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.

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“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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Small Town

I’m never really certain how to describe where I’m from; because it isn’t simple. I was born in Alabama, which is where my people are from (which is what we say in Alabama), but we moved to Chicago when I was two. We lived in the city until I was ten, which is when we moved out to the suburbs. I was fourteen when we moved to Kansas, and nineteen when I followed my parents to California. Since California, I’ve lived in: Houston, Tampa, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis, New Orleans, DC, and then back to New Orleans once and for all. So, saying I grew up in Kansas isn’t quite accurate, nor is I grew up in Chicago. I graduated from high school in Kansas, so there is that. I consider New Orleans home; I’ve certainly lived here longer than I have anywhere else in my life, but in a sense, I am kind of ‘homeless’ in that regard. I’ve always pretty much considered wherever my parents live to be home, even though now they live somewhere I’ve never actually lived–so I lazily say I’m going home to see my parents, even though their current home has never really been my home; I guess in that sense that wherever my parents are is home because my parents define, for me, where that indescribable, undefinable place that I call home would be. I also think of Alabama as home, too; though I haven’t lived there in fifty-five years and I have no memory of ever living there.

Does that make sense?

New Orleans is home for me now; Alabama is where I’m from, but I also consider anywhere my parents live to also be home.

Is it any wonder I am barely clinging to my sanity with my fingernails?

And yes, I lived in a very small town in Kansas: I believe the population of Americus was 932 when I lived there (that number is stuck in my head, so it came from somewhere), and moving there, even from a suburb of Chicago, was a bit of culture shock for me. (Not nearly as big as the shock must have been for my parents, moving from a mostly country existence in a remote part of Alabama to Chicago when they were twenty with two toddlers.) The streets didn’t have names or numbers; and at the main intersection in town there was a blinking red light hovering over the center, suspended on wire that waved and swayed in the wind. There was a gas station and a tiny little food place called the Katy Drive-in; what was now the Americus Road that you took to “go to town” (the county seat, Emporia, about eight miles away) used to be the Katy Railroad Line, long gone and almost completely forgotten. We caught the bus at the grade school, which had been the high school until its conversion when the old grade school was condemned by the fire marshall; people in town were still bitter about the loss of the town’s high school and the students being absorbed into the consolidated high school, about sixteen miles from town: Northern Heights High School, about a mile east of yet another small town named Allen. Northern Heights’s student body was an amalgamation of farm kids and kids from five towns: Americus, Bushong, Allen, Admire, and Miller, each of which used to have it’s own grade and high school.

It was strange for me, but being the new kid  had added benefits to it; no one knew, at my new school, that at my previous school I was picked on and sort of mocked and belittled and made fun of; had gay slurs sneered at me in the hallways since the seventh grade, sometimes cornered by a group of boys who got their jollies by mocking me and making me worry about physical violence. By the time some of the kids at my new school realized that I was different not only because I was new and from the big city but because I was harboring the deep secret that I was gay it was the second semester of my senior year and I only had a few months to endure slurs and mocking laughter, of finding Greg Herren sucks cock written in magic marker on my locker or on the desk I usually sat in during a class.

Kansas has been on my mind a lot lately; Constant Reader will no doubt remember that several months ago I had dinner with a classmate, passing through town on his way to a long bike ride along the Natchez Trace. That dinner reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about in years; the smell of corn fields after the rain, the brooding heat, how you could see a thunderstorm coming from miles away across the flat terrain, and the long drive to school. The WIP is set in a town based on Emporia; Sara was set in a high school based on the one I attended. Laura, my main character in Sorceress, was from Kansas and had gone to the Sara high school until her parents’ death, which is the impetus that ended with her in the California mountains. My story “Promises in Every Star” is set at an imaginary high school reunion in Kansas, where my main character returns for the first time in years.

I do have a lot of fond memories of my high school years in Kansas; I don’t want to make it seem as though I don’t. But the passing of time and the malignant spread of nostalgia through my brain hasn’t yet succeeded in dulling the bad memories either, or painting over them with a golden, rosy sheen.

But I also wouldn’t be who I am now were it not for that time, so I can’t be bitter or angry about the bad; you can’t have the good that came from then without having to accept the bad. And there was a lot of good, really, a lot of fun and laughter. Even were I not a gay kid terrified of what would happen if anyone knew–although more knew than I was aware back then–being from the city would have made me different anyway; as would being a creative type who loved to read and aspired to be a writer.

I would have been different anyway; the main issue of almost all of my life experiences before I finally came to terms with who I am, my difference, was always predicated in my mind on my sexuality; it took a long time for me to realize that my difference wasn’t just the gay thing because the gay thing overrode everything else.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning.

