Respect Yourself

Saturday, and a big day for one Gregalicious.

I have some things to do this morning before I am interviewed around noon for a radio show, after which it’s errands, including the (groan) grocery store. It’s only for a few things, so it shouldn’t be too hideous….yet it is going to be hideous. Sigh. But then I am spending the afternoon watching the Iron Bowl and tonight’s LSU game. Will the Tigers manage an undefeated regular season? We’ll find out tonight.

It’s going to be weird going back to work–these unstructured, do-what-you-want-when-you-want days have been kind of lovely, and addicting. I don’t have any regrets about the things I didn’t get done, either. I went into this week without making a to-do list, and primarily rested, physically, mentally and emotionally.  I’m very happy that I chose to do this, and rested rather than drove myself insane trying to get things done, or playing catch-up. I didn’t do as much cleaning and organizing as I thought I would, but that’s just how the week managed to play itself out. My kitchen is a mess this morning, so I need to get that all straightened up and cleaned, and there’s some laundry to fluff and fold. I also have to pay the bills this morning–another odious chore–but one that cannot be avoided any longer.

There’s also no Saints game tomorrow–so if I want, I can get a lot done tomorrow–whether writing, reading, or cleaning.

Last night I stumbled onto a documentary series on the National Geographic channel about the 1980’s; I’d already watched the CNN docuseries, The 80’s, and tremendously enjoyed it, so as I was killing some time before Paul got home, I settled in and started watching. I’m not much for nostalgia, really; I don’t spend a lot of time looking back on my past or the events of my life too frequently. The past is the past, and while one can learn from it, after all, one certainly can’t change anything that happened in the past. But watching these docuseries is a kind of reminder; and this series was called The Decade That Made Us, which I thought was an interesting take. A lot of stuff that started in the 1980’s, naturally, is bearing fruit today–cell phones, personal computers, etc.–and of course, it’s always difficult to watch and remember the 80’s in terms of HIV/AIDS–you simply cannot do a docuseries about the 1980’s and not mention HIV/AIDS, or remember that it wasn’t, really, that long ago. (Sure, it’s getting further and further into the past with each day, but still–1980 was forty years ago; in 1980 the second world war was only forty years in the past.)

But one of the novellas in progress I am writing, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is set in the not too distant past; 1994, to be exact. I’ve always written, for the most part, in the ambiguous present, with a few exceptions (“The Weight of a Feather” is one; it’s set in the early 1950’s), and it can be a bit difficult at times to remember, no he wouldn’t have had a computer or cell phone and trying to remember how we functioned without instant, immediate access to each other. (There was a really funny part in the docuseries last night where someone basically said that–“how did we meet up before cell phones? We made plans, days in advance, and included directions like “meet me under the clock at Grand Central at 4″…I had forgotten, or rather just not thought about, that….) It’s interesting trying to remember what 1994 was like, who I was back then and what was going on in the world. My main character is a  gay man who has just retired from the military, having found out he was about to be purged as a gay (gays in the military was a political battle the Clinton administration was fighting back then; “don’t ask don’t tell” was the disgraceful compromise that came out of that fight–but it was, pathetic as it was, better than the previous system, which was dishonorable discharges.) and, with no family left that he’s close to, decides to come to New Orleans to start a new chapter of his life as an openly gay man at thirty-nine, and what that experience is like. There’s some element of crime and suspense to the story, but it’s really about that feeling of liberation when you’re finally free to be yourself, while still living in the shadow of HIV/AIDS. I love the idea of this story, and am having fun writing it, remembering what New Orleans was like back then, and what it was like to be gay in New Orleans at that time, as well.

I may never do anything with it, but I’m having fun writing it, and that’s really the most important thing.

I am seriously considering doing a collection of novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons, but am not sure if there’s a market or an audience for it. I already know what the next novella would be, and then all I need to do is come up with two more.

Heavy sigh. Like it’s that easy, right?

Ah, well. And now back to the spice mines.

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La Isla Bonita

Friday,  still on vacation, and it’s forty-seven degrees outside. It’s colder inside the Lost Apartment–New Orleans homes are built to be colder inside than outside, it’s a summer thing–and I am ensconced at my desk in sweats and a wool cap on my cold bald head. My fingers are a bit cold, but my coffee is hot and delicious. My doctor’s appointment went well, and last night I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in I don’t know how long–all I know is I slept for more then ten hours, didn’t wake up once, and feel very rested and relaxed this morning. I actually feel better than I have in weeks.

