You’re Still the One

Yep, it’s here. Tonight starts the St. Charles parade schedule, and my life is going to be upended for the next two weeks. Tonight’s parades are Oshun, Cleopatra, and Alla. There are five Saturday, and three on Sunday. Remember–this is the warm-up weekend, the one where we get our throw-catching sea legs to prepare for the marathon to come next week.

As a result, rather than going in later this afternoon, I am going in to the office early this morning, so I can run important errands after I get off work and then can get to the gym and get my workout in before the parades start arriving. Heavy heaving sigh. I’m going to try to get some writing done, but it’s not going to be easy over the course of the weekend, what with eleven parades passing by at the corner. At least on Sunday they are all afternoon parades, so I’ll have the evening free before my two consecutive twelve hour shifts. The rest of the week I have to go in early so I can get home before the parking is all gone and they close St. Charles Avenue, and of course next Friday I’ll be strolling down St. Charles to the Quarter to pass out condoms, and then walking home that evening up the parade route. Yay for corn dogs and funnel cakes! They make everything better.

They do! Don’t be a hater, dear.

I did work on the Secret Project a little while last night; not much, but the character’s voice is starting to come to me more and I am seeing the story a little more clearly, so it’s a nice pass I am giving to this one, and hopefully this will be the pass that finishes it so I can move on to the next part.

Huzzah, I think.

New Orleans’ bipolar weather took a turn yesterday, dropping a ridiculous amount of degrees so it was bitterly cold when I came home last night; I suspect more of the same is in store for us this first weekend of parades, which kind of takes a lot of the fun out of parade-attendance; of course, rain will always be the worst parade weather. The high today is fifty-eight; it’s forty-five right now. I recognize that probably doesn’t qualify as cold enough weather to complain about in most of the country–but I don’t live in most of the country. So there.

I am also mapping out “Festival of the Redeemer.” It’s going to probably be longer than a short story, but not long enough to be a novel–have I mentioned this before? Probably, my memory is really a bit on the disgraceful side these days. It’s a complicated story, and how I want to tell it–in flashbacks as the couple the story is about wander the streets of Venice, sight-seeing, and climaxes while they watch the Festival fireworks from their balcony at the Gritti Palace–is complicated and will require careful planning; but that careful planning also means that I need to map it out before hand, in order to make it easier to write for me. It’s probably going to end up as a stand alone novella, sold as an ebook, most likely; but there are worse things I could do.

The whole novella conversation also has me wondering about this Chanse short story I’ve been writing, “Once a Tiger”–well, writing off and on for about two years now, if I am going to be honest–and now I am thinking it’s more sense, and more likely, that it would work better as a novella. It’s too much story for a short story, which was why it’s been stalled as long as it has been, and now I am thinking, well you can always just write the story you want it to be and see how long it actually winds up. I was trying to keep it to less than 6000 words, which is the max for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock–which is what I always have in mind when I am writing a short story; they are the best paying and most prestigious market for crime short stories out there, so I always have an eye to sending any story I write (which isn’t being written on request or for an anthology) to them for consideration.

I’ve been in Ellery Queen twice already, and Alfred Hitchcock is still on my bucket list–although it takes a major commitment to send something to Hitchcock–the last story I sent them took over a year to be rejected, which is insane. But they also probably get a lot of submissions, and probably also request stories from people, too. Ah, well.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. This morning is cold, and the day I am facing is going to be long, so it’s probably best to hit the ground running.

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Jingle Bell Rock

Monday morning, and I really didn’t want to get up this morning. But I did, here we are, and here we go. Today is weird; I am off tomorrow and Wednesday for the holidays, then have to work on Thursday and Friday before the weekend–next week I only have Wednesday off, so I will most likely be discombobulated for the next few weeks. But that’s okay–life generally leaves me feeling discombobulated on a fairly regular basis, if I’m going to be completely honest

We watched the second-to-last episode of Dublin Murders last night, which continues to entertain–despite the enormous gap in the plot–and then we watched the first episode of Megan Abbott’s new show, based on her novel Dare Me,  which is also called Dare Me. It’s really quite good, and even though it’s about high school cheerleaders, it’s really not for teenagers to be watching–although it’s probably one of the most vivid and realistic shows about teenagers I’ve seen in quite some time. The characters are three-dimensional and real; and the show did quite a good job of letting us seen the lives of the girls so we can understand them better. It’s incredible, and I do encourage everyone to watch it.