And you will be pleased to know, Constant Reader, that I have returned to the Short Story Project. Next up is “Nemesia’s Garden” by Mariano Alonso, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar:

Why is it that the secrets we don’t like to talk about during our lives are the same secrets we don’t want to take to the grave with us?

The day before dying on a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer, my mother told me a story that happened the year before I went off to college. The story was as strange as the time she chose to share it.

For many years, my mother worked as a cleaning lady in several private residences on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side. She was an illegal immigrant with basic education and poor English-language skills; for this reason she was in no position to negotiate with her wealthy patrons for a fair wage that, at least, was always in cash and tax-free.

This is a creepy ass story about two twisted, elderly sisters–one disabled, the other cruel–which is more than a little reminiscent of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in style and theme and tone, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s told from the perspective of their cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant who is telling the story to her son, as you can tell above, when she is dying, because she can’t go to her grave with the creepy tale on her conscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I’m Your Man

Well, the first day of vacation passed without too much of note occurring. We grilled out for dinner–burgers and cheese dogs–and watched It on HBO; I cleaned and started organizing the kitchen; we watched a few more episodes of Big Mouth on Netflix-, and oh yes, Paul spent most of the day watching Wimbledon. I was most pleased to spend a day relaxing (and yes, I find cleaning and organizing to be relaxing; feel free to sue me), and will probably spend today doing more of the same, in addition to going to the gym and doing some writing and answering some emails. I keep thinking today is Sunday, which is also kind of funny–evidence of how nuts the mind can be; I kept thinking yesterday as Saturday. I need to revise my short story for submission to Cemetery Dance (yes, a long shot, but it’s a bucket list thing and I am going to keep trying every year until I actually get in) and in other bizarre news, I also managed to start writing my next book yesterday. I didn’t intend to; but I just felt like I needed to get that opening written down. It’s been swirling in my head for months now, and getting started neither took a long time nor was it particularly painful (what’s going to be painful is rereading the Scotty manuscript, which I am rather dreading).

Here it is:

The summer I graduated from high school my mother ruined my life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Mom says I do that a lot—well, that, and that I’m melodramatic. When I tell her being called a drama queen by my mom will make a great story for my future therapist, she just gives me that look and says, “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”

This particular book is going to be vastly different from anything I’ve written before–I am being most ambitious in my thinking with this one–and I am also writing about a kind of character I’ve never really done before–oh, sure, gay teenager, to be sure, I’ve done that multiple times–but he’s also the only child of a incredibly successful attorney single mother, and the tricky part, the part that’s kept me from writing this book, which began as a short story called “Ruins” about thirty years ago, was I simply could not figure out how to get my main character to spend the summer in rural Alabama, which I have finally managed to do.

Also, yesterday while I was cleaning and organizing–and really, this is the best way to have this sort of thing happen–I kept getting ideas on how to fix and repair the Scotty novel. There really is something to writing an entire draft from start to finish, even knowing that it’s sloppy and you’re leaving things dangling or starting threads that you don’t see through to fruition, as opposed to going back and revising as you go so that by the time you reach the end, you’re past deadline and you don’t get to revise or rewrite the end, or have the time to go back and do much fixing once you’ve finally devised the end. I’ve always been paranoid about that with my Scotty books, which is kind of how I’ve written them all since Mardi Gras Mambo. But if 2018 has been about anything, it’s been about going back to the beginnings and remembering how I used to do things, and going back to my original systems has really been helpful when it comes to writing.

And I got to say, I love that very much.

Next up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Wrought Iron Lace”:

The guy who just moved in across the courtyard is gorgeous.

 I would guess that he’s still in his early thirties, maybe still the late twenties. Since I turned forty it’s really hard for me to judge age. Twenty years olds look like babies, fifty year olds look forty, and that group in between I just have no fucking clue. I watched him move in the day after I came home from the hospital. I have three pins in my leg from the car accident, and I have to keep it elevated as much as possible. I can’t stand on it yet, even with crutches, so I have a nice loaner wheelchair from the hospital. Friends are running errands for me when they can, and checking in on me to make sure I’m not lying on the floor in the bathroom helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home by myself ever before. It’s amazing how little there is to watch on television, even with eighty cable channels. Is there anyone left on the planet who has not seen the movie Sixteen Candles? Why do they have to keep airing it?

It was a Saturday, and if ever there was a day of television hell, it’s Saturday. There’s nothing on, at any time of the day. I don’t really care that much about billiards, snowboarding, or timber-sports, thank you very much. I knew that the vacant apartment on the other side of the courtyard had been rented, the lower one, but I’d forgotten someone was moving in. My apartment is the second floor of a converted slave quarter, and my balcony has a view straight into the living room and bedroom windows of the lower in the back of the main house. I had seen the young lesbian couple who had lived there naked in the bedroom entirely too many times, and had trained myself not to notice those windows.

