Teardrops on My Guitar

Saturday, and the first blog entry of the three day Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day.

September.

Sep-fucking-tember.

I think the kindest thing anyone can say about this year is that it hasn’t been a pleasant experience for most people, and putting it that way is perhaps a bit of a stretch. I do feel bad for people who are actually having good things happen to them in this year of utter misery and repeated horror; as I said recently, this is why we  need to get our joy where we can find it. Adaptability is one strength (supposedly) of our species, and I do see people adapting left and right; on the other hand, I also see others desperately clinging to the past and resisting adaptation most stubbornly. This has been quite a year on every level–and it has been interesting seeing how people have adapted, and how people are handling it all so differently.

This is why it surprises me when I see authors talking about how they are going to handle the pandemic in their work–or rather, how they are not going to address the pandemic in their work. It’s so global and so intense and it’s affected everyone, changing how we do things and how we live our lives, from the most mundane things like picking up prescriptions to grocery shopping to going out to eat, to the big things like jobs and house payments and school attendance and daycare. It has affected every part of our lives, so how can we ignore it or pretend like it never happened? It’s very similar to the Katrina situation New Orleans writers found ourselves in afterwards; we couldn’t pretend like the city hadn’t been destroyed or that we’d all been through a horrible trauma. But when I, for example, started writing my post-Katrina work, we were over a year into the recovery and so I could write about what it had been like, rather then trying to figure out what it was going to be like. Pandemic writing, of course, will inevitably date your work, just like Katrina divided my career into before and after. I’m still, frankly, trying to decide how to deal with it in my own work–or if I even want to continue writing the series or not.

And let’s be honest: my first and thus far only attempt to write pandemic fiction, started in the first weeks of the quarantine/shutdown, quickly became dated; I am very glad I didn’t finish it because a lot of the work would have been wasted. I do want to finish the story, though, see if anyone wants to publish it.

Today is going to be my catch-up day; I am going to try to get a chapter revised today, but my primary concern is getting things caught up; I want to finish reading Little Fires Everywhere (I really got sucked into it for a few hours last night) and get started on The Coyotes of Carthage, and I also think I might spend some time today with some short story reading–that Sara Paretsky collection keeps giving me side-eye whenever I sit down in my easy chair–and of course, there’s always electronic files to sort and clean up as well as physical ones. The house really needs some serious cleaning, frankly, and I know I’ll feel much better once that chore is actually accomplished.

Then again, who knows? This could easily turn into another lazy day.

Yesterday during condom-packing time, I watched the season finale of Real Housewives of New York (Dorinda’s recently firing makes a lot more sense now) and moved on to the next on my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, All the President’s Men. To digress for a moment, can I just say how fucking ridiculously good-looking Robert Redford was? I know, I know, commenting on the almost insane beauty of Redford isn’t like anything new, but good lord. Dustin Hoffman was also never considered to be particularly good-looking, but he looks pretty good in this movie and isn’t completely overshadowed by Redford, which would have been expected. It’s a very good film, from top to bottom; everyone in the cast is superb (it was also interesting to see so many people in bit roles that would later become stars on television–Polly Holiday, Stephen Collins, Meredith Baxter Birney), and it also made me miss the heyday of the thriller featuring the intrepid, dogged, never say die investigative journalist. This is something we’ve lost with the rise of the Internet, 24 hours news channels, and the death of print: with magazines and newspapers either shuttering or cutting back staff, it’s really no longer realistic to have the crusading journalist as the heroic center of your book or movie; as I watched the show I kept thinking about the old Ed Asner series Lou Grant, and whether it was streaming anywhere.