The Saints game was stressful, but they did manage to get their act together and pull out a win, which was nice. After that I finished watching the other episodes of The Dark Side of the Ring–episodes about the death of Gino Hernandez, the murder of Bruiser Brody; the tragic story of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, and how Bret Hart left the WWE. It was interesting; Bret Hart was of course the first person to ever officially break kayfabe to the press (kayfabe=behind the scenes information, like how the matches were planned and so forth; one of the more interesting things is that Bruiser Brody’s murderer got away with claiming self-defense because people were convinced wrestling was absolutely real), and of course I didn’t know the full stories about the others. I do remember when Miss Elizabeth died; I also had met both her and Randy Savage when I worked at the airport in Tampa. The Macho Man was really nice–so was she, if a little shy and quiet–but you can imagine the trepidation one would feel when working in Baggage Claim and you realize the passenger whose bag is lost is RANDY MACHO MAN SAVAGE–you could never mistake that voice, for one thing. But he was so gracious and understanding and charming, and so nice. I had them both autograph a ticket folder–people today probably don’t remember ticket jackets, just as no one has a printed out ticket anymore–but it got lost many moves ago.

Not much fodder there for my wrestling noir novel, but nevertheless, interesting.

I didn’t write very much this weekend–I did come up with a better opening for my short story “Once a Tiger,” which has been languishing for quite some time on the back burner–so that’s something, I suppose. It’s hard to call one’s self a writer when you aren’t actually writing anything, you know? We did get our Star Wars tickets for Christmas, though, which will be quite fun and nice as long as I can avoid spoilers in the meantime. I’ve been ignoring reviews and commentary–it’s hard to believe I’ve been following this story and film series for over forty years–but this is the end of the Skywalker story, and while I am looking forward to other stories from this universe, I’m okay with the Skywalker tale ending, particularly if The Mandalorian  and Rogue One are examples of what we can expect from that universe going forward.

I also read more of The Stranger Inside, and am really enjoying it. I love the way Benedict is building her story, and how carefully she plays her cards about just who exactly her main character is–not to mention who the other characters are. One of the most interesting things about the book–interesting perhaps because I don’t recall seeing it in print in a mainstream novel before–is that the main character’s ex-husband is now married to another man–and she’s fine with it…at least, she is so far. Like I said, the twists and turns and surprises are quite well done, and I am definitely adding Laura Benedict to my must-read author list.

It really is hard to believe that this year–and this decade–is coming to a close so soon. I’ve talked, usually around this time, every year about how I’ve never really understood the hubbub and celebratory nature of the New Year; it’s just another day and what, precisely, are we celebrating? The calendar year is, realistically, simply arbitrarily decided by the movement of the earth around the sun, and January was selected as the first month for some reason lost in the mists of antiquity. It merely marks the passage of time, similar to birthdays. And yet we all make resolutions (I set goals), and decide, with each new year’s start, to try to be better.

I mean, shouldn’t we always be trying to be better? Why tie that to a calendar date? Why wait until the New Year and its “new beginning” to make positive change in your life?

I don’t understand it, never have, and have never really seen the big deal of New Year’s Eve as anything other than just another excuse to get wasted. Because in puritanical America, you need to have a reason otherwise you’re an alcoholic or irresponsible or something equally bad.

Many years ago, I had the idea for a book called New Year’s Eve, which would really simply be an interwoven collection of short stories set on that night, but done in a novelistic form; beginning with one character and then the next chapter moves on to someone they’ve come into contact with, and going forward that way, and eventually working its way back to the original characters, all culminating with the stroke of midnight where every one of the characters is at the same New Year’s Eve party.

