Masterpiece

Why, hello, Thursday, how are you?

Returning to work wasn’t bad, actually, if a little weird; I felt kind of disoriented most of the day, like I was dreaming that I was at work rather than actually at work, if that makes any sense to anyone? Probably not, since it doesn’t really make sense to me, either. I slept very well again last night–that’s two nights in a row!–even though I didn’t really want to get out of bed this morning. I would have quite happily stayed in bed for another few hours. But the weekend is just over the horizon, and next week will be the real reality; a full week of work climaxing with Southern Decadence and condom outreach on Friday before a three day weekend, which is lovely.

We finished season two of Mindhunter last night, which was good–no spoilers but the season finale felt like a bit of a letdown, but overall the show is so incredibly well-done and well-acted and the story so well told I suspect that’s why the finale felt a little let-downish. It was the right place to stop, I suppose, but the resolution of the Atlanta child-killings of the late 70’s/early 80’s didn’t really mark an end to the case as neatly as fiction/entertainment demands; that’s the problem of using real life in a fictional series, I suppose. It would have been dramatically unfair to the victims and their families to have resolved the case completely–but while Wayne Williams never confessed and was never officially tied to the killings of the children, it is curious that the killings stopped once he was taken into custody–although, as Paul pointed out, the killer also could have simply moved away or died around the same time Williams was charged.

The finale of the show did send me off into the ozone layer thinking about serial killers, and our fascination with them. I’ve never read a lot about serial killers or mass murders (Paul, on the other hand, is literally a walking encyclopedia on serial killers–he doesn’t read about them as much as he used to, but when we merged our book collections, I remember being a bit concerned about his interest in serial killers), besides the obvious Helter Skelter (who didn’t read that in the 1970’s? Manson was, for want of a better term, the rock star of serial killings/mass murderers), and a few others–I read The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank (I think that was his name) and some books on Jack the Ripper, but I never have been overly interested in them. I remember hearing about the Houston killings when I first moved there; so I did some reading up on Dean Corll, and I read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, too. I half-paid attention to the Jeffrey Dahmer case as it unfolded, and so on and so forth. And yes, watching Mindhunter has given me an idea for a particularly dark and nasty book–not sure that I’ll ever write it, but I do think it’s a remarkably good idea.

I’ve had ideas for books about serial killers before–years ago I wanted to write a Venus Casanova novel about a serial killer in New Orleans; even now I have a partial short story centering Venus that is a serial killer story (that would be “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” which is a great title but I cannot figure out how to make it work as a short story; it may wind up as a novella but this is, I repeat, this is not the serial killer book idea I had for Venus.) I have another idea for a Venus novel I want to write, but then again, that brings up questions about authenticity and does a gay white man have the right to write a novel centering an African-American woman in New Orleans? I like the idea of doing the research necessary to write authentically about Venus, in all honesty; even if I never write the book the research would be interesting to do–and I was also reminded, in reading Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which has a chapter from the point of view of a real woman, the first African American female cop in the history of Baltimore, that it’s possible to do it if you’re willing to put the work into it.

And I think studying the complicated politics and history of race in New Orleans would be an interesting education. I’ve yet to read Lords of Misrule, which is about that in terms of Carnival and the integration of the krewes in the early 1990’s; perhaps I should move it up on my list, but then again, there’s no way I could write anything from Venus’ perspective, novel-wise, until 2021 at the earliest.

Anyway, I digress. We were talking about serial killers, weren’t we? I still think Val McDermid’s The Mermaids Singing is the best serial killer novel I’ve read, but I’ve never read Thomas Harris. I’ve seen The Silence of the Lambs, of course, and we watched the series Hannibal, but I’ve never really quite understood the American obsession with Hannibal Lector as a pop star–which I’ve always believed had more to do with Anthony Hopkins’ performance in the films than it did with the books–but perhaps I should read the first two books (I’ve heard too many bad things about the more recent ones, beginning with Hannibal.)

The funny thing is that the one thing that always bothered me the most about serial killers–whether in novels, movies, or television–was the presence of the profiler, who is always so smug and certain about their profiles, knowledge and expertise–that I remember thinking while watching something (probably an iteration of Law and Order, but which one I don’t remember) and thinking to myself if I ever write a serial killer novel it’s going to have an FBI profiler who is wrong about everything. From that germ I created an entire character; and then thought, an annoying, always wrong profiler would be the perfect foil for Venus–who would think he’s full of shit and be irritated that theories are given priority over evidence and facts. There was a serial killer operating in Baton Rouge around that same time; there had been a serial killer operating in Houston–I think, without checking, known as the I-45 Killer–and remember thinking, maybe it should be rethought of us the I-10 Killer; Houston and Baton Rouge are connected by I-10…and then of course started spinning out this tale in my head of a serial killer operating east and west along I-10 (which also runs through New Orleans) and so on. I’ve also thought about someone killing priests (another Venus idea) in a serial fashion…but I’ve always backed away from writing about serial killers because I don’t know enough about them and learning enough about them to write from an expert point of view seemed like a lot of work–time-consuming work, at that.

And one thing I know for sure, I don’t have much time, do I?

Heavy heaving sigh.

This is, as you can probably guess, yet another example of my creative ADD, and you can see how all over the place my mind will jump. Hopefully tonight when I get off work I’ll get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which is so close to having the first draft done…which I wanted to do before the end of the month, which is nigh–and seriously, I need to focus. Part of the problem I’ve been having this month is too many things, too many different things, that I’ve agreed to do hanging over my head, and one thing I need to remember going forward is to stop agreeing to do things; this is how I get in trouble. Even now, sitting here, thinking about finishing this book by the end of the month, I am realizing all the things I’ve got to get done in September that I’ve agreed to do–and then there’s of course October, when I’ve agreed to work on yet another project that will most likely be taking up most of my time.

