Peacekeeper

It is a cold Monday morning in the Lost Apartment and our heater is out again–every year it seems, the moment it gets cold it goes on the fritz the very first time we try to use it, so out came the space heater and I may need a second, just in case–but that’s fine. I sleep best when it’s cold, so last night’s sleep was quite nice. I also woke up at five again this morning, yay, but stayed in bed for another few hours. I probably should have just gone ahead and gotten up–it’s not like I don’t have things to do, you know–but again, cold and the pile of blankets was marvelously warm and comfortable. And now, sitting here at my desk in my sweats with a ski cap on and the space heater blowing warm air on me…I don’t even want to get up out of this warm space.

Sigh.

Paul and I had lunch with friends from out of town yesterday at Lula, the lovely restaurant on St. Charles just a couple of blocks from our house. I didn’t wear a jacket, although it was chilly, but it was nice. I always enjoy these sorts of things, but it’s always hard to get a Greg at rest into motion, you know? I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it just is, and I’ve learned to live with it. I have errands to run tonight when I get off work–prescriptions, mail, groceries–which will be wonderful in the cold, of course; it’s forty-five outside right now with a high predicted to be sixty-five; hardly the dead of winter everyone else is used to, but it is a bit on the extreme side for us here in New Orleans. I got some excellent work done on the book this weekend, which is always lovely when you shut off contact from the outside world for a few days to close off distractions so you can focus. I am still behind, of course, but I am hopeful I can get back on track by the end of this coming weekend.

We finished watching Young Royals last night–it doesn’t have very long seasons, six episodes or so–and I enjoyed it. (Although, as I pointed out several times, being a royal is a symbolic thing and not really necessary for Sweden anymore; it’s funny how these countries hang on to their pasts and traditions, no matter how archaic they may be; scratch a Brit and find a royalist) We also started watching a new supernatural show called The Bastard Son and The Devil Himself, which is actually quite good and we found ourselves enjoying it tremendously. The young male lead is also in Titans, playing a character whose name I cannot recall but I do remember from the comics as being the third Robin. It’s interesting and very well done and the fantasy/supernatural world it builds–two warring clans of witches–is also done pretty well.

It’s also hard to think that at this time next Monday I’ll be on the road, driving to Kentucky and listening to Carol Goodman. I already downloaded a book to my phone, but I don’t remember which one–but it doesn’t matter because they are always excellent. I’ve yet to read a Goodman that wasn’t, frankly, and I think she is definitely one of our finest suspense novelists of this time. Like Mary Stewart, her books are very literate and incredibly smart; they are also incredibly good reads with strongly developed characters and interesting, engaging plots that you can’t step away from–which is truly the mark of a terrific writer. I may listen to another on the way back, too. I am so glad I discovered audio books…it really makes a difference on long drives. Sure, my mind wanders from time to time, but I am always pulled back into the narrative quite easily.

I do feel a little disappointed with myself for not getting more done over the weekend. I really do need to do a deep clean before i leave so I don’t come home to a dirty apartment but the question is, when will I have the time to do it? I I am exhausted every day when I get home from work–but that’s the thing, isn’t it? I need to resist the urge–and the cat howling–to just sit down for a minute to relax because inevitably I wind up stuck there, feeling exhausted and depleted, and nothing gets done. This, of course, leads to self-flagellation as well: why did you blow off the entire evening? Imagine how much MORE relaxed you’d feel if you’d done the dishes or gotten the laundry sorted or picked up some of this mess…

I am a harsh taskmaster for myself, apparently.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you later.

Mardi Gras Mambo

Or, my own personal Vietnam.

I’ve told this story any number of times; how the writing of the book was derailed by two awful things that happened in my life, and how I finally got back to writing again in the spring of 2005, managing to finish this and turn it into literally two or three weeks before Hurricane Katrina came barreling ashore and changed everything in my life, and the long recovery time from that paradigm shift, trying to adjust to the new reality I was facing every day. It felt weird going over the copy edits, weirder still doing the page proofs (I actually had the incredibly sharp-eyed Becky Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert do it for me while I was visiting the Compound, thanks again, guys!), and even stranger having to tour and promote a book about New Orleans set before Katrina while still dealing with the recovery.