What can I say? I was bored, bored, bored.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning, I’d been up for three hours, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by again until two o’clock. I put a Jewel CD on, and pushed myself out onto the balcony. It was a beautiful October morning, the sky blue, the sun shining and warm, but none of the humidity that made New Orleans almost unlivable in the summer. There was a stack of books on the balcony table, and I figured this enforced captivity was a pretty good time to catch up on my reading. On top of the stack was a hardcover with two incredibly pretty young men giving each other the eye on the jacket. They were fully dressed, so I knew it was a romance rather than some porn. The sex would be soft-core, the characters fairly two-dimensional, and the problems they faced would be most likely vapid, but it would while away some time without requiring a vast degree of thought.

The door in the gate opened, and this guy came in. Wow, was my instant reaction. I put the book down on the table. He was wearing a black tank tee, tight black jean shorts that reached almost to his knees, with the bottom inch or so rolled up, and calfskin ankle boots with heavy socks pushed down on top of them. He was wearing a black baseball cap with the fleur-de-lis emblem of the Saints on the front. He had a key ring in his hand, and he walked right over to the door of the vacant apartment and unlocked it. When his back turned to me, my jaw dropped. He had without a doubt the most beautiful ass I have ever seen in my entire life. It was hard, it was round, perfectly curved. It was an ass to make men weep, an ass that belonged on an underwear box, an ass that could launch a thousand hard-ons.

I lit a cigarette.

A couple of other guys, muscular, attractive enough but nothing like the first, came back carrying boxes. Any other time, I would have probably been attracted to either or both of them, but the incredible beauty of the first boy (I found myself thinking of him as a “boy” strangely) made them seem like the girls who don’t make the Top Ten at Miss America. I’m sure they were used to it–it probably happened to them in bars all the time. I sat there for several hours, watching them move boxes and furniture, occasionally breaking to have a beer or a smoke break at one of the iron tables in the courtyard. The also-rans eventually removed their shirts, displaying fairly nice torsos, one with some hair, the other completely smooth. Again, under ordinary circumstances I would have been fantasizing a pretty damned vivid three way scene. If I could walk I’d be down there helping, flirting a little, feeling them out about trysting. I would watch the sweat glistening on their bare skin in the sun and wonder how it might taste, if their armpits were becoming a little smelly perhaps from the sweat, if their underwear was sticking to their asses. But my mind was solely on my new neighbor, hoping that he too would take his shirt of, give me a glimpse of his chest and back, maybe the waistband of his underwear showing above his shorts. It never occurred to me that they might be aware of me, the aging man in the wheelchair up on the balcony watching them hungrily without even saying hello. I never saw them look up or give any indication they were being watched. For all I knew, when they were out of sight on the street taking stuff out of the truck they could be laughing their asses off at the perv on the balcony, thinking he’s hidden behind the  wrought iron lacework. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. I could not tear myself away from watching the boy in the black tank tee.

I wrote this story for an anthology called  A View to a Thrill (finally! I remember the anthology!) which was about voyeurism. Voyeurism always reminds me of Rear Window, and so I wanted to do a kind of Rear Window take on a gay erotica story; without the murder, of course.

When I first moved to New Orleans all those years ago, I always wanted to write a book about a group of gay guys–friends and frenemies–who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter and their quest for love and happiness and success; kind of Armistead Maupin meets Jacqueline Susann, using the same structure of Valley of the Dolls–one older character who’s already at the top of his game and owns the buildings, and the three younger ones who become unlikely friends/frenemies on their journey. I called it The World Is Full of Ex-Lovers (a play on two Jackie Collins titles), and from time to time, I found myself writing short stories about these guys. “Stigmata,” which was my first or second non-erotica short story, was about these guys; so was “Touch Me in the Morning,” the story I wrote for Foolish Hearts and had completely forgotten about until I took the book down and looked at the table of contents. I’ve got a lot of first drafts and partial drafts of stories written about these guys and their courtyard. One of the things I love about New Orleans is how, in rental situations (like the one I currently am in) you find yourself in a kind of enforced intimacy with your neighbors; one that you tend to ignore for the most part to maintain the illusion of privacy.

I even used the concept of the French Quarter courtyard with friends living around as a key component in Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Maybe someday I’ll write that book. You never know.

Anyway, I digress. As I was pondering my ideas for a voyeur story, what better setting than a French Quarter courtyard that a number of people rent apartments around? I broke my character’s legs and gave him the upstairs apartment in a slave quarter/carriage house in the back of the courtyard, who observes a really hot young man moving into one of the apartments in the back wing of the main house, through the wrought iron lace of his balcony. I think the story turned out well, and I’ve always been pleased with both it and its title; in fact, when I thought about collecting the erotic stories together originally the book’s title was going to be Wrought Iron Lace and Other Stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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