Weeks.

Today is the day I would be doing my panels at Bouchercon; I shall have to keep busy to distract myself. Yesterday, between the errands and the power outage, was highly annoying. By the time I had finished my errands and the power was back on in the Lost Apartment, I was pretty much over it, to be honest. I buckled down and started a cleaning project–starting with the refrigerator, and then I worked my way through the kitchen cabinets and drawers. I did another load of dishes and two more loads of laundry, and finally retired to my easy chair around five thirty yesterday evening. I got caught up on watching Saturdays in the South, and while it was on, brainstormed ideas and thoughts for essays, short stories, and works in progress already. I am already thinking about writing an essay collection–or rather, compiling all the essays I’ve already written into a collection, and then writing some new ones–and as I was watching the final two episodes of this exceptional history of SEC football (I highly recommend it; I actually would like to see similar docuseries on every conference, to be honest; I love history, even sports history) I started thinking about in terms of Louisiana itself, not just New Orleans; which I’ve been doing a lot more of lately. After all, LSU fans aren’t just from New Orleans, and the special feeling you get on a Saturday night in Death Valley, like we experienced at the Florida game, is a Louisiana experience. New Orleans might hold itself at arms’ length from the rest of the state, but New Orleans wouldn’t be New Orleans without Louisiana, and likewise, Louisiana wouldn’t be Louisiana without New Orleans.

And as I said in Royal Street Reveillon, New Orleans is really an island, surround by water on every side–you cannot come into,  or leave, the city without having to cross a bridge at some point. The beautiful island, the beautiful crescent.

But as I said, this is the best I’ve felt in weeks. I feel like today I can actually get some writing done; I organized and filed yesterday so my desk area is neat and tidy; so is the kitchen, which means there’s no mess to distract or prohibit me from getting writing done today, which is very exciting.

I also have an insane amount of emails to answer. There were 159 unread emails in there this morning when I woke up the computer. AIEEEE! But oddly enough, I don’t feel either defeated or intimidated…which is  an indication that I’m feeling better, isn’t it?

But I do think I need to put on some tights under my sweatpants.

We also watched the first episode of Hulu’s second season of Castle Rock last night and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as a younger version of Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes in Misery. She has the voice, the mannerisms, everything nailed to perfection. I also like that they’ve made Jerusalem’s Lot and Castle Rock basically neighboring villages; ‘salem’s Lot remains one of my (if not the) favorite vampire novels, and one of my favorites of King’s canon. I’m also curious to see if this means the paranormal aspect of this season is going to be vampires. It’s also interesting that the Merrills from “The Body” are also in this; again, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. I watched the entire first season, and while it was entertaining, it was also slightly flawed. I also don’t really remember much of the first season, outside of the terrific acting. That’s probably problematic; if you can’t remember what the show was about…how good could it have been, really?

There are three more episodes available to stream, so we should be caught up after this weekend; we’re also now a bit behind on Catherine the Great, and I also want to start watching Watchmen, in addition to the second season of Titans on DC Universe.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me–after I get those tights on.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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Luka

Ah, a lovely lazy Sunday morning, with a lot on my plate to get done.

LSU won again yesterday, taking Mississippi State down in their own stadium 36-13. With about five minutes left in the first half LSU was ahead only 9-7; State had just scored and the cowbells were ringing. As time ran out in the half, LSU was ahead 22-7. Within another five minutes of the second half, we were ahead 36-7, and the game was essentially over. Four touchdowns in less than ten minutes.  Next up is Auburn in Death Valley; Auburn rebounded from their loss to Florida with a blowout of Arkansas, and they’ll be thirsty to beat LSU. Another loss and their championship hopes are over; Auburn has also lost two straight to LSU in the closing minutes.

It will be a tough one.

The Saints are playing later this afternoon, the Bears in Chicago at Soldier Field. I have a lot to get done this morning if I want to watch the game, frankly; I may wind up just working while it’s on in the living room. I managed to get nothing done yesterday; I overslept (it was needed, methinks) and so got a late start to the day. I did manage to make groceries and fill the car with gas, so that’s something, right? Today I have to finish my Sisters column, and I have to also work on Bury Me in Shadows as well as a proposal for another project.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But the weather yesterday was gorgeous, simply gorgeous. I do love when it gets to be mid to late October and we have what we consider fall down here–which means it never gets much hotter than eighty degrees and the humidity is gone. It’s so gorgeous, and the sky is so blue…ah, heavenly.