I’ve told those stories before, and that isn’t really what these entries are about; these entries are about the books themselves and how I came up with the stories and so forth, and the writing of the books. The primary problem, of course, is that I wrote this book between and around tragedies; the two year period I call the Time of Troubles that began on Memorial Day weekend in 2004 and ran through about 2008, really; because that’s about how long it took after all those issues for me to feel like my feet were beneath me again and I once again had a grasp on my life. I don’t remember what the original story was about, other than it centered on the Krewe of Iris, Scotty’s Diderot grandmother’s best friend who’d married a much younger muscle-stud Russian, and that’s really about it. The Russian would have something to do with a Colin case–and it would turn out actually be the case that brought him undercover to New Orleans in the first place during Southern Decadence; in Jackson Square Jazz we find out what Colin’s real job is, and that he was in town originally about the Napoleon death mask–but he was also in town to keep an eye on the young muscle-stud Russian who’d married Scotty’s grandmother’s best friend. It wasn’t really working, and I didn’t much care for the story, to be honest; I’d already asked for an extension before Memorial Day weekend in 2004 when all the shit started happening; after Paul was attacked they took it off the schedule and told me not to worry about it. (I appreciated the courtesy greatly at the time, but at the same time had this sinking feeling in the back of my head uh oh, they may not want another one after this–which turned out to be correct. But I dismissed the fear as part of my on-going struggle with Imposter Syndrome. It took me about six months, more or less, to get back to writing. I started my blog right after Christmas that year, and there I was writing every day again, and by January of 2005 I was ready to get going on this book again. I remember rereading everything I’d already done, not liking it, and deciding to scrap it and start over with the same essential premise: rich older society woman in New Orleans has married a much younger Russian boy-toy; Colin is investigating the boy-toy; and it’s Carnival season. Shortly after getting about halfway into a new first draft, the Virginia thing happened and I was derailed again. After that was over and I went back to the book…once again I didn’t like what was happening in the story and I threw it all out and started over again.

But this time, I hit my stride and four months later I turned the book in at long last, along with a proposal for a fourth, Hurricane Party Hustle, which was going to be set during an evacuation and would wrap up the loose ends left at the end of Mardi Gras Mambo.

And of course, three weeks later Katrina changed everything, and Hurricane Party Hustle went into the drawer.

Last night I dreamed it was Mardi Gras again. It seemed to me I was standing inside an iron gate, watching one of the night parades go by. The sidewalks in front of the gate were crowded with people, all shouting, with their grasping eager hands up in the air. Out beyond the edge of the curb, I could see people sitting in lawn chairs. Still others were up on ladders, with coolers and plastic bags of booty piled around them on the ground. Fathers and mothers were holding up babies, while black kids with the crotches of their pants down around their knees walked behind the crowd, weighted down by the ropes of beads around their necks. Beads were flying through the air, some getting caught and tangled in the branches of the towering gnarled oaks lining the avenue.  The heavy upper branches of those oaks also blocked out the glow of the ancient street lamps so the night seemed even darker than it should. I could hear a marching band, playing a recent hip-hop hit, and the strange clicking sound of the baton girls’ tap shoes on the pavement. The air was heavy with the heavy fragrance of hot grease, corn dogs and the strange melted yellowish-orangey substance the vendors put on nachos that purports to be cheese—but no one is really sure what it is. A group of flambeaux carriers were passing by, dancing that odd little circular dance they do, their propane tanks popping and hissing, throwing long and twisted shadows that also danced inside the iron fence I was behind. Right behind them a huge float pulled by a tractor was coming and the crowd’s shouts became louder, more desperate, more pleading. On the float’s front was a huge white clown face, its bright red lips parted in what passed for a smile but seemed to me to be a frightening leer. The masks on the float riders glowed supernaturally at the hordes begging them for generosity in the strange light cast by the moon when it cleared the thick clouds in the cold night sky.   I stood inside the black iron fence, my arms wrapped around me against the cold as an increased sense of menace and dread built inside me. Something bad was going to happen—

Oh, get real, Scotty!

If I do have bad dreams, I don’t remember them when I wake up. I’ve certainly never been troubled in my sleep, even though crazy things always seem to happen to me. I’m just one of those people, I guess. For whatever reason, the Goddess has decided to throw some wild stuff at me—she always has, even when I was a kid—and what can you do? I just don’t think I am one of those people who were destined to have a nice, normal, quiet life. Maybe it’s because I was named Milton Bradley at birth. Yes, that’s right. Milton Bradley. My older brother started calling me by my middle name, Scotty, before I started school and thank the Goddess, it stuck. Can you imagine how cruel the kids would have been to someone named Milton, let alone Milton Bradley? And then of course there’s the gay thing. I was lucky—my parents are pretty liberal and were delighted to have a gay son—like it somehow proved how truly cool they really are or something. They are pretty cool, actually.

