shrinking violet in need of being rescued all the time. There’s a dash of romance in this book, tossed in, I think, to appease her publisher, who saw Stewart as a romantic suspense author when she actually wrote quite excellent suspense novels; but it’s completely unnecessary–if to be expected.

I have errands to run and emails to sort through today; I am getting the mail, making a Costco run, and going to the gym. I also have a business call this afternoon; all of which must be taken care of long before Orpheus begins winding its way through the streets of New Orleans. I do hope the energy is more Carnival-esque tonight; yesterday wasn’t nearly as much fun as it usually is, or could be, during a more normal Carnival.

Tomorrow is a day to rest and relax and get organized as life begins to return to what passes as normal around here; try to do some writing, read some more, get the house back under control after the chaos of the last two weeks.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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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.

lords of misrule

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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