So I decided to treat myself to a sleeping pill, and after last night’s amazingly deep and restful night’s sleep, I understand completely how addictive these things can be. Yes, my sleep has been rather off and on since I stopped taking them every night, and I actually can feel an emotional difference in myself as well this morning; who wouldn’t want to feel this good every morning on waking up? But addiction is a very real thing, and a very real thing I’m afraid of, so I won’t be taking another one until I feel like I need a special treat.

The demolition of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site, postponed from yesterday to today, is going to happen at some point later this morning. I am feeling less like turning it into a “ripped from the headlines” novel today as I was over the last couple of days; while there would be some interesting points to be made about New Orleans corruption and greedy, shady contractors, for it to be a Scotty novel it would have to be somehow reigned in and made into a personal story of some sort.  I can, of course, see the site from the elevated interstate as I drive to and from work every day; the elevated interstate gives one an interesting view of the city from those heights (it runs along Claiborne Avenue, and its construction destroyed irrevocably the business district for people of color and the neighborhoods that ran along Claiborne Avenue for decades–and yes, racism played a part in where the highway runs).

I started reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things and am already quite enthralled with it. For one thing, she’s creating an entirely new mythology of vampires–at least one that is new to me–and I love that the book is set in Mexico, currently in Mexico City. I also like the way she is carefully doling out plot points and back history for her main character, Atl–who is very interesting, and is involved in something dangerous that we aren’t quite sure what it might be at this point. I also like that the very first chapter, which introduces Atl to the reader, is told from the perspective of a street kid named Domingo. Moreno-Garcia created Domingo completely and in three dimensions, like he’s a main character, rarely than merely the lens through which we meet Atl. (He still might be an important character to the story; I hope so because I liked him, but it also wouldn’t surprise me terribly if he disappears from the story completely. If that is indeed the case, kudos to Moreno-Garcia for making even throwaway characters complete and real. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Reading this also made me realize how badly I failed at vampire fiction with my few meager attempts. I didn’t really do anything new with them; I just wrote vampire stories to write vampire stories, without any thought about how to make them realistic, compelling, and original. I did have a big over-arching plan, though–it would have tied them all together and created something big and original in the second novel, Desire, which sadly never happened. But I’m not a horror/supernatural writer, and when I do venture into those realms, what I do best is ghost stories. I am currently writing another novel that is a ghost story; I already did one (Lake Thirteen), and will probably do another one at some point.

And now I should probably clean the kitchen. I am going to run an errand either before or during the Saints game–the city is always a ghost town during Saints games; it’s literally the best time to do errands, and everywhere you go they’re playing the game anyway–but I also need to get some cleaning and writing done long before I leave the house to do so.

I’m also still reading about the Lemana kidnapping in Ready to Hang, which is quite interesting, mainly because the child was held for so long. The history of the Italian immigrants to New Orleans is interesting–and often quite tragic, frankly–and I find it interesting that the Irish immigrants, who were most likely looked on with as much askance as the Italians, who came later, don’t have some horrible stories that appear in histories of crimes in New Orleans. I do know they were primarily confined to the stretch between Magazine Street and the river–which is why it’s still called the Irish Channel–but they don’t seem to be the victims of mob violence or as much intolerance as the Italians were around the turn of the twentieth century.

If they were, it’s not included in these books about historical crimes/tragedies in old New Orleans.

There’s been an idea forming in the back of my head about all this bloodshed and horror in the history of New Orleans; something along the lines of the land being cursed or some kind of cloud over it, like Stephen King’s Derry, which could also explain the prevalence of religion in the region–Catholicism and even voodoo–used primarily to protect the souls of the locals from the dark forces that seem to control New Orleans.

It’s an interesting thought, at any rate.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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Land of Confusion

Wednesday, and my body clock  has apparently, finally, after all these years, adjusted back to getting up early the first two days of the week. This morning I woke up again around four, went back to sleep, woke up again around six, and then fell asleep again so that I could wake up just after eight feeling rested and refreshed. Which is cool and lovely, since today is a half-day for me and I can get sort of caught up on things around the Lost Apartment. The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, and there are two loads of laundry in some sort of the process of being laundered; the living room is a mess, and so forth. I can also run get the mail after work, and stop at the grocery store for a minor grocery run as well.

