The insomnia came back last night for some reason, but I don’t feel exhausted this morning or tired, just like I could have gladly stayed in bed for another week or so. But it is what it is. Yesterday was a pretty good day, all around. I managed to get some more work done on the book again, and was able to do some relaxing last evening. I was tired by the time I had done a load of dishes, so I simply repaired to my easy chair for the evening, doom scrolling on social media with my iPad or reading some history of queer rep on television in The Prime Time Closet, which I think I’ve already read before, years ago–but it’s interesting to look at how we’ve been portrayed on television over the years, especially when televisions stations or religious bigots protested our inclusion.
It really is amazing how much progress we’ve made during my lifetime, even if we are still under constant attack from bigots.
I doubt homophobia and its evil twin transphobia will go away before I die, alas.
I hate being so busy and single-minded during Christmas, which makes it kind of hard to enjoy the holidays. Paul and I have decided to get a new refrigerator as a gift to ourselves–ours is on its last legs. I kind of want one with the freezer on the bottom, since bending down is getting to be an issue for me, but they are ridiculously expensive; even the ones that have side-by-side freezer/refrigerator compartments. But it will be nice to have one that works properly and seals properly when you shut the door, so I am going to take that as a win. The most important thing is having one that works, not getting the specific kind that I want. (I’d love to have one like my mom’s, but Jesus, those are expensive.)
I’m not going to have the time to do cards this year, either, which is unfortunate. Well, maybe. I don’t know. We’re going to Costco this weekend, so maybe I can get some cards there and take care of them over the weekend (again, no college football; I need to do a lot of writing this weekend). Hopefully I can get a lot done this weekend. It’s amazing what a difference no college football on Saturdays can make to my time availability. Anyway, I hope that I’ll be able to find some time to take, at the very least, a walk around my neighborhood to take pictures of the decorations for everyone to enjoy; New Orleans really does Christmas right. One of the reasons I set Royal Street Reveillon during the holidays was precisely because I wanted to write about Christmas in New Orleans–it may not be white, but it’s definitely Christmas down here once Thanksgiving has passed. The weather has remained oddly all right–lows in the 60’s, which is why I think my sinuses have been so out of control lately; the damp and mist and fog wreak havoc on them. I am also not sure what we’re going to do for Christmas day itself. I may drive out to Metairie to get a pizza from That’s Amore (the best deep dish pizza in the New Orleans metropolitan area); I don’t know. I could also order a turkey dinner from either the Fresh Market or Rouses, too. Decisions, decisions.
Apparently, we’re in a severe weather alert with the possibility of flooding through tomorrow night. That should make running my errands after work today rather interesting, don’t you think? New Orleans weather is so much a part of the city that not writing about the weather would be absurd. (That Elmore Leonard advice about not writing the weather, or opening with the weather? I break it all the time. Sorry, Mr. Leonard, but you cannot write about New Orleans and not write about the weather because it impacts everything here.) Imagine writing about New Orleans and not mentioning the heat and humidity, or talking about the torrential, street flooding thunderstorms that make you think you live in a tropical rain forest? Ah, well, I can just pay attention to the weather and in a worst case scenario, can run the errands tomorrow. I just have to mail something as well as pick up the mail, so there’s really not much of a rush for either, frankly. I am not expecting anything in the mail and Paul hasn’t said anything about any packages coming for him, so if it’s nasty today, I can skip it. I also have to wonder how the weather will affect the no-show rate with my clients. AH, well, it’s not like I don’t have plenty of work to do if we do have a high no-show rate today.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your Tuesday be happy and joyous and fabulous, Constant Reader.
Well, it’s Tuesday morning and all I have to say about that is good. Monday was a dreadful day, and the less said about it the better. I woke up feeling ill, and it was just all downhill from there. The only good thing I can say about yesterday was I got to spend the entire morning lying down, covered up in blankets, reading Wanda M. Morris’ Anywhere YouRun, which is fantastic. I didn’t get to finish reading the book–hopefully that glorious day will come soon–and losing yet another day of work on the book was quite a savage blow. Tonight after work I have to do an on-line event for Murder by the Book with the always delightful Ellen Byron, which will leave me exhausted as those things always do, so tonight is pretty much out. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least college football is over, which frees up my entire day Saturday, which is nice. And I feel well this morning–I knew taking Claritin and resting all day (sort of) would stave off the coming sinus infection (but I’ll take another one today just to be on the safe side). We also started watching the Victoria’s Secret documentary–I think it’s called Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons–because the owner of the company was weirdly involved with Jeffrey Epstein? It’s interesting enough. I vaguely remembered the collapse of the brand–and who knew there were so many other stores, all belonging to the same person? Remember Structure?–but I didn’t remember that there was an Epstein connection.
It still seems a bit weird to me to have this book out in the world at long last. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this release date for a very long time, and now it is here. Will people like it? Will people buy it? Will my regular readers like this completely different (not really, but you know what I mean) type of book from me? Naturally, I hope so; I’ve been really surprised and delighted by the unexpectedly and overwhelmingly positive response to the book thus far. I’m not used to it.
But just as it occurred to me the other day that my perceptions of New Orleans have changed–i.e. that all the little oddities and eccentricities that used to amuse me and give me things to write about now seem commonplace and normal to me now–I think my perception on my writing has also started changing a little bit–which is really lovely and nice and long overdue. I’ve talked about this before–the dichotomy of how I was raised to always be humble and never, ever brag about myself–and how its really the exact worst way to raise any kind of artist. Being an artist (or writer) is difficult enough with those constant self-doubts and “do I really know what I am doing here” and everyone’s favorite, Imposter Syndrome. If you don’t know what Imposter Syndrome is, consider yourself very lucky. For me, it manifests itself in “I’m really just faking it and don’t really have any insights because I literally don’t know what I am doing, but as long as I can keep fooling people I’ll keep going until they realize the Empress has no clothes.” My perception of my own writing and my own work is slowly starting to shift–yes, Constant Reader, after twenty-odd years and over forty books, etc etc etc, I am starting to feel some confidence in my actually work. Rereading A Streetcar Named Murder the other week–I had to do so because I’d forgotten a lot about the book in the meantime, so I could do some more Blatant Self-Promotional blog entries–and realized it wasn’t, in fact, terrible but was actually an enjoyable read. (This may not seem like much to you, Constant Reader, but for me this was huge.) I do think that this book, along with my last three (Royal Street Reveillon, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit) is some of the best work of my career thus far. And when I was rereading the old Scottys to prepare me for writing the new one, I was impressed with them rather than wincing. I think maybe I’ve managed to flip the “editorial” switch off when I read my books again? So rather than rereading them and catching errors or thinking oh I could have said this or that better, I read them as they were and for what they are. It was definitely some major progress, methinks, towards a better mental attitude for me, not only for my work but for my life in general.
It only took me over sixty-one years to start getting there.
A lot of it, I think, comes from my determination to not take myself seriously, which probably goes back to my childhood. I know the self-deprecatory shit comes from a mentality of if I make fun of myself I can beat everyone else to it which was a self-defense mechanism I developed to shield myself from being mocked, made fun of, and insulted by other kids. I can’t claim it as a gay experience because I would imagine every queer kid’s experience is different and there are probably some who never were bullied, were never made fun of, were never the butt of everyone else’s jokes as an easy target because I didn’t fit the societal image of what a little boy was supposed to be. I think I was seven or eight the first time someone called me a fairy? (At the time, I didn’t realize they meant fairy as in Tinkerbell and not ferry as in a boat that conveys cars over water; I couldn’t understand the ferry reference until a few years later when it was accompanied by such lovely terms as fag, faggot, femme, homo, cocksucker and so forth; when I was conditioned to be ashamed of myself and of who I was, through no fault of my own….and well, if I make fun of myself I can head them off before they go down that road.) This of course presupposed that people were going to make fun of me or call me names–and I can now see how toxic and self-destructive that actually can be. You should never default to the idea that other people will make fun of you.
You can see how that mentality can be damaging to a writer.
I carried a lot of baggage into this career that I should have discarded a long time ago.
I am, if nothing else, always a work in progress.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.
And now it’s Thursday, my last in the office day of this week and I surprisingly have made it through without much complaint. I am awake again this morning, not feeling particularly tired (I don’t think I slept that well last night, to be honest) but I feel better than I usually do on Thursday mornings, so I will take it.
Yesterday was a marvelous one when it comes to work. I managed to get some more work done on Mississippi River Mischief, and not looking at it for almost a week was the smart thing to do. I removed myself from the agony of forcing myself to write it and thinking it was completely crap, and was able to see it for what it is, while also realizing what I was trying to do with the story. I regained my confidence by stepping away from it and asking for an extension, and now I feel like not only will I get it done but it will be what I actually want it to be.