All the President’s Men, of course, is the film version of the book Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward wrote about their investigation into the Watergate break-in in 1972, which was the tiny thread that was pulled and eventually brought down the Nixon presidency and almost destroyed the Republican party in the process. I read the book initially when I was in college–it was required reading for my Intro to Journalism class (I was torn between majoring in journalism or English; being unaware that I could have gone to college somewhere and majored in Creative Writing–but actually, I am very glad I never did that)–and it was my first real experience with understanding, for the first time, what Watergate was all about. It happened in real time during the course of my life, but I was also between the ages of 11 and 13 from the first reports of the break-in and the resignation of a president, and so I didn’t really understand what was going on and only had a vague idea as it infiltrated every aspect of the culture beyond the news. It certainly gave rise to the concept of conspiracy theories and the belief that the government couldn’t be trusted–which gave rise to Reaganism in the 1980’s–but reading the book was my first baby-step forward to shaking off the ideology with which I had been raised. I had never seen the film, and so it really seemed to be perfect for my Cynical 70’s Film Festival…although it was difficult for me to get up the desire to actually queue it up and click play, frankly; the utter failure of the 4th Estate to do its job properly in this century plays no small part in why we are where we are today. But it’s a good film, and it also depicts the back-room aspect of journalism–the battle for column inches, the struggle for the front page, the competition with other newspapers and television–which is really kind of a lost world now. (I had always wanted to write about a newspaper–which is partly why I made Paige a journalist, morphing her gradually into a magazine editor.) I will say watching this movie now made me think about writing about a modern-day journalist; the struggle between the print and on-line copy, etc. If I only had more time.

It’s also very sad to know that if Watergate was happening now, the story would be killed by an editor, and we’d never know the truth.

We also finished watching Outcry last night, which was terrific, and the latest episode of Lovecraft Country (it dropped early because of the holiday weekend), and its continued brilliance is really something. We also saw the preview for Raised by Wolves, the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, and it also looks terrific. A new season of The Boys also just dropped on Prime; so there’s a wealth of things for us to watch, and I rediscovered (oops) my Showtime watch list last night, which also has a cornucopia of delights on it.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into ye olde spice mines for the day. May you all have a lovely, lovely day today.

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Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

It Never Rains in Southern California

Less than a week until Royal Street Reveillon is officially out in the world!

And so far, no current labor pains!

But, in fairness, it took me a good long while to write this book. My memory is so bad, and I’m so constantly and regularly busy, that I don’t even remember when I actually wrote it and turned it in to my publisher. I think it was earlier this year? I don’t remember–and that’s kind of sad. This is but one of the many reasons I don’t think I’ll ever write a memoir; my memory lies to me all the time and I never know what I remember correctly, let alone times and timelines and so forth. For example, when I was writing my essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” for Love, Bourbon Street, I went into it thinking I spent weeks in Kentucky at my parents’ after the evacuation, when it was actually less than three before I returned to Louisiana. That was a shock, believe me…but it’s true: we evacuated on August 28th, and I returned to New Orleans for good in early October after several weeks on the North Shore at my friend Michael’s. Stress and age and everything else combines to make things seem different in memory; and I’ve also noted, many times, how often people look back through a rosy glow of nostalgia. (I’ve always thought people view the past nostalgically because they aren’t happy, for one reason or another, in the present; they think oh, everything was so much simpler and easier back then. It’s usually not that true.)

So, Gregalicious, why did you decide to write a murder mystery built around a reality television show filming in New Orleans?

I didn’t watch An American Family, the first true reality show, back in the 1970’s on PBS, as the Loud family allowed their lives to be filmed for the entertainment of the masses. The show, which was the baseline for everything that came later, was quite controversial–I remember reading in the newspaper that one of the sons came out as gay on camera, which was kind of a big deal in the 1970’s–but in the 1990’s, I was a big fan of MTV’s sociological experiment, The Real World, and it’s sister-show that came later, Road Rules. But as the shows went on, they went from being a sociological experiment (hey, let’s take a group of seven kids from completely different backgrounds, make them live together and work on a project, and see what, if anything, they learn from each other) to being exploitative (hey, if all of them are young and beautiful and damaged, and we encourage them to drink and hook up, drama will ensue!), which was when I lost interest in watching them anymore. I also watched the game show version–The Challenges–primarily because the young men were always hot, often shirtless, and sometimes even less clad than that, plus watching the competitions was interesting. But it, too, eventually paled in interest to me–they were so repetitive, and the producers never intervened when violence broke out, and that was more often than not–and so I stopped watching.