Pulling Bury Me in Shadows together is proceeding apace; by the end of this evening I hope to  have over half of it done, with the corrections and additions made that need to be made. This does put me right on schedule for turning it on Monday of next week, which is lovely. It feels good to be producing again, and of course, the whole “Moist Money” thing was really cool this week, too–that’s two short stories I’ve placed over the last few months, which is truly a lovely thing to contemplate. I put some more out for submission earlier this week, too, so hopefully there will be more good news in the future….

..or devastating confirmations of my imposter syndrome. We’ll see how it goes.

Yesterday Facebook memories reminded me that nine years ago was the day we brought Scooter home from the Cat Practice for a two week trial, to see whether we wanted to adopt him or not. He was home with us for exactly two hours before we decided he was a keeper, and went back the next morning to finalize the adoption. It’s so funny; over the years neither Paul nor I had ever had a cat; I’d had roommates with cats, but for the most part they were distant and aloof and rarely seen. Friends had cats, but we were both more dog people, and the sad truth is, we only acquired Skittle when we lived in the carriage house because we had a mouse. Owning Skittle turned us both into cat aficionados; whenever we visit anyone who has a cat, Paul will spend most of the night trying to befriend the cat. Skittle’s untimely demise from cancer was devastating to both of us; Paul was so torn up over it we weren’t sure we’d get another cat. But the Lost Apartment felt so empty without one…when I went back to the Cat Practice to pick up Skittle’s ashes, there was a cat up for adoption in one of the cages behind the front desk–an orange cat whose name was Texas. He was very sweet, and I told Paul that night about him, as Paul was already looking into getting another cat. “Why don’t you go down there and take a look at Texas?” I told him, and so Friday morning before work he walked down there and did, indeed, take a look at Texas. He emailed me when he got to his office and we decided I’d pick Paul up later that afternoon and we’d go get Texas for a trial. I remember letting him out of the carrier, and Scooter immediately, timidly his under the coffee table. He stayed there for a while, with Paul teasingly saying “now, if all you’re going to do is hide under the table we’re not going to keep you.” We turned on the television and started watching….and before long he came out, climbed up onto Paul’s chest, purring and cuddling, and we were his.

And have been, ever since. Nine lovely years. He’s such a sweet cat, too. I finally wrote him into the Scotty series–he’s Taylor’s cat, but Scotty and the boys are all wrapped around Scooter’s paws, the same way we are. It’s always lovely, you know, to come home from a day at work (especially on those shitty days) and have a cat climb into your lap, purring and wanting to cuddle and offering no-strings affection.

We got caught up with The Righteous Gemstones last night, which I am enjoying a lot more than I ever thought I would, and also started watching On Becoming a God in Central Florida–which I’m not so sure about whether we’ll continue watching. The first episode just made me feel incredibly sorry for the main characters, although I didn’t see the shocking death coming. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a comedy–perhaps a dark comedy?–or not, but it didn’t feel funny to me; I don’t like humor where poor people are the butt of the joke , and that’s how it seemed to me…I hate seeing even dark humor where the dreams of poor people to better themselves are mocked or belittled. I don’t care for that, because all I wind up doing is feeling sorry for them. I’ll probably give the show another episode or two, but if that’s all it’s going to be I don’t think we’ll finish watching–but Kirsten Dunst is terrific in the lead role.

I also finished reading “Murder in Basin Street” in Ready to Hang and am now onto the next famous murder, “Juliette and the Kind Doctor,” which seems like an almost perfect story to adapt into a fictional novel. As I read more and more New Orleans history, it’s astonishing to me how dark that history is; almost from the very beginning. I am definitely most likely going to wind up writing historical fiction about New Orleans at some point, I suspect; I see many hours in the archives at the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Williams Center, and the Tulane Louisiana Historical Research Association in my future. There’s just such a rich history to explore and dive headlong into….and as a history addict, I can get lost in such research for years.

Which reminds me, I have been asked to write a story for an interesting anthology; a book of Sherlock Holmes stories where the only requirement is that it can’t be set in England and Holmes/Watson cannot be English. My first thought on reading the email was I can’t write a Holmes story–I haven’t read Doyle since I was a kid and immediately thereafter, Oh, I can set the case in Storyville in the 1910’s and I can use that title I’ve been sitting on for years–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy!” 