Ironically, as I was writing another Blatantly Self-Promotional post last night after finishing working on my new book and I thought, you know, you should do what you never do and reread the book–which could help you come up with other blatant self-promotional post ideas. So, since Paul had a meeting last night, I curled up in my chair and opened one of my author copies of A Streetcar Named Murder, and I’m really glad I did. It may surprise you, Constant Reader, to know that one of the hardest parts of being a writer for me is promoting myself–there are many reasons for this, but the one I want to talk about right now is one in particular; I may circle back around to examining my discomfort with self-promotion later or save it for another post because it may take a lot on unpacking.
But for now, one of the reasons I find promoting myself to be difficult is usually I’ve almost completely forgotten almost everything about the book by the time it’s released. As I have said ad nauseum, I rarely go back and read something I’ve written once it is in print. And usually by the time the book has come out, I have written at least one more or am in the weeds writing another–for example, I am very deep inside of a new Scotty book (which is another New Orleans book, of course) which makes it even harder for me to remember details about the book being released. (I’ve also had to dig into some of the old Scottys for this one I am writing as well–and have been very pleasantly surprised rather than embarrassed and/or disappointed, which is always my fear about reading old work)
And…I liked it. I actually reread my book and liked it. I never cringed, I didn’t slip into editorial/critical mode (“why didn’t you word that better? What is up with this paragraph?” etc etc etc.), and I found myself actually enjoying the ride. Rather than being critical and self-deprecating and all of that shit I usually fall into when rereading my own work, I had a breakthrough of sorts. It’s only taken over forty books and over fifty short stories–even typing the first part of the sentence out makes me feel ridiculous, but it’s how my brain works–but I may have finally broken down the wall and achieved confidence in myself as a writer. It’s been a whirl, really. Last night after I finished reading I thought, “you know, you were really proud of Royal Street Reveillon, and over the last eighteen months you released Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit and you were proud of them, too. And now you’re proud of this one already! Well done, you!”
ANd yes, pride goeth before a fall and I always find myself waiting for the next shoe to drop, but for now, I am going to relish and enjoy this feeling. I may wake up tomorrow and hate everything I’ve ever written again, who knows? But it feels good to take pride in my work, to finally be able to feel proud of what I’ve accomplished over the last twenty years instead of just shrugging it off.
I’ve written over forty books.
I absolutely should be proud of myself.
And on that high note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow morning before my work-at-home duties.
I am, and can be, remarkably naïve when it comes to some things. I literally will believe almost everything I am told because my default is never to assume someone is lying (unless they’ve proven themselves to be a liar before), so I actually believed, all those years I was watching The Real World, that the show was “unscripted” and the cast had cameras and microphones on them 24/7.
Then The Real World came to New Orleans–to my neighborhood, in fact–and the “gay one” got a job bar-backing at Oz (one of my favorite gay bars; and autocorrect tried to turn that into “barebacking”, which is an entirely different thing), and it wasn’t long before I realized that The Real World wasn’t, actually, “real.” I saw them any number of times walking from one destination to another to film, the camera crews not filming and just walking behind the cast; I actually watched them set up a scene in Oz and go through several takes, and so yeah, the luster and magic was gone for me. I think I may have watched another season or two after New Orleans, but reality television had also changed dramatically from when the first season of that show aired (and yes, I am aware that PBS’ An American Family was the first real reality-type show) and by the time I stopped watching that it wasn’t about kids learning to get along and learning from each other’s differences as it was about getting wasted, hooking up, and fighting.
You know, the formula Bravo quickly adapted to in Season Two of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Viewers want conflict.
I never watched the Real Housewives shows, but usually on Sundays when it wasn’t football season Paul would come downstairs and fall asleep on the couch while I would either read or edit in my easy chair. I’d turn on the television for background noise, and it was just easiest to always park the channel on Bravo because they’d marathon something–originally Law & Order, then The West Wing or Inside the Actor’s Studio, which were fun for an occasional distraction but not enough of one to take my interest away from what I was doing. But Bravo changed, and those marathons eventually became one of the Real Housewives shows. I winced a bit, but again, background noise I didn’t need to pay attention to–it all seemed so exploitative and, well, awful–that I couldn’t see myself ever watching regularly. So I began to slowly recognize who they were–all the gossip site pop-ups and so forth on social media also covered them extensively–and even know something about them. I didn’t want to ever become a regular viewer, didn’t think I ever would.
I originally tuned into TheReal Housewives of Beverly Hills to see Kim Richards, whom I remembered as a child star when I was a kid–from Nanny and the Professor to Escape to Witch Mountain to Tuff Turf–and was interested to see how she turned out, what happened to her…and just like a soap opera back in the day, I was soon tuning in every week. Some other friends turned out to be big fans of both Orange County and New York, so I started watching New York so we could talk about it (my antipathy to Orange County would be a subject for another essay at some other point), and there was no turning back after that.
I still primarily only watch New York and Beverly Hills with any regularity (although Atlanta is always a favorite), and there have been times when I’ve thrown up my hands in disgust with what was actually going on with the season and stopped watching (I stopped watching Beverly Hills during the “let’s out Denise Richards as bi!” bullshit, for example, and never did finish the season); but I am still absolutely fascinated by the concept behind these shows. Is any of it for real? How much is set up and scripted? It becomes very easy to get sucked into the shows–they are highly addictive; they remind me a lot of soaps as they are very high on petty drama and melodrama, feuds and fights and arguments–and how much of what we see is actually not audience manipulation on the part of production, the network, and the editors. (Women often claim to have “gotten a bad edit”–which always makes me think about The Real World–that show really started everything) I find myself getting emotionally sucked into the petty dramas too–which often spill out into the social media world and the endless blogs that dedicate themselves to reporting on these shows–and there are times when I think, well done, production! I would have never guessed you could ever show me a side of this horrible woman that would make me sympathetic to her.
Because while the women may manipulate and scheme and plan and script things, the primary people being manipulated by production are the audience and the line between reality and “reality” often gets so blurred that it’s hard to tell what is real and what isn’t.
Take, for example, this current rollercoaster of a season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Before the season started airing there was gossip flying around the Internet about their Aspen trip and a meltdown by a supporting cast member in her second year officially on the show–Kathy Hilton, older sister of OG cast member Kyle Richards–that supposedly went “really dark”…only for the season to start airing and the behavior of other members of the cast (Lisa Rinna, Diana Jenkins, Erica Girardi) being far worse than any of the rumors floated about Kathy’s “meltdown.”
Again, a subject for another time, perhaps once the reunion episodes have aired.
Anyway, I had always thought that a Real Housewives type show, set and filmed in New Orleans, would make the excellent backdrop for a crime story, particularly because of those blurred lines between reality and “reality”…so I used it for one of those e-novellas back in the day. After they were taken off the market, I kept thinking about how I wasted the background of a reality show on a story no one can access anymore and so that original story eventually morphed into Scotty VIII, Royal Street Reveillon.
I fished the last olive out of my almost empty glass and popped it into my mouth. I glanced at my watch as I chewed it, and moaned after swallowing. “There’s nothing like a good martini,” I said, glancing around the bar and getting our server’s attention.
“Do we have time for another?” My nephew Taylor finished the rest of his sazerac and looked at me hopefully.
“I take it you liked it.” I replied, not even trying to hide my smile. “But no time for another unless we want to be late.”
This was Taylor’s first time at the Sazerac Bar. He’d turned twenty-one just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and since we were going to a party at the Joy Theater, I thought I’d treat him to a sazerac in the bar where they were invented. I personally don’t care for the drink—give me gin or vodka any day of the week—but everyone in New Orleans is required to try a sazerac at least once.
And now I could rest easy, having done not only my civic duty but treated Taylor to a New Orleans rite of passage.
I’d also wanted him to see the Roosevelt Hotel’s Christmas decorations. The Roosevelt was one of the grand old hotels of the city, and their lobby decorations are truly spectacular. Since we were going to a party at the Joy Theater—a mere block or so from the hotel, I thought, why not kill two birds with one stone? This was Taylor’s second Christmas with us, and I wanted to do it right. We’d already done Celebration in the Oaks at City Park, and I’d loved seeing the beautifully decorated ancient live oak trees through a newbie’s eyes.
I know it’s corny, but I love Christmas.
I love everything about it. I love decorating my apartment. I love picking out presents that are one hundred percent perfect for the person and carefully wrapping it up in beautiful paper, topped with a bow and twining ribbons around the box. I love picking out a tree, and the wonderful smell of pine that permeates everything inside once it’s delivered. I love getting the boxes of ornaments down from the storage closet and adorning the branches with them. I love tinsel and opening a new box of icicles for the branches. I love Christmas cookies and cakes and pies and turkey and celebrating and spending time with people I love.
I even love carols—although I do think that September is a bit early to start playing them unless the intent is to drive people to homicide by December.