The Real Housewives was different for me. Back in the day, we used to watch Bravo a lot–Inside the Actor’s Studio, Project Runway, reruns of Law and Order and The West Wing–and when they started promoting a new show they were doing called The Real Housewives of Orange County, I sniffed disdainfully at it. At that time, one of the hottest shows on network television was Desperate Housewives, and this seemed to be a rip-off, an attempt to cash in on the success of another network’s show by copying the title and so forth: “oh, if you like that show, here’s the real women of the area who are housewives, and what there lives are like.” The previews I’d see didn’t really encourage me to watch–the women seemed, for the most part, like horrible people, particularly Vicki Gunvalson–but as the show spawned spin-off shows in other cities and regions, I became more than passingly acquainted with them. They usually ran marathons on Sundays, and when it’s not football season Sunday television was pretty much a wasteland. I’d flip on the marathon for background noise while I read a book and Paul napped on the couch–but I also began to absorb the shows through a kind of osmosis. I knew who the women were and what their lives were like–but still didn’t watch regularly until around 2010, or 2011 or so.

And once I started giving Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills my full attention–yeah, I was hooked.

Paul would even watch with me from time to time…and we played a game: if they did a New Orleans version, who would they cast? It was fun, because we also were relatively certain none of the women we thought would kill it on such a show would ever remotely consider doing such a show (Southern Charm New Orleans proved us right), and then I began to think…but such a show here would be absolutely the perfect background for a murder mystery, because of the way everyone here is so connected to everyone else and there would be backstory and history galore.

I always saw it as a Scotty book, but when I turned it into the Paige novella, that changed things. I still wanted to do a Scotty book about a reality show, and I started making notes for one called Reality Show Rhumba. And, if you’re wondering, that’s where the character of Frank’s nephew Taylor Wheeler came from; when I added him to the regular cast of characters for the Scotty series, my intent was to have him eventually be case in a Real World-type show here in New Orleans, and anchor a murder mystery. But then…the Paige novella series went nowhere, and I hated losing such a great idea..so as I went into Garden District Gothic I introduced Serena Castlemaine to the boys, thus planting the seeds for Royal Street Reveillon, knowing I could keep some parts of the story but would have to change others–which was cool, because I always felt that the original novella was kind of rushed, and I didn’t have either the time–or the space (since novellas are by nature shorter)–to make the story what I wanted it to be.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Stay in My Corner

We binged the Netflix series Dear White People last night, and got so involved we couldn’t stop watching; it was one of those shows where you say “oh, just one more won’t hurt” and then it’s over and you’re saying it again and then “well, there’s only ONE left” and then it’s over and you just sit back and think, “wow.” Full realized characters, incredible acting, and the writing? Stellar. Again, it was told from almost everyone’s point of view, so you got to know everyone and their backstories, especially with each other. It was funny, provocative, timely, and diverse. Obviously, my favorite character was the young gay writer, coming to terms with his enormous crush on his hot but straight roommate, trying to figure out who he is while navigating the murky waters of a college campus and institutionalized racism–but no one had an issue with his sexuality. His also gay editor at the independent campus paper got off a line that has me still laughing–and it was repeated by another character in the same episode: “Labels are what keep people in Florida from drinking Windex.”

I finished reading a book yesterday, started a couple more and put them in the donation pile after a couple of chapters, and really was at a loss for what to read next; and finally settled on Victor Gischler’s The Pistol Poets. I did a panel with him years and years ago at the Louisiana Book Festival–really liked him, thought he was smart and funny and engaging–and then read his book Gun Monkeys, which I also enjoyed, and always meant to get more of his books. Sometime last year something reminded me of him, and I finally got some more of them. It has a great opening, and I am looking forward to spending some time with it today, as well as some cleaning, writing, and editing.

The other day, I wrote about the character of Jerry Manning, who appears in Garden District Gothic, and how much I liked the character. I also used him as a character in The Orion Mask–which I had somehow forgotten–and in fact, Jerry is the catalyst for that entire book. I had already created the character of Jerry for the Paige book I’d intended to write, and I liked him so much I actually introduced him to readers in The Orion Mask.

The Orion Mask 300 DPI

I had the idea for that book a long time ago; I’d always loved the romantic suspense novels of Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart (although I would argue that she wasn’t a romantic suspense writer, simply marketed as one), and of course, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is one of my favorite novels of all time. One of the reasons I loved that style of book so much is because they were not only mysteries, but there was a Gothic feel to them, stylistically and mood-wise, and I always wanted to write one. (I had already published what is my personal favorite of all my novels, Timothy, and really wanted to go back to that well again.) I originally came up with the idea for The Orion Mask many years ago; when I came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras the first time in 1995, only in all my notes and so forth it was called The Orpheus Mask;  the driving idea was a murder that happened a long time ago, and rare, valuable Mardi Gras masks had something to do with the crime. After moving to New Orleans and becoming more knowledgeable about the city and its history, I realized the Krewe of Orpheus was actually too new–plus, I couldn’t really use an actual Mardi Gras krewe. I still wanted to do the book, though, just wasn’t sure how to make it all work. I also knew it had to take place outside of New Orleans; for the story to work, the majority of the action needed to occur at a mansion in the countryside.