Not the best idea I’ve ever had, to be honest. But I think the entire point of the book/stories was to get that very point across: it’s kind of silly to try to make effective change based on what is really an arbitrary date.

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

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Lean on Me

GEAUX TIGERS!

I still can’t believe we have tickets for tonight’s game. We try to make it to at least one game every season, if we can; we’ve managed to go to at least one game per season since our first trip to Tiger Stadium, when we went to the Ole Miss game in 2010. We’ve seen some exciting games there; we’ve seen some blowouts, and we’ve seen some games that were closer than they should have been. One of the things I love about being an LSU fan is that they are never boring to watch. That 2007 national championship year was probably, overall, the most interesting and fun season of college football that I can remember. It’s also LSU’s Homecoming, and of course, we’re playing hated rival Florida; both teams undefeated, both ranked in the Top Ten. And while a loss for either team doesn’t necessarily mean being taken out of the conference championship race, or out of national hopes, it would mean an uphill battle the rest of the season–and another loss will spell the end of all hopes for the season.

Not looking forward to driving to and from Baton Rouge, though.

But Death Valley is going to be rocking–after all, it’s Saturday night in Death Valley!

It’a also going to be in the 60’s–perfect stadium weather tonight.

Very exciting.

I’m going to try to get some writing done, as well as some cleaning around the Lost Apartment, before we head out this afternoon. I also have to walk over to the International School to vote in the Louisiana primaries.

I’m not really sure what to do with Bury Me in Shadows. On the one hand, I’d really love to get it finished and turned in soon; on the other, I’m worried that I’m rushing to get it out of my hair. Of course, I can always turn it in and do a final revision before the official deadline it will be given, but…I don’t really like doing that. I did it with Royal Street Reveillon, though, and that seemed to work really well. So, maybe? I don’t know; I am very torn. I do think this might be one of the better books I’ve written, and more attention to it could make it my best. But again, I am terribly worried about turning it in, getting it on the schedule and then trying to get another finished draft finished before it’s due for production–because I absolutely have no idea what my life will be like at that time.

Last night I watched, of all things, the E! True Hollywood Story: Dynasty on Youtube. It occurred to me, really, how correct they were when they said Dynasty encapsulated the 1980’s more than any other television show; Dallas might have averaged higher ratings throughout its lengthy run, and there were certainly other successful night time soaps in the 1980’s, but Dynasty really captured the era more so than anything else–and let’s not forget, Dynasty had the first openly gay character in a television drama series (Jody on SOAP was probably the first; but it was a comedy), and then of course, Rock Hudson’s appearance on the show when he was dying from HIV/AIDS–not revealed until after he’d left the show–made the epidemic world-wide news and shone a bright light on an epidemic that was actually being largely ignored by the world at the time and when it was talked about, well–as said by a horrific bigot on Designing Women a few years later, “it’s killing all the right people.”

I also watched the final episode of Showtime’s Murder in the Bayou last night, and cannot help but feel sorry for the families of the victims. The mystery of who murdered the Jeff Davis 8 will most likely never be solved, which is an absolute shame, but it is such amazing fodder for a novel. Every time I watch an episode, I think to myself how to structure such a book, and start populating it with characters. It’s definitely a Chanse novel more so than a Scotty; obviously I could do it as a stand alone–which is still a possibility–but almost from the very beginning I’ve seen it as a Chanse novel; primarily because Chanse is from a small town in east Texas, which would give him good insight into the class differentials in a small town, as well as some insight into police corruption. I’ve never done a Louisiana corruption novel yet; this is almost too perfect a case to hang such a story upon.