While I kept the original backstories of the Grande Dames of New Orleans cast as I had in the original, I changed a lot because I didn’t want those few who had read the original to know the ending. I also wanted to do some fun things with the story, adding in another murder that was completely unconnected to the primary story as well as yet another deep personal dilemma for Scotty that doesn’t get resolved in this story, and trying to keep track of all the crazy things I had going on–as well as the complicated and complex backstories and threads of different subplots; I added another murder for the main story and I wanted to make it a bit more topical, so I added an element of “me too” to the story (in all honesty as I write the current one I wish I hadn’t done this because I can’t just drop it, either, like it never happened), and I found myself having fun with it. This was by far the most complicated and layered Scotty book since probably Mardi Gras Mambo, and this was one I felt very contented about when I turned it into the publisher. Even revisiting it now, as part of the prep for the current one, I kind of am proud of myself for it.
I also set it during Christmas season in New Orleans because I love New Orleans at Christmas-time. It’s one of the few times of the year where I don’t mind that it gets dark so fucking early–because New Orleans has put on her Christmas face and it’s absolutely delightful. One of the things I love most about this crazy city is how everyone here takes decorating so seriously–so seriously they decorate their houses and windows for everything. Jackson Square is stunning with the big red bows tied on the lampposts guarding the gates, as you can see in the gorgeous cover my publisher gave my book (and perhaps the thing about it that make me happiest the most is that one of the lamp’s light is out–just like it would be in real life) and the lights and…sighs happily.
I did think, for a time, about ending the series with this one, but I left the personal story hanging yet again which meant there would be another one–and I honestly don’t know what happened that it took me so long to get around to writing another one, but here we are.
Yesterday morning when I got up my back felt like it was on the mend; it was still a bit painful and tight, but better than it had been the day before so I thought, oh thank you baby Jesus–there’s an end in sight. Unfortunately, as the day progresses it began to hurt more and more until the end of the day, when picking up my back pack was agonizing, as was the drive home. I immediately changed into my sweats (which was painful) and repaired to my easy chair. Scooter climbed into my lap and went to sleep immediately while I caught up on this week’s episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (which really deserves its own entry or an essay; the phenomenon of these shows fascinates me–which is probably why I explored it in Royal Street Reveillon) and then…I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening, really. Paul came home, gave me a pain killer, and I know we watched the final two episodes of Five Days at Memorial (which posed some pretty interesting ethical questions that I don’t know the answers to) and then another of Bad Sisters (which I really like) before collapsing into bed and praying that this morning would be the same as yesterday….
…for naught. The painkiller didn’t really help all that much (although I can see why the drugs with oxy in their name are so addictive) but made me comfortable–I was still aware of the pain, but it was slightly more bearable. Yesterday afternoon I made the right decision–I told my supervisor I was taking a personal day to let my back get better; all that getting up and sitting down yesterday was no help at all–and so I am literally going to spend the day sitting in my easy chair, slathered in generic Ben-Gay with the heating pad attached to my back.
Getting old really and truly sucks. But I do have some reading to get caught up on–I need to reread everything I am working on, I also need to reread My Cousin Rachel as I am being interviewed on a podcast about it and du Maurier in a couple of weeks (seriously, how fucking thrilling is that?) and of course, I want to read the new Donna Andrews. I never did make the to-do list I’ve been talking about on here all week–the back pain really is excruciating–so maybe I can gather everything around me that I need to get to today while sitting in the chair and letting highlights of old LSU games stream on Youtube in the background (oh yes, I rewatch highlights of old LSU games–only big wins, of course–and it always puts me in a better mood, and yes, I am aware how weird that actually is. Sue me.), and hopefully Scooter will sleep in my lap for most of the day. I need to order groceries for pick-up (and Costco for delivery) but I am a little worried about carrying everything into the Lost Apartment.
I also slept later than usual this morning; I’ve been feeling exhausted all week and figured the world wouldn’t end should I stay in bed for an extra hour or two. The good news is I do not feel tired this morning–I am so tired of feeling tired–but, of course, the back is aching. My desk chair feels much more comfortable than my work chairs, for some reason it just seems to fit my back better so it’s not painful to sit here. I cannot explain it, it makes absolutely no sense, but I am going to take advantage of that fact not only to try to get this entry written but do my reviews of Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home and Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, both of which are SUPERB. (5 out of 5 stars, get copies NOW)
I’ve also realized I’ve not done much of a Bouchercon round-up–primarily because all of it was a blur, and maybe, just maybe, I hurt my back from laughing so hard for so long. A laughing injury! It is entirely possible, of course; I noted many times how much it hurt to laugh when I was in the midst of a laughing fit because of something hilarious someone said (I really do know the funniest people), and also all the standing; several times in the evening in the bar I noted that my back was getting sore–so naturally instead of sitting down or doing anything to baby it (because that would be admitting that I am too old to stand for long) I continued doing what made it hurt in the first place.
The uncomfortable airline seats on the flight home also did not help much in that regard.
So, that is the state of the Gregalicious this morning. I just made groceries for pick up tomorrow–I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it–and at some point tomorrow I’ll order Costco for delivery. But for now, I am going to take my heating pad and my aching back to my chair so I can chill for a bit.
It’s probably hard to imagine what Southern Decadence is like unless you’ve actually been to it; even the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken and shared on social media over the years can’t even remotely begin to get the concept of what it’s like across–the same as Carnival, really; it has to be seen and experienced to be truly understood. My first Southern Decadence was in 1995, which was around the twenty-second or third time it was held; my knowledge of Decadence, primarily from urban legend and tales told from one gay to another and passed down over the years, is sketchy and probably untrustworthy (if you’d like the unvarnished truth and read about the history, I highly recommendSouthern Decadence in New Orleans from LSU Press, co-written by Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith; I have a copy and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Alas, my memory isn’t what it used to be, but the story is it began as a bar crawl for a friend who was moving away, and grew from those humble beginnings into a massive event that draws queers from all over the world).
That first Decadence I came to was also one of the hottest, temperature wise, or perhaps it was simply because I wasn’t used to the summers in New Orleans yet since I didn’t live here. I just remember being in Oz one afternoon and just soaked in my own sweat, and going down the back staircase from the second floor–the staircase that opens out onto the dance floor–and having to hold onto the railing because the steps were slick and wet. The railing was also wet, and when I touched the walls so were they–all the humidity and body heat and sweat–but at the same time it was so much fun. Gorgeous, flirty and friendly men everywhere, everyone scantily dressed and getting wasted and just having a good time. This was during the height of the circuit parties, most of which have died off over the years–there’s no longer a Hotlanta weekend in Atlanta in mid-August anymore, for example–but back then, it seemed like every month if you had the time and the money there was a circuit party somewhere you could fly off to and be yourself and have fun being in an entirely gay environment for a few days. That was, for me, one of the primary appeals of circuit parties and gay bars–they were safe havens for everyone to be out and proud and loud…and after a few weeks navigating the straight world for work and play and life in general…it was lovely to let loose in, for want of a better word, a safe space.
Circuit parties also had their downsides, don’t get me wrong–Michelangelo Signorile detailed some of those in his book Life Outside, which got taken out of context an awful lot–drug use and rampant sex and bad choices also led to other problems, not to mention the spread of HIV and other STI’s; the very first time I ever went to a circuit party–Halloween in New Orleans, 1995–there was a very Masque of the Red Death feel to it; here were all these gay men crowded into a riverfront warehouse, doing drugs and dancing and having a great time while the plague raged outside the doors. I even wrote about that in my diary on the flight back to Tampa a few days later.
But Decadence was always my favorite, out of all of them, and it was something I looked forward to every year. My workouts were always planned so I would hit peak physical condition for Decadence and maintain through Halloween, before starting to work on the Carnival body. It feels weird to talk about it that way, but that was my mentality and my schedule for years. Bulk up for a couple of months, then lean down leading into the event.
I had always wanted to write about Southern Decadence, and I know I’ve written about how I came up with the idea for the book numerous times; standing on the balcony at the Pub watching one of the strippers fight his way through the mob of gay men to get to the Pub so he could work, Paul saying you really should write a book about Southern Decadence and seeing a scene vividly in my head as I looked down at the sea of sweating gay men. I’ve also written about where the idea for the character and his family came from. So what is there left for me to say about Bourbon Street Blues?
The name’s Dansoir. Dick Dansoir.
Okay, so that really isn’t my name. It’s my stage name from the days when I was on the go-go boy circuit. I started when I was in college, at Vanderbilt up in Nashville. As with almost everything that goes on in my life, I became a go-go boy on a fluke. The Goddess brings interesting experiences into my life all the time. Sometimes I don’t think it’s all that great, to tell the truth, but she always seems to be watching out for me.
I was working out at my gym one day when this guy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to make some easy money.
Like I hadn’t heard that one before.