Fortunately, there are plenty of those. I was already using one for Murder in the Arts District, that was based on a sort of hybrid of Houmas House and Oak Alley, and thought, oh, what the hell, I’ll just use the same place for this book, too. It is fiction, after all. I’d created a fictional parish as well–Redemption Parish–for that first book, and had based a small town near the plantation on Breaux Bridge, just off I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette that I’d visited with some friends from out of town years ago, but the town never really appeared in that story, so I could really use it for this book. But I still didn’t know how to connect the masks in…and then we went to Italy, and while we were there we went to Venice, and you cannot escape the Carnival masks or the Murano glass there. As we walked the cobbled alleys of that remarkably beautiful city (I so want to go back), it hit me in a flash: someone from Venice who worked with the glass came to America, to Louisiana, and the plantation not only was a farm but also produced glass, using the same techniques made famous by the Venetians, and they could have produced masks for the Kings of the major krewes of Mardi Gras made from the glass. I invented my own, now-defunct krewe–the Krewe of Orion–and everything fell into place.

My story, of course, which was about a young man whose mother died when he was very young, and who was raised by his father and stepmother, completely disconnected from his mother’s family and only comes to see them as an adult, which starts the story, didn’t really have the right hook I needed to get started. Why would he suddenly, after all these years, finally get in touch with his mother’s family?

And that’s where Jerry came in. Jerry, looking for another true crime to write another one of his books, has discovered the murder/suicide involving my character’s mother. I named the character Heath Brandon, after a friend of mine, by inverting his first and middle names (I’d actually given a character his actual name before we met; it was very odd because his name was so familiar to me when we met, but we’d never met before, and then one day I realized I had actually written a character with that name, but I digress.). I put Heath into another fictional city I’d created for another book, Bay City (based on Tampa), and had him work at the airport at an airline ticket counter (a job I’ve actually had), working for the fictitious airline I created for Murder in the Rue Dauphine and have always used ever since whenever I need an airline.

I sat up in a strange bed, wide awake, my heart pounding.

 Disoriented, I looked around in the gloom, not sure where I was or what had woken me up from my already restless sleep. I shivered. A storm was raging outside as my mind began the process of clearing out the fog. Wind was whipping around the house, rattling the windows and the French doors.  The rain was coming down in a steady stream. As I sat up further in my bed, lightning lit up the room, and I recoiled in horror. The brief flash of illumination had exposed the shadow of someone against the curtains over the French doors. I bit back a scream as I wondered if there was anything within reach in this strange room that I could use as a weapon. My eyes were still seeing spots as thunder shook the house as I remembered there was a table lamp on the night stand next to the bed. As my vision cleared, I could see through the gloom that the doorknob on the French doors was turning. I reached my hand out to the table and fumbled for the switch on the lamp. I found it and clicked it on, filling the room with bright yellow light.

I thought I heard footsteps running away along the gallery.  I threw the covers aside and climbed out of the massive bed. I dashed over to the fireplace on the other side of the bed, grabbed one of the brass pokers, and carried it over to the French doors. I flipped the lock off, turned the knob , and the wind immediately grabbed them out of my hands. They slammed against the walls and swung back. The wind pushed me back a few steps. Curtains moved away from the walls, and the canopy over the bed rippled as I struggled to latch the doors against the walls. Once this was accomplished, I tried to step out onto the gallery. Lightning flashed again as I stepped out onto the wide gallery. I wrapped my arms around me and wished I’d put on at least a T-shirt. The wind was blowing the rain onto the gallery, and the heavy drops were splashing my legs with water as I looked through the gloom in each direction.

I didn’t see anyone.