I know I said Murder in the Arts District was probably going to be the last Chanse novel, but I always add the caveat “unless I get a good idea.” I was burned out on writing Chanse when I finished that book, and I felt like it was probably past time to retire the character from my canon. I’ve written one short story with him as the main character, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which was included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started writing another one, “Once a Tiger,” which started off strong but then petered out as I wrote it. It’s still unfinished, and I think it’s going to have to be overhauled completely. It’s a great idea–Chanse comes back to LSU to solve a murder at his old fraternity–but it doesn’t really get traction in the way I started writing it. As I was thinking about the story for the new Chanse novel last night, I also recognized that some things that I was thinking about, as far as Chanse was concerned, would have to change; I really do need to go back and read the last few books in the series again. I am probably going to cross over a character from the Scotty series into this Chanse, should I write it–Jerry Channing, the true crime writer. I may not, it just seemed like he would be the perfect person to bring the murders in a western Louisiana parish to Chanse’s attention.

Anyway, we’ll see. I need to finish Bury Me in Shadows, the Kansas book, write some more short stories, finish “Never Kiss a Stranger,” and, of course, Chlorine.

I also found myself thinking about some other stories I have in progress, in particular “Please Die Soon,” which I think is going to be pretty good–if I ever finish it.

And on that note, I’m going to get cleaned up and go vote. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Somewhere Out There

And Thursday rolls around, which means the weekend looms on the horizon.

Yay, weekend!

It’ll be tense, though, with the LSU-Florida game looming on the horizon (GEAUX TIGERS!) and there’s also a road game for the Saints, I believe. But the LSU game is a night game (it’s Saturday night in Death Valley!) so I have all day to get things done. There are other games on, of course, but none of terrific interest. I find myself becoming less interested in spending the day parked in my easy chair watching college football games, and if I want to turn Bury Me in Shadows in on Monday, I’ll need to buckle down and get some things worked on this weekend as I rather doubt I’ll have the time to get the whole thing finished before the weekend….

I managed to make Swedish meatballs for dinner last night–they turned out the best they ever have, which was nice, especially since I made them without consulting a recipe. That means I’ll probably never make them exactly the same way ever again, as well–but I think that’s part of the joy of cooking, at least for me; I love always trying to improve on recipes I’ve made before with little tweaks here and there. I wish I had more time to cook, to be honest; it is something I rather enjoy doing.

I also slept incredibly deeply and well last night. I’m not really sure what’s going on or what’s different; but I’ve stopped taking my prescription for sleeping–I always worry about addiction issues. Obviously, the last thing in the world I would need would be to get addicted to something, so I’m trying to take the sleeping pills less frequently. Over the last two weeks I only took one on last Saturday evening, and now my sleep seems to be more natural and more restful and longer lasting. I don’t even think I woke up even once during the course of last night, which is a first.

I wonder if it’s because the humidity seems to have finally broken?

Maybe.

But it’s very weird to wake up on a Thursday and not feel exhausted. I’m not sure if how that bodes for the rest of the day, but it would be awesome to come home tonight and be able to bang out some more chapters of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d love to get that finished by the end of the weekend so I can turn it in on Monday; that would be lovely. Finishing it means I could get back to work on the Kansas book with an eye to getting it turned in by the end of the month as well. That would open me up to writing solely Chlorine and short stories through the rest of the year; which would be kind of awesome. Ideally, it would be amazing to get a strong draft of Chlorine finished by the end of the year, so I could start writing this new Chanse novel in January, or perhaps another Scotty; I’m not sure which should come next. The Chanse novel, which would be drawn from–ripped from the headlines, if you will–the Jeff Davis 8 case, would probably be an easier thing to write–the brilliance of using a real life case as the jumping off point for a fictionalization is that a lot of your story is already in place; the only thing I’d need to do is, of course, come up with a fictional solution to the mystery. The next Scotty,  on the other hand, is a lot more amorphous, as Scotty books always tend to be; the story kind of comes to me as I write it, rather than planning it out ahead of time. This frequently causes me headaches, of course, but Scotty simply can’t be written any other way. I am torn between writing Hollywood South Hustle, which would be really fun; French Quarter Flambeaux, which is really just a kernel of an idea, as is the other potential Scotty, Lake Shore Limbo. I also have another Scotty title in the hopper, St. Claude Second-Line, which is what the original title, Bywater Bohemia Bougie, evolved into.