I was twenty-one at the time, just turned, but I wasn’t some wide-eyed dopey innocent. I was raised in the French Quarter, after all, and by the time I went off to college at age eighteen I had pretty much seen everything. French Quarter kids have a lot more life experience than other kids their age. You can’t really help it. The French Quarter is like Disneyland for adults, and growing up there, you get used to seeing things that other people can only imagine.
Anyway, this guy said he was a booking agent and scout for this agency that booked dancers in gay bars throughout the deep South. The troupe was called Southern Knights.
“You can make a lot of money this way,” he said to me above the sounds of people grunting and weights clanging. “You’ve got the look we like.”
I looked at myself in one of the mirrors that are everywhere in gyms. I was wearing a white tank top and a pair of black nylon jogging shorts. I was pumped up from lifting, and if I did say so myself, I looked pretty good. I’m only about five-eight—nine if I have thick-soled shoes on. I have curly blond hair that’s darker underneath. The sun does lighten it, but that darkness underneath always makes people think I dye it. I don’t. I have big, round brown eyes. I am also one of those blonds lucky enough to be able to tan. I’d gotten a good tan that summer and it hadn’t faded yet. The white tank top showed the tan off nicely. I also have a high metabolism and can stay lean rather easily.
But scam artists are everywhere. I wasn’t about to fall for a line from some stranger in the gym. For all I knew, it was a trick to get my phone number, or an escort service, or something else I didn’t want to be involved in.
Not that I have anything against escorting. People go to escorts for all kinds of reasons—loneliness, fear of commitment, whatever—but they do fulfill a need in the gay community, and more power to them. I just never saw myself taking money from someone for having sex. I like sex. I enjoy it. So, it just never seemed right for me to tale money for doing something I like.
Besides, taking money for it would make it work. I prefer to keep my status amateur.
I got a copy of the book out yesterday and skimmed/read it again, to get another look and remind myself of Scotty’s roots and beginning. I realized yesterday, as I turned the pages of an ARC (yes, I still have ARC copies of Bourbon Street Blues available), several things: one, that the reason I always hate reading my own work is because my brain is trained to read my work editorially, to fix and edit and correct and look for things needing to be fixed (and I can always find something) and that second, it’s really been so long since the last time I looked at this book–or any of the earlier Scottys–was four years ago, when I was writing Royal Street Reveillon. So, by making the obvious effort to flip the editorial switch off, and having so much distance from the book that it almost seemed like something new to me, I was able to skim/read the entire thing without wincing in horror or pain or embarrassment.
Bourbon Street Blues was also the last novel I wrote that didn’t have an epigram of any kind, let alone Tennessee Williams: I started that practice with Jackson Square Jazz with a line from Orpheus Descending: “A good-looking boy like you is always wanted.”
Reading the book took me back to the days when I was writing it. The Greg who wrote Bourbon Street Blues is still here, I’ve just been through quite a bit since then and have changed because of my experiences. There were some sentences in the book I would change now to make better, but there are still some jewels in there, and well, I can kind of understand now why the character is so well-liked. He’s charming and humble and kind; sure he talks about “being irresistible” a lot, but that’s part of the charm. Guys find him attractive. He doesn’t necessarily see it, but is more than willing to accept it and not question it. He enjoys his sexuality and he enjoys having sex. I wanted Scotty to be unabashedly sexual and to have no hang-ups, carrying no stress or issues about being a very sexual gay man.
As I read the book again, I also started seeing something that had been pointed out to me over the years a lot–and began to understand why this was pointed out to me so much; an old dog can learn new tricks, apparently–but I still think other people are wrong. The book isn’t “all about sex,’ as some have said. Rather, Scotty sexualizes men; he sees them as potential partners and appreciates beauty in men. His friend David also loves to get laid, so they cruise a lot–whether they are at the gym (either the weight room or the locker room), a bar, wherever they are–and so people get the idea that the book itself is incredibly sexual, even though there is literally only one sex scene in the entire book and it’s not graphic; Scotty’s weird mish-mash of spirituality and beliefs and values make the act itself a sacred ritual, and that was how I wrote the scene; from a spiritual, commune-with-the-Goddess perspective. It’s also funny in that people are so not used to seeing world through the Gay Male Gaze that it’s jarring, and puts sex and sexuality into the minds of the reader.
The question is, would people think the same if this was done through the Straight Male Gaze, in which women are sexualized? Since this is the default of our society–literature, film, television–is flipping the script to show the Gay Male Gaze so uncommon and so unheard of that it triggers such a reaction from some of the readers?
There’s also so much innocence in the book, and it’s also interesting to see it as a kind of time-capsule: Scotty doesn’t have a computer; his rent (on Decatur Street in the Quarter, with a balcony) is $450 a month (ha ha ha ha, that’s what the condo fee would be now monthly); and he also doesn’t have a cell phone. The whole point of the book was to do a Hitchcockian wrong place/wrong time now you’re in danger kind of story; and that is precisely what Bourbon Street Blues is. I’d forgotten that one of the running gags in the book is that he never gets a chance to sleep much throughout the story so he’s tired all the time and just wants it all to be over so he can go to bed.
Another thing that’s dated: even in 2002, in my naïveté and innocence, the evil politician running for governor–when described by Scotty’s brother Storm as problematic–even he doesn’t support an outright ban on abortion–he wants to ban it but with the rape, incest and health exceptions.
Even in 2002 I couldn’t conceive of anyone running for statewide office calling for an outright ban on abortion.
How things change.
It was also interesting that I got two things very wrong in the book, too: for one, I was thinking for some reason the swamp on the edges of Lake Pontchartrain on the way to Baton Rouge on I-10 was the Atchafalaya (it’s the Manchac/Maurepas), and while I had always remembered I’d given Scotty’s mom a name in this book but forgotten it later when I needed a name for her in a different book–I had the name wrong. I thought I’d called her Marguerite in Bourbon Street Blues then named her Cecile in a later book; I had actually called her Isabelle. (I’ve even told that story–about the names–before on panels and been WRONG ALL THIS TIME!)
It was also interesting and fun to remember–as I read–that Scotty was also not looking for a boyfriend. He was perfectly happy and content being single (which was also something important I wanted to write about–a gay man who didn’t care about finding a life-partner, figuring if it was meant to be it would happen). I also presented him with two potential love interests–Colin the cat burglar and Frank the hot daddy–with that actually being resolved without him having to make a choice between them. I also had the book end with Scotty being slowly persuaded into becoming a private eye.
Originally I had conceived it as a stand alone novel, but the publisher offered me a two-book contract, so when I was writing Bourbon Street Blues I knew there was going to be a sequel. This freed me to leave some personal things open for him; I knew I was going to bring Colin back in the next book so he was going to have to choose between them, and I also knew the personal story needed to be wrapped up by the end of the third book, which was going to be the end of the series with everything resolved. That changed when I wrote Mardi Gras Mambo, but that’s a story for another time.
Bottom line: it’s a good book and I am proud of it. It’s only available now as an ebook from Amazon, but I hope to eventually make it available through every service as well as get a print-on-demand version for those who might want one.
As I get ready to write another Scotty book, I am busy making his acquaintance all over again. It might seem strange, but yes, although I’ve written eight books about my ex-go-go boy/personal trainer/private eye, it remains true in this as in all other aspects of my life that my memory is not what it once was; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever written a Scotty book since the first three without having to go back and revisit the series again. I have made continuity errors over the years (Scotty’s mother’s name changed over the course of the series, from Cecile to Marguerite and back to Cecile again), and I may forget things about his past and things I’ve written in previous books, but the one thing I never ever forget is his voice.
No matter what else is going on in my life, Scotty’s voice is very easy for me to slip back into, like a house shoe, and it somehow always feels like coming home to me in some ways. This is odd–because I would have always thought Chanse was the series character I was more connected to rather than Chanse, but that’s not the case at all. Scotty just won’t go away; but I ended the Chanse series and only every once in a while do I regret it (although I am beginning to suspect that I am going to probably end up writing another Chanse novel at some point in my life; I have two ideas that he’d be perfect for, but it also might be better and more challenging for me to simply come up with a whole new character for those stories rather than resurrecting Chanse); Scotty just won’t ever go away.
The idea for the Scotty series famously came to me during Southern Decadence, 1998.