Naturally, this made me very excited, and now I have to not only do some more research on the time period, but I need to go back and reread some Holmes stories, to get not only a feel for the character that isn’t influenced by either television series (Sherlock with Cumberbatch and Elementary), but it more Doyle-influenced. I’ve never been much of a Sherlockian; I did enjoy reading the stories when I was young, and I read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s (The Seven Per Cent Solution and The West End Horror), but other than watching the TV series and the occasional film (Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr, which was really just Holmes as Tony Stark in the nineteenth century), my interest in Holmes and Doyle is fairly minimal. Will writing this story turn me into a Sherlockian? I’ve already recruited some of my avid Sherlockian friends to give me advice and perhaps read early versions, to see if I am getting it right.

And stranger things have happened.

And on that note, I’ve got some emails to answer. Back to the spice mines with me!

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My Love

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

Heavy sigh.

I’m still reeling from a highly productive day yesterday that, ultimately, achieved nothing. Writing the first chapter of a new Chanse novel–when I had thought I was finished with the character, outside of short stories–was probably not the smartest way to go with my work, but at the same time I’m not terribly upset by it or see the day as wasted. I did managed to write over three thousand words in less than two hours, and they were actually good words, ones that I probably won’t be discarding if I decide I want to work on this more–I can always keep it there in my back pocket, and if I get stuck on something else I’m working on, I can work on it, and therefore never lose a day to not being able to figure out what’s going to happen next with anything.

Sigh. I told you I have creative ADD. The struggle is real, yo.

I’ve not worked on the WIP now for two solid weeks, which is completely insane. I’d hoped to have the first draft finished by the end of June–which now is not very bloody likely–so I could move back to the Kansas book and get it revised by the end of July. I’d like to keep to that schedule somewhat; if I can somehow manage a chapter a day on the WIP I’d be awfully close to finished by the end of the month, and the revisions on the Kansas book might actually allow me to go back and forth between the two throughout July. It would be awesome to have both finished by the end of July, although not very probable; the heat here is going to start picking back up again (it’s already in the nineties every day) and the heat and humidity are such energy drains. My preference for a New Orleans summer would be to never go outside unless absolutely necessary; that unfortunately isn’t possible, so I try to deal with it the best I can…which is changing my socks regularly, washing my face every few hours, and praying for October to arrive.

Football season is also just around the corner, and experts are predicting terrific seasons for both LSU and the Saints; we’ll see how that goes.

I started reading Howard Zinn’s The Twentieth Century over the course of the weekend; while I still want to keep up with the Diversity Project–which has been amazing so far–I think I might spend the summer reading mostly non-fiction. I have all these books about New Orleans history, as well as Louisiana history, and I really should start making my way through those as well. The primary problem, of course, being that reading nonfiction often kickstarts my creativity genes into gear and I start coming up with other ideas for stories and novels–as it is, if I spent the rest of my life writing the ideas I’ve already had, I’d never be able to finish writing them all, so having new ideas all the time is hardly the best thing for me…although don’t get me wrong, I don’t ever want my creativity to ever just completely shut down on me, either.

I can’t imagine ever having my creativity just completely shut down.

I hope it never happens–although I always worry it will.

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

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People Everyday

Hulu is streaming a two-part true crime documentary about a string of unsolved murders of women in Jefferson Davis Parish, Murder in the Bayou. I have a copy of Ethan Brown’s book of the same title, released a few years ago, but haven’t read it yet (instead, it’s sits on a shelf in the mini-bookcase to the right of my desk, where I also keep other nonfiction–histories, true crime, cultural studies–about both New Orleans and Louisiana; books which I delve into periodically in order to come up with ideas for stories (novels and short stories and novellas, etc.), or background for the same. (One of the many reasons I laugh when people refer to me as ‘a New Orleans expert’ is because I am everything but an expert on the city; there are literally hundreds of volumes of reference books information about New Orleans I’ve not read and know nothing about)  Mr. Brown came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, but I didn’t get to meet him or see any of his panels, but I did pick up his book that weekend.

So, you can imagine my surprise the other night when I opened the Hulu app on my television (ten years ago that sentence would have been as unintelligible to me as Latin) and I saw it listed as a show I might be interested in. “Huh,” I thought, clicking on it, “I wonder if this is the same story as the book I’ve not read?”

Sure enough, it was.