Hollywood South Hustle is a summer novel, though, I think; whereas FQF could easily be a March novel, and I think March is the right timing for the next Scotty, since Royal Street Reveillon was a Christmas novel.

I also am thinking that my Chanse short story, “Once a Tiger,” might actually work better as a novella. (As you can see, I have novellas on the brain.) I had originally wanted to call my second short story collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but if it’s going to be a novella, it would fit better into the four novella thing I am planning to possibly do. Ah, plans, plans, plans; it really helps if you actually work on the damned things, though!

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines for this morning. I don’t have to get ready for work and leave for another two hours, and I might as well put that time to use.

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Jacob’s Ladder

Tuesday morning and all is fine…at least so far.

I managed to finish the reread/outline of Bury Me in Shadows last night, which is very cool, and as I said the other day, it doesn’t need nearly as much work as I thought it did–which, given how it was written in fits and starts over the period of a few months, I figured there would be tons of repetition. As it is, I did repeat something–the first time my main character, Jake, was ever called a gay slur–about three or four times. Obviously, I only need to have that in there once.

What’s funny about it, though, is that each instance is based on a different time it happened to me when I was a kid–and I managed to remember four different times. Who knows how many others I can remember? Ah, the joys of being a queer kid in America back in the day.

But the book is, as I said, in much better shape than I remembered or thought, and so it’s not going to be as much work to finish it as I thought. Don’t get me wrong–it’s still going to be a lengthy slog, it’s just not going to take me as a long to finish this final edit than I thought it might. It’s still entirely possible that I could have it finished and ready to go sometime next week, which would be really lovely. One can certainly hope, at least.

I’ve managed to sleep well both nights so far this week–I didn’t even feel tired yesterday until after I got home from the office. I somehow managed to make it through an entire twelve-hour day without feeling exhausted or worn out. On the other hand, we were also pretty slow yesterday; perhaps not having client after client after client made the difference.

We finished watching Big Mouth last night, which is easily one of the funniest things on television right now, and will now slide back into watching our other shows each evening, trying to get caught up on them all. A plethora of riches for us to choose from, and we still have only watched the first episode of the first season of Succession, so there’s also that.

I’m not as energetic this morning as I was yesterday; but that’s probably par for the course. I may not have been as worn out as I usually am on Monday evening last night, but it was still a twelve hour day, and today is probably a vestigial hangover from that. That doesn’t bode well for the day, but I”m hoping it’s just a slow waking up morning type of thing. I’ve still got so much to do it’s not even funny. Motivation is the primary problem I am having this morning, and my coffee doesn’t seem to be working the way I generally expect/need it to. Oh, wait–there it is. Hello, caffeine!

There was a cold front that came through last night so today is supposedly going to be cooler than it has been–sad that temperatures in the mid-80’s is “cooler than it has been,” but that’s life down here in the swamp. This summer has certainly lasted longer than any have seemed to before, but that could also just be my own faulty memory. My memories are questionable, it seems. That’s why people who can write their own memoirs or autobiographies amaze me so much–how do you remember all of that? There are so many gaps in my memories, and memories that are simply flat out wrong; for example, I would have sworn on a Bible and testified to it in court that we moved from Chicago out to the suburbs in the winter of 1969, which is incorrect. We moved in the winter of 1971, two years later; I was ten years old and in the sixth grade. I knew I was ten when we moved, and yet somehow I always managed to convince myself we moved in 1969. Why or how or when that year became fixated in my brain as the year we moved is beyond me; I’ve always been able to remember the year we moved to Kansas because it was the summer before my junior year. I graduated in 1978, so we had to have moved to Kansas in 1976. It was also the Olympic year–Montreal–and the same Olympics where Nadia Comenici started throwing perfect 10’s in the gymnastics competition.