(Well, I don’t know about famously, but I know I’ve told this story before many, many times. Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to see how I remember the birth of the character and the series now)
It was a Sunday afternoon, and Paul and I had somehow managed to get prime balcony standing spots–at the Bourbon Pub/Parade, right at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon where the railing curves at the corner to head alongside the upper floor down the St. Ann side; so we could look down directly into the roiling mass of sweaty, almost completely naked bodies of hundreds of gay men from all over the country. That was my favorite spot for Decadence sight-seeing (Halloween, too, for that matter), and as I looked down into the crowd, I saw a guy in booty shorts and a very very loose fitting tank top, carrying a bag and trying to get through. I recognized him as one of the out-of-town dancers working at the Pub/Parade that weekend (I may have tipped him the night before) and as I watched in sympathy as he tried to get through that tightly-packed crowd of gays in various stages of being wasted, I closed my eyes and an image of him–or someone like him–fighting his way through the Decadence crowd while being chased by bad guys with shaved heads popped into my head just as Paul said, next to me, “You should really write a story set during Decadence” and then it popped into my head: someone escaping the bad guys has slipped a computer disc into one of the dancers’ boots on Friday night as he danced on the downstairs bar, and the bad guys want the disc back.
I didn’t have any way to write it down, obviously–I was wearing booty shorts, socks, and half-boots that came to my ankles, with nothing underneath the shorts and I had my tank top tucked through a belt loop like a tail in the back–yet even the title popped into my head: Bourbon Street Blues. The idea clearly stuck, because when I got home the next morning at about six or seven, dehydrated, drenched in sweat and having lost the tank top at some point during the night, I remembered it and wrote it down.
At some point over the next two years, I wrote a short story called “Bourbon Street Blues” about my stripper–only instead of being from out of town, I made him a local, filling in for someone booked from out of town for the weekend who had to cancel–and wrote about seven thousand words. It felt very rushed to me–the story–and I kept thinking it’s too long for a short story, it would have to be a novel but I also wasn’t sure there was enough story there for a novel. But I liked the idea, no one (at least, to the best of my knowledge) had written anything like it, and I thought, someday I’ll get a chance to write this story and develop this character.
Flash forward to 2001. This was during the time Paul and I had moved to DC to work for the Lambda Literary Foundation, we were miserable there and wanted to move back to New Orleans but didn’t have the money to do so, and the release of Murder in the Rue Dauphine was still at least a year away. I was talking to an editor on the phone about one of his new gay releases, and out of the blue I just pitched Bourbon Street Blues to him. He loved the idea, and asked me to write a proposal and email it to him. I had never written a proposal before, but I thought what the hell, how hard can it be? and so I wrote a two page proposal for the book. Two months later they made me a two-book offer–and the money was good enough to pay for Paul and I to move back to New Orleans as well as to live on for a while. I had only seen the book as a one-off, but they wanted a series. I needed and wanted the money, so I thought I can figure this out later and signed it.
Three months later, we moved back to New Orleans and I started writing the book.
The one thing I wanted to do with Scotty was make him unabashedly, unashamedly, gay. I didn’t want him to have any hang-ups, a sad backstory, or parental issues. I wanted him to be a free spirit who embraces life with both hands, lived in the Quarter, and loved having sex, loved being found desirable, and never really said anything or thought anything mean about anyone else. I made him a personal trainer, and his poverty–he agrees to do the dancing gig for Decadence because he’s behind on his rent and other bills; he teaches aerobics and was a personal trainer–comes from his grandparents freezing his trust funds when he dropped out of college to go to work for a booking agency for male dancers. He has since stopped doing that, but fills in when needed (and when he needs the money) at the Pub/Parade. I also based the shitty politician running for governor–and trying to mount a Christofascist takeover of the state, beginning with an attack on Southern Decadence–on an actual politician who ran for the US Senate shortly after we moved here; we saw him being interviewed on the news and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a joke, some kind of performance art–but forget it Greg, it’s Louisiana.
I also want to let you know that while I was working on this manuscript my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, was released–and I got a “damned with faint praise” review from the Bay Area Reporter, which complained that “it would have been nice to see inside the heads of the other characters”, which took me aback as the book was a first person narrative, which made that impossible. What the reviewer I think was trying to say was that she wished the book had been told in the third person; that to her that would have made the book more interesting to her. But in my baby-author naïveté, all I could think was how can you see inside the heads of other characters in a third person narrative unless the main character was psychic?And the proverbial lightbulb came on over my head. Make Scotty a psychic. This was also an integral key to the puzzle of who Scotty was; the reviewer also yawned over my “gay stereotypes” in Rue Dauphine, so I decided to make Scotty the embodiment of all the worst stereotypes of muscular gay men who worked out and had a lot of sex. Just writing that down now, I realize how incredibly insane it was for me to use my new series book and character to respond to criticism o my debut novel; and when the book came out I braced myself for the inevitable backlash to come.
No one was more surprised than I was at how readers embraced him. The book got great reviews, even from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal (Kirkus, of course, has always pretended I don’t exist). Bourbon Street Blues was even nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery of 2003 (I lost, I think to John Morgan Wilson?) shortly after the sequel, Jackson Square Jazz, was released.
Jackson Square Jazz’s story was actually a recycled idea I had for a spin-off book for Chanse’s best friend Paige. The original concept was that someone would steal the Louisiana Purchase from the Cabildo–and somehow Paige stumbled onto the theft, and knew that the one on display currently there was a copy. (I was calling it, originally enough, Louisiana Purchase.) I decided to make that the basis of the second Scotty book. (This was inspired by a documentary I’d seen about the Cabildo fire of 1989–that may be the wrong date–and how the fire department tried saving everything in the museum before fighting the fire. I remembered how in the documentary they literally were placing historical objects and paintings against the fence at Jackson Square and thinking, anyone could have walked off with something during the fire…and my imagination immediately was off to the races.) Unfortunately, when I met with the museum director–whose actual first day on the job was the day of the fire–I found out that 1) the copy of the Louisiana Purchase at the Cabildo was actually only a replica and the original was stored in the weather-protected underground archive at the Library of Congress and 2) it was more than one page long–I’d imagined it was one large document like the Declaration of Independence; it is not. However–he also suggested I make the MacGuffin the Napoleon death mask–one of the three originals made when Napoleon died–and gave me some great backstory on it as well that I don’t remember if I used in the book or not; but it was a lot of fun talking to him (his name escapes me at the moment, alas) and was a great example of why it is important to actually do research and talk to people.
I also wanted to include figure skating–the working title for the book was Death Spiral, which the publisher made me change, asking for something alliterative, like Bourbon Street Blues–and so I decided to open the book with Scotty having a horrific hangover and then realizing someone was in the bed with him (it’s to this day one of my favorite book openings; what slutty gay man hasn’t been there?)…and then I remembered I’d introduced two love interests for Scotty in book one, and here he was in bed with someone else entirely. (The young man he woke up with was a figure skater in town to compete at Skate America, being held in the Smoothie King Arena.) I loved both of his love interests, and knew I was going to have to bring both of them back somehow, and then I was going to have to figure out which one he’d end up with. (Spoiler: I couldn’t decide, so he wound up with both of them.) I also threw in a ghost, a billionaire artifact collector, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. I turned in the book, along with a proposal for Book Three, in which I finally decided I was going to resolve the threeway relationship personal story, and that would be the end of the Scotty trilogy.
Man plans and God laughs. (Jackson Square Jazz was also nominated for a Lambda; I think this was the time I lost to Anthony Bidulka.)
Mardi Gras Mambo turned out to be an entire other kettle of fish.
I’m not entirely sure I remember exactly what the original plot of Mardi Gras Mambo was going to be, but I know it had to do with the Krewe of Iris (Scotty’s sister Rain belongs) and the book opened at the Iris parade on the Saturday morning before Fat Tuesday. It was due in June of 2004, and of course, I wasn’t nearly finished by the time Memorial Day rolled around, and was planning on asking for another month on the manuscript on the Tuesday after. Of course, that was the Memorial Day weekend when Paul was attacked and everything went to hell in my personal life. My publisher was incredibly kind; they took the book off schedule, told me to take care of Paul, and get the book done whenever I got the book done.
I started writing it again in January of 2005, shortly after I began keeping a blog in order to get me writing again. That was when the Christian/Virginia nonsense happened, and everything got derailed again. When I started writing the book again, I threw out everything except that first chapter at the Iris parade–which did wind up in the final book–and I do not recall what the second plot I chose to write was at this time, other than I knew I was bringing in a Russian character, inspired by someone I’d seen around in the bars for years and had always been just awestruck by his body–and yes, that Russian turned out to eventually be Wacky Russian, my personal trainer. I actually kept this as an inspiration–Eclipse used to be the nightlife insert for IMPACT News, a queer newspaper that died out in the early aughts:
Finally, it was April 2005, and I started writing Mardi Gras Mambo again. I had the plot all figured out–it was completely insane–but I also realized I couldn’t end the personal story with Scotty the way I had hoped and wrap it all up with Book Three. There had to be a Book 4, and so when I finished the book at last and turned it in, I included a proposal for a fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle–which was going to be set during an evacuation for a hurricane that missed New Orleans…I always thought it would be interesting to write a mystery story set during such an evacuation.
Of course, I turned the book into Kensington on August 14th, 2005. Fourteen days later, Paul, Skittle and I fled from New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina.