By now, I’d taken to starting all of my New Orleans novels with a Tennessee Williams quote; for this one I chose a line from Vieux Carré: “You’ve got a lot to learn about life in the Quarter.”

I had opened Bourbon Street Blues with a parody of “The name’s Bond, James Bond” and I’d done something similar with Jackson Square Jazz–“Danger is my middle name”, riffing on Trouble is My Business. I decided to open this book with a parody of the opening line of Rebecca: “Last night I dreamed I went to Mardi Gras again.” But that entire opening paragraph of du Maurier’s is so fucking brilliant, I couldn’t help myself and made my entire first paragraph a parody of that opening. I then decided that from then forward, every Scotty book would have a Williams quote and each prologue–where Scotty introduces himself and his cast of characters and gives backstory so I don’t have to do it in the text of the story itself–would parody the opening paragraph of a famous novel, rather than just the first line (I am actually struggling to find the proper opening to parody to start the prologue for this one. I’ve used Rebecca, Peyton Place, The Haunting of Hill House, and Lolita, among others so far already; I’ve tried with this one to use An American Tragedy, Atlas Shrugged and The Great Gatsby thus far, with no luck. I’ve tried Valley of the Dolls several times for other books in the series already, but I can’t ever get it to work for me).

I do remember that the one thing that didn’t come across in those earlier drafts that I had abandoned was the sense of insanity that Carnival always brings with it; that feeling of “controlled anarchy” we experience those two weeks of parades, of knowing you have to schedule your entire life around a parade schedule–true even for those who do not live inside the box, as we say here; the box being the Uptown parade route–I always have to schedule my job, my trips to run errands uptown, everything, predicated around having to get home at least two hours before the parades start, and am incredibly lucky if I can get a parking spot within three blocks of the Lost Apartment. The thing I kept forgetting in those earlier versions was the books are meant to be fun. Granted, I was hardly in a mental space to write something fun…and of course the decision to really take it completely over the top the way I did was something I still think about to this day and wonder, where on earth did you get the idea for identical triplets?

Which, while crazy, made more sense than the cloning story I tried to write the second time.

Maybe those bad things happened for a reason? Because I couldn’t be more pleased with how the story and the book turned out. I also ran out of room to finish the personal story…but I also was operating on the assumption I’d get a contract for a fourth book. If not for Katrina, Kensington might have made another offer and Hurricane Party Hustle might have been the fourth Scotty than something just sitting in the files.

The book was released on Fat Tuesday, 2006. Paul and I had been out of town–the truncated Carnival/parade season seemed almost too sad to handle, so we’d accepted a gig to speak at the South Carolina Book Festival. We flew back to New Orleans the Sunday morning before Fat Tuesday. I’d checked my email that morning before boarding the flight to Atlanta (we changed planes) and then our cab driver couldn’t get closer to St. Charles than Baronne Street. A parade was going as we got out of the car, and we had to cross the parade (it was in the high seventies and sunny) with our luggage–I’ll never forget looking up as we got ready to cross and catching a bag of beads with my hand just before it connected with my face–and got home. I checked my emails and my word! SO MANY EMAILS.

You see, that day’s edition of the Times-Picayune carried Susan Larson’s review of the book, and it was a rave! Everyone emailed me as soon as they saw it–I still bask in the glory of that review–and I was about to embark on probably the most ambitious book tour of my career.

I just didn’t see, though, how I could write another funny, light book about a city still in ruins whose recovery was still questionable.

The series was, for the moment, over–with the personal story not resolved the way I would have wanted, but it could stand as it was, should there never be another Scotty story.

Rereading it, I couldn’t but laugh at some of the outrageous twists and turns the plot took.

I guess you could say I’m proud of it.