Why have I been thinking about the past so much lately? I’m not sure. Maybe because Bury Me in Shadows is set in a fictional county that is based on the county where my family is from, so I’ve been drawing on childhood memories to construct a fictional place based in reality from my past. It’s strange to look at Google Earth renderings of where we’re from, and see that my memories are, in fact, incorrect; but in fairness I never drove anywhere in Alabama. I was always a passenger, and I think driving cements directions and so forth in your mind–when you’re just riding in the car you don’t pay as much attention as you would if you were driving. I’m also writing “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which is set in New Orleans in 1994, so I’m having to delve into my memories of visiting here and remembering what the city was like then. It does seem different now than it was then–certainly the city has changed since that first visit all those years ago, when I first explored the gay bars and the Quarter and fell in love with New Orleans; part of the reason I am writing the story and setting it in that time is to write about, and preserve in fiction, my memories of the city back then and what it was like. I’m also glad I decided to turn it into a novella–I may do a book of four novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Full Dark No Stars–which would be kind of a departure for me. I already have “Never Kiss a Stranger” in progress, and there’s also “Fireflies,” and perhaps I have two other stories on hand that could easily be adapted into longer novellas….often the problem I have with writing short stories is the word counts; some stories struggle to come in under 6000 words.

Which, now that I think about it, could easily make “Once a Tiger” and “Please Die Soon” and perhaps even “Death and the Handmaidens” work; simply make them longer and that will probably solve the issues with all three stories.

An interesting and intriguing thought.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Love Machine

Ah, Monday of the week that ends with the tenting and the Weekend o’Festivals. Just thinking about getting through this week and this weekend makes me tired. Very tired.

We started moving perishables and other things that could be poisoned by the termite gas over to the carriage house yesterday; even as we did so, I kept remembering and finding more things that need to go over there. I’ve never experienced termite genocide before, that oh-so-uniquely New Orleans experience that so many others have before multiple times. It’s got me thinking about the possibility of murder by termite tent, of course–although I am pretty certain I’ve read a book where that happened, I think it was by Elaine Viets.

Murder-a-Go-Go’s officially releases today as well, so those who preordered it should be getting it delivered to your electronic reading devices and those who ordered hard-copies should be getting them soon. Huzzah! I love book birthdays; my own for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is soon to come; April 10th, officially. Order, order, order! And don’t forget, the first ever Chanse MacLeod short story is in this book!

I reread my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s again yesterday, primarily because another idea came to me yesterday, which I shared on social media: Someone really needs to write a spring break noir called WHERE THE BOYS DIE and I would read the hell out of that. I do think that’s a terrific idea; is there any better setting for a noir than a small beach town taken over by tens of thousands of partying college students? (I also had another idea for a book, based on an actual brutal murder that took place over spring break several decades ago; hat tip to Scott Heim for reminding me of that murder) I had always wanted to do one over the course of Southern Decadence weekend as well; I still might do that one. Anyway, I’m digressing. So, on my post about Where the Boys Die some suggested I write it, others that it sounded like an anthology, and then Jessica Laine said, you already wrote this story for MURDER-A-GO-GO’S, and I loved your story. 

The thing about being a writer is that all-too-often you don’t remember things about your work once it’s finished. “This Town,” my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s, is one of my favorite stories that I’ve ever written, to be honest; I think it’s also one of my best. But, when I read Kristopher Zgorski’s lovely review and he singled out my story as one of many for individual praise, and then seeing Jessica’s lovely comment, I decided I should probably reread the story since my recollection of what I actually wrote was so vague…and there it was. Constant Reader, it’s good. I then pulled up my story “Neighborhood Alert,” which is going to be published in Mystery Tribune, and it, too, is good. This was revelatory for me; as I may have mentioned, another story of mine was recently rejected by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and that had, of course, put me into a bit of a tailspin as far as my writing of short stories was concerned…astonishing at how easy it is to have one’s confidence in one’s own work shattered, isn’t it?