I wouldn’t come back for good until October 11. Paul didn’t come home until after Thanksgiving.
Of course, I wrote to my editor a day or so after the levee failure to say, well, I don’t think I can write that book I proposed now.
I didn’t see, for a very long time afterwards, how I could write another Scotty book–light, funny, zany–in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then one day I was walking to work from where I’d parked my car and some people on bicycles came riding toward me. They smiled and waved and I smiled and waved back…and realized oh my God, that was Brad and Anjelina. Their house wasn’t far from my office–in fact, it was quite literally around the block from where Scotty lived–and I thought, you know, Brad kind of looks the way I describe Scotty–wouldn’t it be funny if someone tried to kill Scotty because he looked like a movie star who lived in his neighborhood? The more I thought about it, the funnier it became, and I started writing the proposal for Hollywood South Hustle when I got home from work that night. I was so certain they would take it that I started developing the characters and writing out a detailed synopsis…and they turned it down.
I wasn’t expecting that, but it was a marketing decision. Even if they signed the book immediately, it would still be another year before it would come out, and they felt by then Scotty’s audience was long gone, if it wasn’t already. It was disappointing, but right around the same time Alyson came back to me for a fourth Chanse book but they needed it right away–like within ten weeks–so I turned the Scotty story into Murder in the Rue Ursulines. I finished the book, turned it in, and figured the Scotty series was dead, alas.
Shortly thereafter, during the Gay Easter Parade an idea for a different Scotty book occurred to me . The parade was over and I was walking back to my car to drive home when I walked underneath a balcony…just as they started watering their plants. I got soaked–you can’t get mad, it happens in the Quarter periodically and it’s just one of those New Orleans things–and I thought, you really need to write about this. As I walked to the car, dripping, I pictured Scotty hurrying to catch a ride on his parents’ business’ float for the Easter Parade–and of course, he’d wear a white bikini, rabbit ears, and have a rabbit tail–when the exact same thing happened to him, only his bikini would become see-through when wet. By the time I’d driven home, I’d figured that the person on the balcony would be an old friend of his parents’, he’d invited Scotty in to dry off, and when Scotty was on his way home from the parade, the cops would be there because the friend had been murdered. Using The Moonstone as my inspiration, I came up with another MacGuffin story, a way for Colin to come back and explain everything that happened during Mardi Gras Mambo, and I had the perfect ending to Scotty’s story. I just didn’t have a publisher.
But Bold Strokes Books, a primarily lesbian publisher, had started doing books by and about gay men. I’d taken an erotica anthology to them when it was orphaned by the death of its original publisher, and so I wrote and asked if they wanted a Scotty story. They did, and thus Scotty came back to life one more time…and I figured that was the end of it. I wrapped up the personal story about the three-way relationship in a way that was organic and made sense; and I also added a new wrinkle to Scotty’s personal life: Frank’s late-in-life decision to become a professional wrestler. (One of the things we locals learned from Hurricane Katrina was to not put off following or chasing dreams or goals; my attitude thus became go for it and I started chasing down dreams I’d pushed to the side for years.) Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo were both nominated for Lambdas, but at this point I can’t remember who I lost to in both of those cases–for the record, Lambda has never rewarded a Scotty book with an award–probably because they are inevitably funny and over-the-top, which never wins awards because funny is seen as “not serious,” despite the fact that humor/comedy is much harder than drama/tragedy.
I didn’t think I was going to write another Scotty book then, either. But then something miraculous happened: the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, and I wanted to write about what it was like to live here during that incredible time. It didn’t seem like the right story for another Chanse book, so I thought, well, I can pull Scotty back out and write it from his point of view.
And of course, Who Dat Whodunnit was just sitting there for the title. How could I not write that book?
I had already established over the course of the series that the two sides of his family–the Diderots (maternal) and the Bradleys (paternal) didn’t really get along. The Diderots go back to Iberville and the 1718 settling of New Orleans; the Bradleys were Americans who came after 1803, and thus are not only parvenus to the aristocratic Diderots, but also l’Américains. Perish the thought! We’d also established that the Diderots were not nearly as conservative as their State Street living in-laws, but we’d never actually seen much of the Bradley side of the family, so I thought why not do the Bradleys and let us get to know the other side of Scotty’s family? It was around the same time I started reading about a megachurch out in Kenner (or Metairie? I don’t recall) that was rising to prominence in local politics and was, as you can imagine, homophobic. The same-sex marriage wars were also being fought at this time; and during one of those pageants (Miss America? Miss USA?) the reigning Miss California was asked about same-sex marriage during the question portion by judge Perez Hilton (why was he judging a beauty pageant for women is a mystery for the ages) and she responded that her faith had taught her that marriage was between a man and a woman (the audience started jeering) and she apologized by saying “I’m sorry, but that’s how I was raised!” She wound up as First Runner-Up, and some felt, rightly or wrongly, that her “politically incorrect” answer cost her the title. In some ways, I felt bad for her (although it’s not my fault it’s how I was raised I have always thought was an incredibly stupid thing to say; you have free will, and you should be capable of making up your own mind rather than simply parroting things without question you were raised to believe. So if your parents were racist white supremacists…) but then of course, the Right tried to turn her into a martyr and heroine, and she dove right into that headfirst, erasing any sympathy I might have felt for her (I still think the question was inappropriate for a pageant, as would be anything polarizing–and yes, well aware that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be polarizing, but here we are), and of course, Miss Upright Moral Christian had a bit of a shady past that eventually came out and that was that. I decided to base the murder victim in the book on this girl, and tried to explore the influence of this megachurch on her. I also gave Scotty a first cousin who was the darling of the Bradley grandparents because he was a jock and was on the Saints team as a player–but also a homophobic asshole. The Bradleys were like something out of Tennessee Williams–I think I even named Scotty’s uncle (the football player’s dad) Uncle Skipper as an homage to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
There’s a lot of story there left in the Bradley side of the family, now that I think about it–and I’ll be digging into that in the new one, rest assured!
Funny story: After I wrote Who Dat Whodunnit, I decided I was not going to write another Scotty book. This had been Book 5 of what started as a stand-alone and then became a trilogy and yet somehow, I’d kept going on top of that. I kind of felt played out a bit with Scotty, and the longer the series went on, the more problems I was having with things like character ages–Scotty was getting older, which meant his parents were getting older, which meant his grandparents were getting older, too. I didn’t want to deal with the deaths of his grandparents (or Aunt Sylvia, who was his grandmother’s age and had married Uncle Misha), and so I had two options: pretend they weren’t getting older and not talk about their ages, or let the series go. I was still writing Chanse at the time, and I kind of figured that would be the series that went on longer. But I was on a panel at Saints and Sinners and someone from the audience asked me if there would be another Scotty.
GREG: Probably not, but if I can figure out a way to include Mike the Tiger (the live tiger mascot at LSU), Huey Long, and a treasure hunt for Huey’s deduct box, I will.
(I had read T. Harry Williams’ award winning biography Huey Long and had become fascinated completely with him. All I had known about Long going into reading that biography was that he’d been a demagogue (thanks, US History textbook from high school) and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men had been loosely based on his life and career. Mention Long’s name to anyone and they immediately reply with “oh, he was so corrupt”–which amused me, since every Louisiana politician is corrupt to a degree–and I knew Roosevelt and others had worried about him as a populist politician who reminded them of Hitler (and the way he crushed his opposition in Louisiana and essentially became the state’s dictator, who could blame them?), but what was the real story? And Huey Long made me start to have what was at first a grudging admiration for him which grew into a kind of fandom the more I learned. (There are some similarities–more than one would think–between Long and LBJ in the Caro biographies, as well as with Robert Moses, another Caro biography; which would make for a very interesting comparison/contract essay at some point.) But the more I read about Long, the more I wanted to write about him. He fascinated me, and the fact that his trove of cash–the deduct box–was never recovered after his murder was even more fascinating to me.)
And don’t you know, later that night, it came to me. A few months earlier there had been a bomb threat at the LSU campus, and there had been some controversy about how the administration had handled the situation–they’d evacuated Mike the Tiger off the campus before the mass evacuation call for the students. It made sense to me (but I didn’t blame the students for being upset because it absolutely looked like the administration cared more about the tiger’s safety than the students’)–in the chaos of evacuating the campus, getting the tiger out safely would have been a nightmare, and God forbid something happen and Mike got loose. Then it hit me: what if some animal rights’ activists had staged the bomb threat in order to steal the tiger in order to set him free somewhere? (Mike is a frequent target of PETA, who often calls for him to be released into the wild–not in the US, of course–, or sent to a big cat sanctuary.) So, I had the tiger kidnapped, and since Huey Long was responsible for LSU being what it is today, it only made sense for the treasure hunt to have to do with his missing “deduct box”–Huey always used cash, after his assassination the deduct box containing thousands and thousands of dollars in cash disappeared–and there we had it: a plot involving Mike the Tiger, Huey Long, and the deduct box.