My heart still pounding, I closed and locked the doors again before heading back to the bed, still holding the poker in my hand. I put the poker into the bed next to me and slid underneath the covers. Maybe it had been a dream, maybe there really hadn’t been someone out there on the gallery trying to get into my room, and it was just my imagination working overtime. There wasn’t anyone out there, you fool, I scolded myself, you’re just a little off balance—but it’s understandable. It isn’t every day you meet a family you didn’t know you had a month ago. I switched the lamp off and pulled the covers back up to my chin, and lay there, staring at the canopy over my head.

It was hard to believe it had only been a month since I first noticed the bald man sitting in the airport lobby, and my entire life changed.

The bald man was Jerry, of course, and he tracked Heath down as he investigated the long ago murder/suicide, and it was Jerry who set the stage for Heath to come back to the family estate, Chambord, and  find the truth about what had happened all those years ago, about his mother and the Orion mask.

Writing the book was a lot of fun, and I’d love to do another, similar style book at some point.

I had thought about giving Jerry his own series, or his own stand-alone book; and when I started making notes I realized something: he had been a personal trainer/stripper (so had Scotty) and he came from a repressive small town and a white trash family (Chanse), and thus was basically repeating myself, which is one of my biggest fears. So I shelved the idea…but it runs through my mind periodically because the idea is a good one. I may have to write it about a different character, though.

Heavy sigh.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Magic Carpet Ride

We had the most marvelous electrical storm last night, which helped me sleep deeply and well. I don’t have to be at work until later–more bar testing tonight–and even as I sit here at my desk, it’s getting dark and gloomy outside, which clearly means another storm is on its way. I also had a weird dream about the Outdoor Kitties last night–I went outside to feed them and Scooter was outside, so I picked him up and brought him in…only another Scooter was inside, along with some gorgeously colored Maine coons and some beautiful kittens. This is when I woke up, confused that Scooter had somehow cloned himself, only to find him sleeping on me. Very weird, right? That’s the first dream I’ve had in years that I could remember when I woke up.

Figures it involves cats.

I still haven’t finished Cleopatra’s Shadows, but since I’m not going in until later today, I might be able to get through it today. It’s irritating, because there isn’t much left, and I really want to get to Universal Harvester. Ah, well. We watched another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale last night, and seriously, with everything else going on in the country today, it’s even more alarming and depressing in its realism. I also want to start watching American Gods; maybe this weekend. I have some appointments on Saturday, and some things to do–I definitely want to start working on the stored books sooner rather than later–and I want to get some work done on the book.

I’ve put the new Scotty aside for now, as I mentioned before. I was talking to a writer friend over lunch the other day–he’s in town for a conference, and very graciously treated me to lunch at Willa Jean in the CBD–and I was able to put my finger on precisely why I wasn’t feeling the new Scotty book. I had a similar problem with Garden District Gothic when I started writing it, and what I really think I need to do before I move forward with the new Scotty is go back and binge-read the first seven (!) books in the series. I kind of think something intrinsic to the series somehow might have gotten lost along the way in the books.

Garden District Gothic wasn’t supposed to be a Scotty book initially; it was intended to be another Paige book. (Just as Murder in the Rue Ursulines was originally intended to be a Scotty, and I turned it into a Chanse.) I won’t get into why the Paige series came to a premature end, but I will say that I love Paige, I loved writing about her, but I will say that I was being pressured to make that series something I wasn’t feeling, and I think it came across in the writing. I had created the character of Jerry Manning for one of the Paige books, with the intent of making him a focal point of the third. But I liked the character so much I also used him in The Orion Mask, and when I decided not to do another Paige, I didn’t want to lose the character in the process. I also liked the idea behind the book, the plot I came up with for it, and so I decided to simply turn it into a Scotty book and rejigger the story somewhat. Jerry was fun–I’ve debated giving him his own solo book, or series; a white trash boy who ran away from his repressive small town in Mississippi where he grew up, and had kind of a hardscrabble life when he got to New Orleans as a sixteen-year-old runaway with not much money. His backstory fascinated me. He worked days as a busboy in a French Quarter restaurant, lived in a crappy, run down roach-infested apartment in the Marigny, and then started dancing at the Brass Rail (my fictional version of the Corner Pocket). But Jerry was ambitious, refused to get caught up in the unfortunate world of the dancers there–although he did things for money he maybe shouldn’t have, while putting aside money with an eye to going to the University of New Orleans and getting a degree in creative writing, which he eventually was able to do. He also became a personal trainer and started working in Uptown, eventually becoming the personal trainer for wealthy women. (Aside: I’ve also always wanted to do a series about a personal trainer. The amazing thing about personal trainers is–at least, in my experience being one and having one–is that they are similar to hairdressers and bartenders, in that there’s a forced intimacy between the trainer and client; I learned a LOT about my clients, things they probably didn’t share with their close friends or in some cases, even their partners. That’s something I’ve always wanted to explore…) Because of this, Jerry was told a lot of insider gossip about New Orleans society, and when a big, shocking murder happened in the Garden District, one that exploded in the national consciousness, Jerry was privy to a lot of insider gossip, which he started recording, and eventually turned into a book he called Garden District Gothic. The book made him rich and gave him a perennial income (sort of like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and as a well-liked gay man who used pseudonyms for the real life people he wrote about, he wasn’t shunned but was actually welcomed into New Orleans society.