I finished watching the show yesterday afternoon, and then of course, got the book from the bookshelf and started reading it…and didn’t stop until I was finished. I hadn’t intended to do that; I actually started writing this post after I finished watching the documentary series and simply reached over to the bookcase and pulled it out–mainly to see if there were photographs in it–many true crime books do–and since it didn’t, I started reading…and then couldn’t stop. I’ll talk some more about both the documentary and the book in another entry; I want to think about it some more, and the issues that came to mind while watching/reading–but again, as I said earlier, it was yet another example of how little I know about not just New Orleans, but Louisiana in general. As I read more New Orleans history, and get to know my city better with each read, I find myself expanding my former-tunnel vision view focusing on New Orleans only to expand out into Louisiana as well. It’s a truly fascinating state, really–as someone said in the documentary, there are three Louisianas: New Orleans; north Louisiana; which is really part of the Protestant Bible Belt and could just as easily be part of Arkansas; and south Louisiana, which is overwhelmingly French and Catholic; heavily Cajun, in all honesty. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Atchafalaya basin, too; I sort of have an idea about writing about that area. Most of my Louisiana fiction has been confined to writing about New Orleans, or places on the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and sometimes dabbling on the North Shore. I am sure every state has just as rich and diverse and colorful a history as Louisiana/New Orleans; but I also don’t live there, and Louisiana with its strange mix of Creoles, Cajuns, Spanish, and Americans, with the attendant cultures, brews up a strange and endlessly fascinating gumbo.

I realized also yesterday while going through my blog drafts that I have never published my blog entry about reading Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin, which was what sent me down the Louisiana/New Orleans history rabbit hole in the first place.

empire of sin

“The crime,” as detectives would later tell the newspapers, was “one of the most gruesome in the annals of the New Orleans police.”

At five a.m. on the sultry morning of May 23, 1918, the bodies of Joseph and Catherine Maggio, Italian immigrants who ran a small grocery store in a remote section of the city, were found sprawled across the disordered bedroom of the living quarters behind their store. Both had been savagely attacked, apparently while they slept. Joseph Maggio lay face-up on the blood-sodden bed, his skull split by a deep, jagged gash several inches long; Catherine Maggio, her own skull nearly hewn in two, was stretched out on the floor beneath him. Each victim’s throat had been slashed with a sharp instrument.

A blood-smeared ax and shaving razor–obviously the murder weapons–had been found on the floor nearby.

The book opens with an examination of the strange case of New Orleans’ most famous serial killer: the Axeman. Julie Smith wrote an entire novel  based in the story called The Axeman’s Jazz; it might be the second or third Skip Langdon novel. Poppy Z. Brite wrote a short story with the same name, and of course, American Horror Story: Coven also included the Axeman in its litany of past New Orleans horrors–in the Ryan Murphy version, he stumbled into the Robicheaux School for Girls (read: witches) and they killed him; his ghost haunting the house ever since. The mystery of the Axeman’s identity, of course, has never been solved–as well as the why.

Empire of Sin, however, isn’t about the Axeman entirely; it’s really a history of the Storyville district (again, another notorious part of New Orleans history, probably best known for its appearance in the Louis Malle film Pretty Baby, which probably, with its creepy pedophilia, wouldn’t hold up too well today), and really focuses on the man known as the mayor of Storyville, Tom Anderson, who rose to great wealth, notoriety, and political power through his successful bordellos there–even going so far as to providing the district with its own police force. It’s a story of immorality, the struggle between reformers trying to turn New Orleans into a city free from sin (they won small victories but New Orleans remains New Orleans to this day) and Anderson’s struggle against those “virtuous reforms.” He eventually failed, and Storyville was shut down, but Krist tells a fascinating story, extrapolating his tale of Storyville’s struggle to stay open and functioning (the money being made there brought with it the ability to, of course, buy off the police and politicians), along with the stories of corruption, murder, prostitution, violence and racism extant in the city at the time. It’s also a story of how Storyville also, surprisingly enough, gave birth to jazz music, and provided a way for musicians of color to make a successful living playing music. Storyville was the incubator that provided sustenance to the musicians playing this new form of popular music, enabling them to make a living while developing a wholly American form of music.

Reading Empire of Sin is what sent me down the road to reading history, as I said before, and as I love history, it also made me aware of just how little about New Orleans I actually do know. Discovering little throwaway bits in the book–that there were male prostitutes who serviced men with “more exotic tastes”–reminded me of how frequently, and almost completely, queer history has been successfully erased, and that made me start thinking about, well, doing something more about it. Reading this book inspired two short stories I’ve not finished–“The Blues before Dawn” and “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman”–and also inspired a potential series set during the time. It’s also what gave me the idea for my collection of noir/crime/horror stories that I want to write, Monsters of New Orleans.

I cannot recommend Empire of Sin highly enough.

Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

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