This was also the book where I decided to extend Scotty’s family a bit further by adding a new, younger gay character to the mix: Taylor, Frank’s nephew, disowned by Frank’s sister and her homophobic husband after he comes out to them after a semester in Paris, and so he comes to live with Scotty and the boys in the house on Decatur Street. I wanted to bring in someone younger, and gay, with literally hardly any gay experience in the world to reflect the change between generations of gay men and how they view being gay and the rest of the world.
I also figured this would be the last one, but like I said, Scotty just won’t go away.
SIDENOTE: I had to write to the administrators of the Huey Long website for permission to use some quotes from the site in the book. Needless to say, they were very wary of me when they responded, so I emailed them the chapter where I would use the quotes–Scotty was doing some research on Long, and came across the website. Like me, Scotty had always been told Long was corrupt and a demagogue…but demagogues also don’t get things done, which Long did. Some of Long’s programs–like the Homestead Exemption–still exist as public policy in Louisiana. They wrote me back, granting permission…and that was when I found out the person I was talking to was Long’s great-granddaughter, who was rightfully suspicious of anyone writing about her great-grandfather. I sent her a copy of the book when it was finished, and she sent me a lovely thank you card, which is probably one of my favorite writing souvenirs.
The genesis of Garden District Gothic was weird, but yet serves as yet another example of my adage never throw anything you’ve written away.
I had always wanted to spin Chanse’s best friend, journalist Paige Tourneur, off into her own series. I had always intended to do so; from the first time I thought her up for Murder in the Rue Dauphine I thought, “she’s fun and witty and interesting and that weird name–there’s so much more story there than we can get to as a supporting player in a series about someone else.” I have so much written down about Paige and her origin story; how she came up with that name and why; how she wound up at LSU; and so on and so forth. A friend started an ebook publishing company, and wanted me to write Paige novellas for her; I did two–Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans–but the sales, frankly, weren’t there and I didn’t have the necessary time to put in marketing them to help drive the sales, so even though I’d started a third, The Mad Catter, we agreed to kill the series and pull the first two from availability; ultimately, I was working too hard for too little pay-off. I was disappointed, obviously; Paige was kind of a passion project for me–I’d made any number of false starts writing a series book for her, and it was sad to see that there wasn’t an audience for her after all. But I had about four chapters of The Mad Catter in place, and I didn’t want to waste the time spent on them…so I decided to turn them into a Scotty book, which became Garden District Gothic.
I also brought in a new character–a true crime writer with a shady past of his own–who actually wrote a book, a la Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, about the case. The name of his book? Garden District Gothic. I brought him in, thinking I would spin him off into his own book/series–I thought it might be fun to write about a writer…(I thought about using him as the main character in another book based on an actual unsolved string of murders in a rural Louisiana parish, but very quickly realized he was simply an amalgamation of Scotty and Chanse, so that book–The Bodies in the Bayou–went onto the backburner. I think I may have created the character before, in the Chanse series, but I could be remembering that wrong. I also used this book to sort of set up the next; I will explain that further when I am talking about Royal Street Reveillon. I also crossed the character of Paige Tourneur over from the Chanse series into the Scotty series (I loved the character, hated to sideline her after I ended the Chanse series and the novella series didn’t pan out); not that she will be a big part of the Scotty series, but hey, every so often I need a journalist, and why not use a character I am very fond of already and wasn’t ready to stop writing about?
The book was loosely based, obviously, on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case–a decades old notorious murder of a child in the Garden District that was never solved. I wanted to examine and explore issues of class in New Orleans, but I am not entirely sure I pulled off what I intended with the book.
Then again, I think that with every book, don’t I?
And we now come to the (so far) most recent book of the Scotty series, Royal Street Reveillon.
Originally I’d envisioned the Scotty trilogy (when it morphed from a stand-alone) as encompassing the three big gay holidays in New Orleans: Southern Decadence, Halloween, and Mardi Gras. Jackson Square Jazz wound up taking place just before Halloween, alas; Scotty talks about their costumes in the epilogue, but I hit the other two holidays out of the park. When I added a fourth book, I tied it to the Gay Easter Parade–Scotty is on his way to ride on the Devil’s Weed’s float when the book opened–and then of course the next book was sort of Christmas/sort of Mardi Gras/sort of the Super Bowl. Baton Rouge Bingo was the first book that wasn’t tied to a holiday of some sort; neither was Garden District Gothic. But for the next Scotty book, I wanted to do a Christmas book. I’ve never really written much about Christmas, and I do love the season, especially in New Orleans. I wasn’t sure what kind of plot I was going to use, but I knew it was going to be set during Christmas season and I knew I wanted to use reveillon, the Christmas season meal you use to break your fast for Mass, in the title. I had introduced one of the characters from Dead Housewives of New Orleans in Garden District Gothic, so it only made sense to me (or so it seemed at the time) for me to take the framework of Dead Housewives–the entire Real Housewives spoof I wanted to write–and build this new story around it. I changed a lot–made the overarching story much more complicated, and especially complicating the “whodunnit” aspects of the three murders that all occurred within twenty-four hours of the premiere party for Grande Dames of New Orleans.
I also did a couple of horrible things to Scotty and his loved ones over the course of this book…which will have to be dealt with in the new one, alas. I hate when I do this to myself! But with Royal Street Reveillon and its darker themes, I wanted to show how much Scotty has grown and changed over the course of the series; he’s evolved as a person, partly because of the changes to his life and partly because of what he experiences through the murders he finds himself involved in. Do I wish, as I start writing Mississippi River Mischief, that maybe I hadn’t given so many growth opportunities over the years to Scotty and his gang of family and friends? Absolutely. But that’s part of the challenge of writing a series, and what makes it so much fun.
*Funny story about the original cover of Bourbon Street Blues. Back in the day, publishers used to meet with reps from Barnes & Noble and Borders to show them covers and get their input; covers were changed based on those meetings. The Bourbon Street Blues cover was so in-your-face it took me aback when I first saw it; and they had toned the original image down dramatically, mainly smoothing down the bulge so it wasn’t so in-your-face. The Barnes & Noble buyer told them, “he needs a bigger bulge” so they made it bigger–but were still cautious; the image’s original bulge was still bigger. I do think that story is hilarious.
It feels weird, no lie. I haven’t been up this early in quite a while, and I would imagine it’s going to take more than a hot minute for me to get used to it again. I slept well last night, but there’s just something about being jarred out of sleep by an alarm that feels disruptive, and inevitably means I wind up feeling tired/sleepy all day because to my mind, the alarm means I didn’t get enough sleep. I did wake up around two, four, and five, but was able to go back to sleep relatively easily; there was a part of me that thought, when I woke up at five, that I should go ahead and get up. But the bed felt comfortable, the blankets comforting, and I could stay there, relaxed and comfortable, for another hour so I closed my eyes and turned over and went back to sleep. It’s going to be a rough week for sure–getting used to being back at work after being sick so long; I don’t think I’ve ever been out of the office this long for being sick, let alone on vacation or anything else–but soon enough it will be the weekend again, so there’s that.
It must be extremely humid this morning because my sinuses are reacting, so I had to take a Claritin-D to calm that the fuck down. Now that I am gradually coming awake, I feel much better than I did when I first rolled out of bed this morning. Hopefully that will be the case for the rest of the day. It’s going to feel weird being back in the office this morning; and hopefully that weirdness will wear off sooner rather than later. I didn’t get as much done last night after I finished my work-at-home chores for the day, I was a bit tired and my eyes were buggy (data entry has that effect on me) so I retired to my easy chair to do some reading. My mind was wandering and I couldn’t focus on something new, so I regretfully left my Sandra SG Wong novel on the end table and opened up Royal Street Reveillon on my iPad, to sort of get a sense of what was going on with Scotty and the boys before really starting to dig into the new one. I had a side-story I was thinking about adding into it, but now am not so sure or certain that I can either pull it off, or will have the time to do it properly. One can certainly hope, at any rate. But I did manage to make a substantial to-do list for this week, and hopefully by sticking to it and checking it every morning I can make a plan for getting things done throughout the day every day this week.
I can’t believe next Monday is the first of August. Where did this year go? I will be sixty-one in less than thirty days. Yikes!