Sigh. No rest for the wicked, or for the weary.

And that’s my cue to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

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Crocodile Rock

Oh, Louisiana.

My beautiful, beautiful state. Louisiana is basically a lush, fertile state chock full of important natural resources, and also sports the nickname “Sportsmen’s Paradise,” because outdoor sports–hunting, fishing, etc.–are abundant here. Lots of hunting, lots of fishing, that sort of thing.

But Louisiana also is known for corruption, being backwards in many ways, and some truly bizarre politics/politicians. It’s easy to say that Louisianans have a very cynical view of politics and politicians–no one is really surprised when one of our elected officials is caught doing something criminal or morally questionable; the basic presumption is that they’re all crooks and liars unless proven otherwise. We can never forget that one gubernatorial election featured bumper stickers and campaign slogans that read Vote for the crook, it’s important–when Governor Edwards, convicted for taking bribes in office, was running again after serving time and his opponent was notorious racist and former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

And for the record, that election was in the early 1990’s–not that long ago.

As I said yesterday, I watched a four hour documentary on Hulu this past week called Murder in the Bayou, about what is called the “Jeff Davis 8”–eight women murdered over a period of less than three years in and around the Jefferson Davis Parish village of Jennings. The women all  had issues with drugs, and also came from really poor backgrounds. The documentary was interesting, and seemed geared to the idea that there was a serial killer operating in the parish–and for some reason, the cops simply couldn’t track said killer down, and eventually the killings stopped.

I also remembered that there was a book about the murders, with the same title, by New Orleans journalist Ethan Brown, and I had a copy. So, after I finished watching the documentary Friday afternoon, I got the book down from the shelves and looked to see if there were any photographs included. There weren’t–just the flyer with the reward posted, with photos of all the victims on it. I started reading…

murder in the bayou

On May 20, 2005, Jerry Jackson, a soft-spoken slim African-American retiree with a short salt-and-pepper Afro, prepared to cast a fishing line from a hulking bridge over the Grand Marais Canal on the outskirts of Jennings in southwest Louisiana. Jackson peered down at the muddy rush below, the corroded, cylindrical rain pipes along the canal belching water, the collapsed pedestrian bridge far out in the distance. As he prepped his fishing line, Jackson imagined the catch that day, white perch, a small bass with a strong spine that’s so abundant in Louisiana it’s the state’s official freshwater fish. In low-lying southwest Louisiana, where rain is constantly siphoned to prevent flooding, drainage canals are as common as the perch. These canals provide sustenance for poor Louisianans for whom fishing is both a generations-old tradition and a day-to-day necessity. For hobbyists such as Jackson, who made the approximately ten-mile trip to Jennings from his cramped trailer on a dead-end street in nearby Welsh, drainage canal democratize fishing. Expensive shrimp boats and fishing equipment aren’t necessary–all one needs to do is drop a line into the water.

As Jackson peered deeper into the Grand Marais Canal, he spied the outline of a human body. “It had come up on the news that someone had stole some mannequins,” Jackson told me, “so I thought that one of the mannequins ended up in the water somehow.” Jackson focused his eyes on the figure. “I saw flies, and mannequins don’t attract flies.”

It didn’t take me long to get into the book to realize there was information, crucial information, about the victims in the book that wasn’t included in the documentary; in fact, the documentary left a lot of important information out. Yes, the women all had addiction issues, but they also were sex workers–turning to sex work to either get drugs, or to get the money to buy drugs. The police didn’t cooperate much with Mr. Brown, and the sister of one of the victims played a very prominent role in the documentary; she was only mentioned by name once in the book. Brown also shared the information that many of the victims were witnesses to other crimes, and theorized they were all killed to silence them–and that it wasn’t a serial killer after all. Brown also isn’t convinced completely that the police were so inept and incompetent to handle these kinds of investigations (something that came up a lot in the documentary), but that the parish police were actually corrupt, involved in the drug trade, and connecting all the dots also led to a peripheral involvement by a powerful politician. Naturally, the police and the politician disagree with Mr. Brown’s theories and conclusions…but he also includes, in the book, other crimes in the parish that may or may not have been connected to the murders, as well as corruption within the police department; things that were not in the documentary.

One of the things that struck me, while watching and again when reading the book, is how tragic the cycle of poverty is in these small towns, not just in Louisiana, but across the country. The class divide–marked in Jennings by literally railroad tracks that separate the good part of town from the bad–is truly staggering; I would imagine it’s much the same in big cities only not as obvious. The poor and uneducated people in places like Jennings are trapped in a terrible cycle of poverty that they cannot seem to break, which is truly sad, and the disruptive nature of the families they were born into doesn’t help much, either. And once someone starts spiraling down into drug addiction, there’s nowhere to turn to for help getting off the drugs…and there’s no money for rehab, which is incredibly expensive.

I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to stuck like that, with no hope for the future.

The book is very well written, and it’s not terribly long; I read it in one day, and it’s a terrific read. I do recommend it, and I also recommend watching the documentary as well. I’m curious about why they chose to leave some stuff out of the documentary that’s in the book–perhaps it has something to do with both using the same title but not adapting the book or using it as source material, or something along those lines–but it’s very interesting to see the two very different takes on the murders.

And yes, learning more about these murders did, in fact, give me an idea for another Chanse novel; the first idea I’ve had for a Chanse novel since I wrote Murder in the Arts District. I can easily see fictionalizing this story, with Chanse as the investigating private eye…or someone else, really; it doesn’t have to be Chanse, and the issues at play here–the disposability of drug addicted sex workers, class distinction, and corruption in the parish power structure–are things I would love to explore in a novel.

Like I don’t have anything else to write already, right?

And now back to the spice mines.