Ah, Scotty–the series that will never die.
It never ceases to amaze me the way this series has been embraced by readers, or that twenty years after turning in the first one here I am writing the ninth (or it is the eighth?) volume. It just goes to show that trying to come up with a plan for your writing career (at least in my case) is a fool’s game. Revisiting my work the way I have been recently–in part because I am writing another book in this seemingly endless series–has also reminded me of plans that have gone awry over the years; things I was trying to do with my writing and the series and the stand-alones that somehow got lost in the shuffle of trying to make a living while trying to be a writer at the same time as well as balance volunteer work, editing, and my relationship and my responsibilities around the house; and sometimes wondering if maybe I shouldn’t revisit and/or revive those plans. I’d like to get a lot of projects I’ve been thinking about for years or have in some sort of progress finished at long last before I come up with anything new–the problem, of course, being that there’s always something new poking its way out from the deep dark corners and recesses of my creative mind.
I famously said on a panel at Saints and Sinners, when asked about the potentiality of another book in the Scotty series, that if I could “think of a way to include Mike the Tiger from LSU along with Huey Long and his deduct box, I would” and of course, a few days later it struck me across the face like a bitch slap from Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce, and so I started making notes as the story started forming in my head.
I’d been wanting to write about Huey Long ever since I’d read the T. Harry Williams oral biography, Huey Long, which won every award on the planet back in the early 1950’s when it was originally published. I’d been trying to sort out fact from fiction when it came to Long for quite some time by the time someone recommended the Williams volume to me; I was very interested to find out what the actual truth about Long was, separated out from all the noise. I knew about the Kingfish from my US History text book, which devoted an entire paragraph to the “most dangerous politician in American history, the demagogue from Louisiana” without getting into much depth about his rise, what he did, and why he was so reviled.
The GPS in our brand new Explorer announced that it was about ninety miles to Baton Rouge from New Orleans when Frank punched in the coordinates into it before pulling away from the curb at the airport.
I stifled a laugh. It might only be ninety miles, but to a New Orleanian it’s like being sucked into a wormhole and winding up in another dimension.
Of course, New Orleanians are horrible snobs about the city’s suburbs, always making snarky jokes about needing shots and a passport to head over to the West Bank or out to Metairie, so it should be no surprise that we also look down our noses at the rest of Louisiana. We act like there’s no intelligent life outside of Orleans Parish; nowhere decent to eat, no art or culture to speak of, and certainly no one we’d want to associate with could possibly live out there. It’s not true, of course—but we like to pretend it is.
As my Louisiana History teacher at Jesuit High School once sniffed contemptuously, “President Jefferson offered Napoleon $10 million dollars for New Orleans, and for an extra five million he threw in the rest of the continent west of the Mississippi.”
Needless to say, this snobbish disdain for the rest of Louisiana was hardly endearing—which quite frequently means New Orleans gets screwed over by the state legislature.
So, when Frank first mentioned this trip to Baton Rouge, I reacted the way any true New Orleanian would. I scrunched up my face like I’d smelled something really awful and said, “Ew. Do we have to?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yes, we do, and we need to buy a new car.”
This was even more horrifying to me than going to Baton Rouge, to be honest. I hate to drive—I always have. I don’t even like riding in cars. Given the way people drive in New Orleans, it’s understandable. Most drivers in New Orleans don’t use their signals, ignore street signs and traffic laws if inconvenient, and no one here knows how to make a left turn properly at an intersection. It always amazes me that there aren’t more traffic fatalities.
As I had mentioned in my entry on Who Dat Whodunnit, I had always liked LSU; how can you not love a team that actually has a LIVE TIGER mascot? But of course I was always Auburn first then Alabama; LSU was my third favorite SEC team, and after we moved here it kept creeping closer and closer until I only rooted against LSU when they were playing Auburn, which then became I’m happy whoever wins but after Katrina? I went all in on LSU. Paul and I went to our first game in 2010, the Mississippi game, and it was incredibly exciting and I became an even bigger fan; there literally is nothing like a Saturday night in Death Valley, and remember–I’d gone to plenty of college games in my life before that experience, and I thought the Auburn-Florida game in 1993 was the biggest and most exciting game day experience I’d ever had…
…and then I went to an LSU rivalry game at night in Tiger Stadium, and no, there’s absolutely nothing like that experience, anywhere, any time. And I love Mike the Tiger. (every time I go to a game I stop by the habitat to see if he’s out in the yard so I can say hello; he’s such a beautiful animal.) Constant Reader is undoubtedly very tired of listen to me about my LSU fandom and how much I love going to games in Tiger Stadium, but there probably wouldn’t be LSU football as we know it if not for Huey Long. Huey Long turned LSU from a small-enrollment C level state university into what is today, or at least got it started. He’s the reason the stadium is shaped the way it is (he wanted to expand the stadium but there was no money in the budget for it–but there was money to build a new dorm…so he built the dormitory into the stadium. The stadium only stopped being a functioning dorm in the 1980’s or 90’s I believe, and I think there’s a plan to refurbish and reopen the dorm…so yes, Tiger Stadium is the only football stadium in the world that can also serve as a dorm…and the football stadium was used as a staging center for the evacuation of New Orleans after the Katrina flood), and he encouraged the students to raise the money to get a live tiger mascot.
When I was puzzling over how to work all of these elements into a modern-day crime novel, there was a bomb threat on the LSU campus which resulted in an evacuation of the campus. The administration made sure Mike the Tiger was secured and evacuated safely before the general evacuation call, and of course, the students who think football is over-emphasized and prioritized over the university’s primary role as an institute of higher learning (they aren’t wrong, for the record) were furious and outraged that the tiger was giving a priority over the students. I don’t blame them in the least for those horrible optics, but I also understood where Admin was coming from; it was all a part of their safety strategy, and I am sorry, when you have a live tiger habitat on your campus, you kind of have to take that into consideration. Would you want to try to evacuate a tiger during the chaos of a general campus evacuation? How many things could go wrong in that situation? (And the question of whether there should be a live tiger habitat on a college campus is certainly one that should be discussed–traditions aren’t always a good thing–but not in the midst of a chaotic situation and a threat to campus safety. And as I understand it, his team of vets and veterinary students moved very quickly and it resulted in perhaps a fifteen minute delay in the general evacuation call? And leaving him on an abandoned campus was just not an option. So I decided to start my book with Scotty and Frank heading to Baton Rouge, getting caught in the evacuation panic traffic, while Mom is currently being arrested for slapping the state Attorney General. Mike gets kidnapped during the evacuation by a rabid animal rights’ movement, and the leader of the group turns out to not only be from New Orleans but also connected to Huey Long–her grandfather worked for him, and was killed in a car accident shortly after Huey was assassinated.
And at the root of everything is the deduct box. the big strongbox of cash Huey always kept on hand to pay for “unexpected expenses” no one wanted a record of–and I even brought back a villain from the past. I also introduced a new character to the family dynamic: Taylor Rutledge, Frank’s nephew from Corinth County, Alabama (see? all of my books are connected), disowned by his religious rural Southern parents after he came out to them and comes to New Orleans to live with them (I had an eye to spinning Taylor off into his own y/a crime series, but it hasn’t happened yet).
And this book has, perhaps, one of my favorite scenes ever in a Scotty book–when he realizes the bad guys have set he and Taylor adrift at sea…and Mike the Tiger is also on the boat with them (hat tip to Life of Pi).
And having now introduced a new character to the family dynamic, I could hardly call it quits on the series after that–so I knew there was going to be yet another.
Because Scotty will never. ever go away.