I’ll Try Something New

Yesterday was not only Work-at-Home Friday, but also one of the rare days where I never finished my blog entry for the day. I got up earlier than usual–part of my plan for days when I don’t have to go into the office early is to get up early anyway, with the weekend (like this morning) designated as sleep-in days where it doesn’t matter. I had to do a visit with a college fiction class–I’m not sure whether it was a writing class or a short fiction class, to be honest–over ZOOM about my story in Josh Pachter’s anthology The Beat of Black Wings, which was themed as crime stories based on Joni Mitchell songs. (My story was “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, for the record) That was nice, and then I did some condom packing before I had to go into the office for a meeting with the new head of my department at the office (another transition I have to get used to, not easy for someone who easily falls into routines and ruts) before returning home for some data entry work before Paul got home. I was drained last night from unusual Friday activities, so I just settled in to wait for him to come home while starting to watch this season of Real Housewives of Orange County (I’ve become ambivalent about these shows which I used to love; but that’s a topic for another time). Paul got home in time for the LSU-Alabama gymnastics meet (LSU won, GEAUX TIGERS!), after which we watched the season finale for Peacemaker (which was terrific) and then watched the first episode of Reacher, which we both loved (Alan Ritchson is perfect, an excellent cast, great production values, and good writing; what more can one ask for? We’re all in on Reacher). There were parades last night, but I was tired and worn out and I am also kind of iffy about parade attendance….but I do have at home COVID tests, so I can at least self-test if I do go to the parades before I go into the office as Typhoid Mary. There are parades all day today, starting at one.

So, this means St. Charles Avenue will be closed by noon, and I will be trapped inside my neighborhood essentially until King Arthur passes tomorrow.

Today I intend to work on stuff and clean the house. It feels cold and chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning, and it’s not as sunny as I would like for a day of parades (clouds everywhere) but by Wednesday it will be 81 degrees in New Orleans. Yikes! Talk about unseasonal weather…sure, sometimes we do have gorgeous and warm weather during Carnival–I remember any number of gorgeous weather Fat Tuesdays over the years–but it’s been a hot minute since we’ve had that kind of weather on the last weekend of Carnival, which means the corner will be INSANE for all the big parades. I didn’t go out there myself last night, but Paul walked up the parade route to come home from work and eventually detoured off St. Charles because it was so crowded and insane. He did go look at our corner to see how big the crowds were here–not too bad, certainly not as bad as further down river, but still more people than usual for the first weekend of parades with not terribly pleasant weather–but if it’s sunny and warm next weekend it will literally be insane out there.

I had also intended to go to the gym yesterday but that never happened; as I said, when I got home from my meeting I was exhausted and it just didn’t seem like the smartest decision. I will probably go later this morning/early afternoon most likely; after getting some things done around here. I hate that I was so tired yesterday, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised. Doing events where I have to be “on” are always debilitating to me and wear me out; even if it is on ZOOM and not in person. I don’t know why I always forget that…but it was a wonderful experience–those sorts of things always are, really, I just wish I weren’t so damned introverted and shy that putting forth the effort to not be introverted and shy is inevitably so exhausting. I really felt drained the rest of the day–I still have a bit of residual hangover this morning from it, despite not getting up until after eight. But I am having coffee and king cake–if caffeine and a plate full of sugar doesn’t revive me completely, it’s really a hopeless case–and hope to really kick it up a notch. I need to finish the first draft of “Condos for Sale or Rent”, and I would also like to start editing my manuscript. Reading would also be nice–I’ve not read a novel in a while, and I really do need to get back into the reading habit. I’m hoping we can watch more Reacher tonight…but I have to get a lot done today in order to watch and enjoy without guilt.

I’ve not commented on the Olympics in a few days, but seriously–I am so utterly appalled by the disgusting exhibit put on by the Russians, particularly when it comes to those young girls. The entire world got to see child abuse put on full display in all of its ugly callousness this week, and my heart breaks for all three of those girls, but especially poor Kamila. Shame on the Court of Arbitration for Sport– which really needs to be investigated itself and perhaps recalibrated–because what they did in allowing that poor girl to skate has psychologically damaged her for the rest of her life. I doubt seriously we will ever see or hear anything from or about her again after she returns to the hell her life will now be in Russia, and those disgusting abusers will not be punished and this torture and abuse of young girls will continue for the greater glory of Mother Russia. I refused to watch the ladies’ final, and I am now incredibly glad that I didn’t–I won’t even watch highlights (or lowlights, as it were) because I have no desire to see abused children suffer more. The CAS destroyed these Olympics, and perhaps it’s time for there to be serious consideration of ending the entire Olympic movement. If ever there was a time when the world needed to come together to celebrate athletic accomplishment, it was this year–and boy, were we ever let down. If this is what we are going to have to witness in future Olympics, count me out–and I am a lifelong fan.

And on that note, these dishes aren’t going to wash themselves, the floors aren’t going to vacuum themselves, and my stories aren’t going to write themselves, either. Have a lovely first Saturday of Carnival, Constant Reader, and I will shout at you again tomorrow.