And that also got me to thinking about the second Chanse short story, “Once a Tiger,” that has tragically been stalled for so long. Short stories are actually more intimate than novels; in that you have much less space to develop a story and less room for characters so it has to be scaled back some. “Once a Tiger” is struggling because, quite simply, there are too many characters in it; how does one investigate a death at a fraternity house on a college campus when there would have to be well over a hundred brothers and pledges? That was where I struggled with the story; even the police would have trouble sorting all of this out, so imagine the trouble Chanse would have with it, working alone as he does. I still want to write a murder mystery set at Chanse’s LSU fraternity, where Chanse has to come back and solve the crime, but I just don’t–at the moment–see how that can be done as a short story. Maybe now that I’ve said that it will come to me–just like the other day, how to weave the two plots for the next Scotty book came to me from out of nowhere.

I love when that happens.

And now back to the spice mines.

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This Town

As I have mentioned before, I kind of invited myself to contribute to this anthology. It’s probably the single most brazen thing I’ve ever done as a writer. I’m not sure how it happened, exactly; I just saw it on Twitter or something and shamelessly contacted Holly West, who–rather than saying who the fuck are you? HELL FUCKING NO, was quite gracious and said, “By all means! I have a spot for you!”

The songs I got to choose from were three of my favorites, but I eventually decided on “This Town,” after reviewing the lyrics:

We all know the chosen toys 
Of catty girls and pretty boys 
Make up that face 
Jump in the race 
Life’s a kick in this town 
Life’s a kick in this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us
Change the lines that were said before 
We’re all dreamers – we’re all whores 
Discarded stars 
Like worn out cars 
Litter the streets of this town 
Litter the streets of this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

 

 “We’re all dreamers–we’re all whores”–that was the line that sold me; this was the song I was going to use.

But despite the fact that was the line that convinced me, these lines:

Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

were the ones that actually inspired my story.

cover-west-murder-go-gos-frontOur IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, his bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, his bored eyes just flicked over the lami- nate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about every- thing. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitat- ed. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up ran down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our arm- pits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic. They only no- ticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking sec- ond place because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

She was Celia, and we were better for knowing her, special for being her sisters, like she’d selected us to be pledges and not the actives.

She somehow even knew the best places to catch the parades at our first Mardi Gras and wasn’t from New Orleans.

Haven’t we all known a girl like Celia, the one who somehow always knows what the next thing is, who always wears new styles and fashions before anyone else, who always seems to know where the best parties are, where to find the cute guys, the one everyone is drawn to, who draws the eye, who is the center of attention?

I was in a fraternity in college, and another trope that pops up regularly in my fiction is college Greeks–fraternities and sororities. Chanse was an alum of an LSU fraternity (I have an in-progress short story where Chanse deals with the current day members of his old fraternity after a suspicious death on Big Brother Night, “Once a Tiger”), and of course there are the Todd Gregory fraternity novels. Sororities fascinated me back then, and they still do today; they were a lot stricter than their male counterparts back when I was in college, and still seemed stuck, rules and tradition-wise, in the 1950’s.

Anyway, one day during Carnival last year I was standing under the balcony in front of the praline shop during a Saturday afternoon parade–Iris, I think it was–when a gaggle of sorority girls passed by in front of me. The clear leader of the pack was a beautiful young woman the others were clearly trying to please and impress; the alpha to their betas. They all paused right next to me so the leader could light a cigarette. As she put her cigarette in her purse three men of varying ages immediately stepped up to light her cigarette for her–one was in his fifties, one was slightly older than the girls, and another who might have been in his thirties–and I remembered another golden girl from a sorority back when I was in college…and I wondered what it would be like to be, not the alpha girl, but one of the betas, caught up in her thrall, and what you might be willing to do  for your alpha. Is it peer pressure, is it desire to please, what precisely is it that keeps you in thrall and makes you do things against your nature?

And that night, I started writing “This Town.”

The great irony, of course, was that after I’d written the story and Holly graciously agreed to use it in her anthology, I was reading William J. Mann’s Edgar-winning Tinseltown and realized that “this town” has a specific connotation, one that makes the song itself make even greater sense: “this town” is how people in Los Angeles refer to show business, i.e. “you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.” I’d even know that, from years of reading biographies and memoirs and histories of Hollywood and the studio system, but…my mind and my memory is a sieve these days.

But I’m very proud of my story, and I hope that you will like it, too, when you get a chance to read it.