I love that character, and I wanted to tell that story.

Of course, I based the murder loosely on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, and since it was fictionalized, I was able to make up all sorts of things and follow my own (disproved) original theories on the case. The family was the Metoyers, old New Orleans society/money; the mother in this case was a former runner-up to Miss Louisiana who was the second wife and stepmother to the father’s twin sons from his first marriage; and the daughter was Delilah Metoyer, murdered and found in the carriage house on the grounds of the Metoyer mansion in the Garden District. By timing it the way I did, I also made it possible for the Metoyer twins to be classmates of Scotty’s at Jesuit High School, and also to give them a history together–one of the twins bullied Scotty for being gay, until Scotty went out for the wrestling team and kicked his ass one day. I also added a new element: the twins’ mother, after leaving their father, disappeared, and the bully now wants Scotty and the boys to find his mother, and maybe figure out what really happened to Delilah all those years ago. I also re-utilized a character from one of the Paige books, Serena Castlemaine, and had her buy the old Metoyer house, and throw a housewarming party. It’s at this party that Scotty runs into Jerry–they slept together a million years ago–and also meets Paige, who I decided to move into the Scotty series as well, since her series was dead in the water and I’d ended the Chanse series (I didn’t want to lose her character). This book also, because of the introduction of Serena, Jerry and Paige, was going to serve as the launching point for the next Scotty, in which I rebooted the second Paige novel about a Real Housewives of New Orleans type show and turned it into a Scotty, and wrote the story the way saw it.

garden district gothic

Writing the book was really a lot of fun, despite the deadline stress, and I liked what I did with it. I liked being able to open it with the Red Dress Run, I liked bringing back the character of Frank’s nephew, Taylor, and showing how he was adapting to life in the Quarter without any worries about being openly gay after being thrown out by his parents. (I still think about giving Taylor his own book someday.)

I also love this opening:

You know you live in New Orleans when you leave your house on a hot Saturday morning in August for drinks wearing a red dress.

It was well over ninety degrees, and the humidity had tipped the heat index up to about 110, maybe 105 in the shade. The hordes of men and women in red dresses were waving handheld fans furiously as sweat ran down their bodies. Everywhere you looked, there were crowds of people in red, sweating but somehow, despite the ridiculous heat, having a good time. I could feel the heat from the pavement through my red-and-white saddle shoes, and was glad I’d decided against wearing hose. The thick red socks I was wearing were hot enough, thank you, and were soaked through, probably dyeing my ankles, calves and feet pink. But it was for charity, I kept reminding myself as I greeted friends and people-whose-names-I-couldn’t-remember-but-whose-faces-looked-familiar, as we worked our way up and down and around the Quarter.

Finally, I had enough and called it a day.

 “I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life,” my sort-of-nephew, Taylor Wheeler, said, wiping sweat from his forehead as we trudged down Governor Nicholls Street on our way home.

“It is hot,” I replied, trying really hard not to laugh. I’d been forcing down giggles pretty much all day since he came galloping down the back steps the way he always does and I got my first look at his outfit. “The last few summers have been mild—this is what our summers are normally like.” It was true—everyone was complaining about the heat because it had been several years since we’d had a normal summer. It hadn’t even rained much the year before, which was really unusual.

“I don’t even want to think about how much sweat is in my butt crack,” he complained, waving the fan he picked up somewhere furiously, trying to create a breeze.

I gave up fighting it and laughed.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.