There’s a deadline for an anthology I had wanted to submit to this coming weekend, but the story I had on hand that I just wanted to revise and polish a bit–I’m not so sure I want to go ahead and submit it without rereading it thoroughly and thinking about it some more, and there may not be time for me to do any of that (if things go the way they usually do, and getting up early makes me tired and not as productive as I could be in the early evenings after I get home) before this weekend–and I have the page proofs of Streetcar to get through, and I have to finish the Bouchercon anthology at some point, which is looming large on the schedule. Losing all that time to COVID was not a help at all in most respects, other than the lengthy break from working and getting so much rest that my body clearly desperately needed–although as always, the exhaustion/fatigue of the illness had me worried that it had nothing to do with being sick and everything to do with my body changing as it ages, and that fatigue was something I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life. That was an absolutely terrifying prospect, especially because knowing that it was the illness (and has now passed) doesn’t mean that all-encompassing fatigue is not, in fact, in my future as a part of being old–which is why I really need to start getting back to the gym and getting my body back into shape. I don’t need to be lean and ripped anymore, like the guys I feature here every day with the blog; that vanity is long gone and continues to grow smaller in the rear view mirror. For me now, getting back to the gym and working out is more about being healthier, working my muscles and keeping them loose and limber and strong, which inevitably brings with it the side effect of more energy and better, more restful sleep. Walking to the gym in the weather we are currently having–the soup-like gumbo of humidity and excessive heat–isn’t particularly appealing to me either, but neither is taking the car to drive five blocks to go work out.
So, I am hoping that today will be a good day as I ease back into my normal routine. A good day seeing my clients, getting work done, and then picking up the mail on my way home. There’s laundry to fold and dishes to put away tonight; tomorrow I have to leave work early because I have a doctor’s appointment. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Hope your Tuesday is a special one, Constant Reader, because you deserve the best! Talk to you tomorrow, okay?
And just like that, in a snap of the fingers, it’s Friday again and I am working at home. Huzzah? Huzzah!
I have apparently reset my body clock at long last. It took until age sixty plus a few months, but I woke up this morning without the alarm at just before six. I chose to stay in bed until seven–it was very comfortable under my blankets this morning–but I am now out of bed, drinking my first coffee, and feeling pretty well rested and wide awake. I have, as always, a lot of things to do today (some errands to run, work that needs doing, chores that are overdue) but right now I am feeling like I can get it all done without a problem; that’s undoubtedly incorrect–at some point I’ll get derailed or hit a wall or something; it happens every time–but right now I am going to roll with it most happily. I’ve managed to keep up somewhat this week with the chores, so the Lost Apartment doesn’t need as much attention as it generally does as we roll into the weekend; but maybe that’s because we had a truncated work week (thanks Fat Tuesday!). Either way, I want to see if I can build on that and get more things cleaned–the other stuff that I never manage to get to; like dusting picture frames and so forth. I suppose we shall see.
And I might even be able to get caught up on everything. Ha ha ha ha, it had to be said, right?
So my goals for this weekend are to get through my to-do list and make a new one. I have editing to do and writing to do and decisions to be made about my career and my future–always a daunting subject, always put off for another time because i don’t want to deal with it–and hopefully, this weekend will be an opportunity. As I said earlier, I feel more rested this morning than I have in a long time–rested and relaxed–which means, at least for now, that I feel like I can do anything and everything and I can conquer the world, which is a nice feeling…I know I can’t realistically take over the world, but it’s always nice to feel like I can if I wanted to, you know? I definitely want to finish reading Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister this weekend; it’s quite good, and it feels good to be enjoying reading again. I’d intended to do some reading when I got home from work yesterday, but was very tired–drained, really; it was one of those days at the office for some reason–and so I just kind of hunkered down, let Scooter climb into my lap, and watched history videos on Youtube about Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine’s history. I want to spend some time this weekend figuring out my new Scotty’s plot and subplots–I want this to be a labyrinthine story, ever more so than Royal Street Reveillon was–and I also need to figure out what else I need to be writing this year, and there’s so much else that needs to be caught up on…heavy heaving sigh. But rather than feeling defeated, this morning I feel like I can get everything done and it’s just a matter of rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, which is always a lovely feeling, frankly–and one I’ve not felt in quite some time. Yay? Yay.
So right now before my first work meeting of the day I have laundry going–it’s launder the bed linens day, after all–and have to unload the dishwasher. I need to make a grocery list. I need to work on my to-do list and create a new one. There’s always organizing to do around here (my computer files are finally starting to get it together, but there’s still a very long way to go, sadly), and there’s always another chore somewhere that I’ve not noticed (or have ignored for so long that it now escapes notice and seems normal for whatever it is to be the way it is–not a good thing) and of course, I need to get my taxes and stuff together. See? These are things that should be going on my to-do list, rather than being written about here. But that’s just the way my brain bounces around, you know? But it does feel nice to have shaken off the cobwebs and that aching bone-tired feeling, as well as the clouded brain thing. (I shudder to think how much worse this week would have been had I actively participated in Carnival as much as I have done in the past…yikes indeed.)
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines and try to get some things done before the work meeting. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to!
Friday and working at home. I don’t have to return to the office until Wednesday. I don’t know if I am going to attend any of the parades tonight, but I will most definitely attend Iris tomorrow, and Orpheus on Monday. Sunday is a madhouse out on the corner, with four parades running and the last two (Thoth and Bacchus), so Paul and I will sometimes go out for the earlier ones–but it’s so crowded by the time Thoth comes down the avenue we can’t stand it so we come inside. It’s weird. I intellectually know that it’s probably not a good idea to go out there–no one masked, everyone drinking and in close proximity to each other–and if I get sick I have no one to blame but myself. I still go back and forth on it–there’s a pandemic! But it’s Carnival!–so I may end up not attending rather then severely curtailing my parade attendance (I certainly don’t ever want to get Bad Carnival Karma); we’ll see how it goes.
I did spend some time last night filing, cleaning and organizing so I don’t have to do any of that this weekend. I have a short story to finish by Tuesday, a thousand emails to answer, another thousand tp generate (you think I’m kidding; I quite literally am not) and I’d like to get the floors done. I also have to run some errands at some point today–mail and make groceries (not much, just to get through the rest of the weekend)–and I also don’t have to go back into the office until Ash Wednesday (thank you, Fat Tuesday paid holiday), so I am hoping to get caught up on all kinds of things that will help ease off the pressure I feel like I am constantly under. One of today’s chores is to make that updated to-do list I’ve been meaning to get written all week, and to try to gather all my scribbled notes and idea scattered over various notebooks and legal pads compiled into one place. Once I get this short story finished, I am going to start working on Chlorine again–the goal is to have a workable first draft by the end of March, fingers crossed–but it’s going to be a shorter book, fast-paced with machine-gun like word rhythms. I am also becoming more and more fond of my main character–a not particularly talented but incredibly hot and sexy closeted film actor, cynical about using his face and body to get ahead because he is really only out for himself…understandable, given the climate of the times and his backstory–and creating him is probably the most fun I’ve had creating a character since, well, Scotty.
But he ain’t nothing like my Scotty. At all.
I also need to start pulling together the various threads of Mississippi River Mischief together; figuring out the various subplots to gel around the main story of the book, and I also have to map out Redemption Parish a bit more than the amorphous bounds I’ve already given it. I think it first appeared in Murder in the Arts District–no, not entirely correct; it was where my story “Rougarou” was set, and I think that was my first time writing about Redemption Parish and the town of Bayou Shadows–and I know The Orion Mask was also set there. I should probably go through everything and make notes for the sake of continuity–ha ha ha, just checking to see if you’re asleep–but yes, I think I originally envisioned Redemption Parish as being further upriver than where I want it to be for this book; I’ll definitely have to recheck Arts District and The Orion Mask to get a better idea of what I wrote and where I placed it so I can figure out how to finagle moving it and how to justify it…but….this is a different series than Arts District, and Orion was a stand alone, so…I definitely can get away with moving the parish if I need to. (As much as I want my books to all be connected together in some amorphous way–a la Stephen King’s Maine–I can also look at Scotty and Chanse and every other New Orleans thing I’ve written as different universes, like a multi-verse; so I can use characters from across all the books as well as places, but it’s a different world.
I also tend to worry about things no one else notices in my work, so there’s that.
But it wouldn’t hurt me to start a reread of the Scotty series. I am having trouble focusing on reading these days–it comes and goes–and so why not reread the Scotty books? Why not spend some time putting together the ultimate Scotty Bible, so I have an easy reference to check things? This actually sounds like a good idea, and it’s been so damned long since I wrote the first books I probably wouldn’t even remember who the killer was…so it would almost be like reading something new? And it could help put me back into the Scotty mindset. (Also, for the record, Mississippi River Mischief is set in the spring after the Christmas of Royal Street Reveillon, which will make it spring 2019. The next Scotty will be Twelfth Night Knavery, set just after Christmas 2019–January 2020–followed by French Quarter Flambeaux (Mardi Gras 2020) and finally Quarter Quarantine Quadrille, April 2020. So, the plan is for there to be at least four more books in the series, if I live that long. But I also reserve the right to change my mind and discard any of these books along the way–but this is what I am currently thinking.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.