Black and White

I don’t remember how old I was the first time I saw Robert Wise’s film The Haunting; all I do remember was it was late at night–in Chicago, one (maybe more) of the local affiliates always ran films after the news at 10:30; they also ran afternoon movies at 3:30 Monday thru Friday–which is where I got most of my education in classic Hollywood movies. But The Haunting was probably the most terrifying movie I’d ever seen; it wasn’t until a rewatch later in my life that I realized that perhaps the most terrifying and unsettling thing about the movie was you never saw whatever it was that was creating the happenings at Hill House–and they were never really explained, either. I had nightmares after watching it the first time, and those nightmares became recurring. To this day I am not comfortable climbing a metal spiral staircase…

One afternoon when we were at Zayre’s for whatever reason–we went there almost weekly, although I am not sure why–I found a copy of Hell House by Richard Matheson on the paperback racks. It sounded, from reading the back, similar to the movie that had scared me so when I was younger, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie was taken from the book? I bought it and read it–loved it, in fact–but while it was similar to the story of The Haunting, it was also different enough for me to be certain they weren’t the same. (Hell House was filmed actually as The Legend of Hell House, which was also a terrifying film–more on that later). It wasn’t until years later, when I was in a used bookstore in Emporia, that I stumbled across this:

It was only a quarter, and looking at the back I recognized the characters–Nell, Theo, Dr. Montague, Luke–and of course, the name of the haunted house–Hill House. I bought it and a couple of others, and I started reading at the first opportunity, and was completely mesmerized. It quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time–I already knew Jackson’s story “The Lottery”, because at some point in school I’d been shown the film (why was this appropriate school viewing? Imagine trying to show it to students today!) and in a Drama class we’d actually read the stage adaptation and even put it on for the school (I think I had one line in our production?). Reading Stephen King’s Danse Macabre also told me more about both Jackson’s writing and the Robert Wise directed film, which was my first exposure to Julie Harris; I also remembered that the opening of Jackson’s novel was used by King as an epigram in ‘salem’s Lot; he also dedicated a book to her “because she never had to raise her voice,” which is a very poetic way to describe the softly macabre writing style and voice she used in her works. I lost my original copy at some point during moves over the years, and I acquired another copy after we returned to New Orleans in 2001 from our brief, preferably forgotten interlude in Washington DC–and have made a point to reread it every year since.

And no matter how many times I reread it, I never tire of its haunting, terrifying beauty.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Dr. John Montague was a doctor of philosophy; he had taken his degree in anthropology, feeling obscurely that in this field he might come closest to his truest vocation, the analysis of supernatural manifestations. He was scrupulous about the use of his title because, his investigations being so utterly unscientific, he hoped to borrow an air of respectability, even scholarly authority, from his education. It had cost him a good deal, in money and pride, since he was not a begging man, to rent Hill House for three months, but he expected to be compensated for his pains by the sensation following upon the publication of his definitive work on the causes and effects of psychic disturbances in a house commonly known as “haunted.” He had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life. When he heard of Hill House he had been at first doubtful, then hopeful, then indefatigable; he was not the man to let go of Hill House once he had found it.

Dr. Montague’s intentions with regard to Hill House derived from the methods of the intrepid nineteenth-century ghost hunters; he was going to go and live in Hill House and see what happened there. It was his intention, at first, to follow the example of the anonymous Lady who went to stay at Ballechin House and ran a summer-long house party for skeptics and believers, with croquet and ghost-watching as the outstanding attractions, but skeptics, believers, and good croquet players are harder to come by today; Dr. Montague was forced to engage assistants. Perhaps the leisurely ways of Victorian life lent themselves more agreeably to the devices of psychic investigation, or perhaps the painstaking documentation of phenomena had largely gone out as a means of determining actuality; at any rate, Dr. Montague had not only to engage assistants but to search for them.

That opening paragraph alone is a masterpiece.

I parodied it for the beginning of one of my Scotty books–it gave me great pleasure to write the words New Orleans, not sane, stood by itself within its levees–and of course, this book was a pretty heavy influence on Bury Me in Shadows. The book reads almost like a fever dream, with its rhythms and poetries of language, and the story itself is as mysterious as one could possibly hope. The genius of Jackson is knowing that the biggest fear of all is the unknown; so we never know what is actually going on at Hill House–is the house actually bad, or just unlucky? The house’s history is bad and tragic from the very beginning, as we are told in Jackson’s spellbinding voice; who precisely was Hugh Crain, who built the house for his wife and family but never knew any kind of peace within its walls? What went wrong? Jackson never lets us know anything other than that the house is bad. Her primary point of view character is perhaps the must untrustworthy and unreliable of narrators, Eleanor Vance, Nell. Dr. Montague invited Nell because of a strange occurrence that happened when she was a small child; stones rained down on their house out of clear blue sky; her mother darkly blamed it on the neighbors (this also happened to Carrie White’s house when she was a little girl in Stephen King’s Carrie–in the newspaper write-up included in the book Mrs. White also blamed it on “the neighbors”), but other than that, Nell is pretty ordinary and small. She’s wasted most of her adult life taking care of her invalid mother; she’s now in her early thirties and living with her sister’s family, sleeping on the couch. She’s meek but capable of anger–she has a lot of anger and rage buried deep inside of herself–anger at the world, at the injustice of her wasted life, at the lack of a viable future; she has no prospects, no job, no friends, no nothing. The invitation to Hill House awakens a joy in her that she’s never known–she’s wanted somewhere. Her sister and brother-in-law refuse to let her take their mutual car; she gets up early and rebelliously takes the car anyway and heads to Hill House. As she drives she daydreams and observes everything along the road, making up a lovely fantasy for herself about living in a house with stone lions at the foot of the driveway; she stops for lunch and observes a little girl who refuses to drink her milk because she doesn’t have her special cup with stars on the bottom she can she as she drinks. Mentally, Nell urges the little girl not to give in, to not surrender to the injustice of not having her proper cup–as it will be the first of many surrenders of herself she’ll end up making throughout her life until she, like Nell, becomes invisible.

And then, hopeful and happy and excited, she arrives and gets her first look at Hill House:

The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.

Which then gives Jackson the opportunity, as the next chapter opens, to describe Hill House:

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil. This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until was destroyed.

Nell’s sanity, never the strongest, is affected deeply by the house–she both hates and loves it, separate parts of her nature begging her to flee while the other telling her she’s come home, to stay. The other three in the party–Dr. Montague, Theo the lesbian with some psychic ability, and Luke, due to inherit the house one day–become aware very quickly that the house is having an odd effect on her; they also hate and fear the house, but that welcoming feeling Nell experiences, that desire to never leave, is for her and her only. The rest of the book is quietly terrifying–the noises in the night, the realization that whatever is going on in the house has a sly intelligence of a sort–and the scene where Nell is terrified in the night and holds Theo’s hand…until Theo turns on the lights and Nell realizes she was across the room so whose hand was I holding? is one of the most horrifying moments in horror fiction. And then, the chilling, tragic end.

I also always see the house the way it was shown in the movie.

I also rewatched the movie while I was rereading the novel–not the execrable remake but the original–and it holds up just as terrifying and unsettling as it was the first time. Julie Harris is fantastic as Nell, fragile and frayed and slowly unraveling; in the movie isn’t not quite as left to the viewer as it is to the reader the notion that Nell herself is the one haunting Hill House; the house gains its power through her. (This was done beautifully in the Netflix adaptation, The Haunting of Hill House, which is loosely based on the book but updated and adapted and changed significantly; I thought the series was fucking fantastic and an excellent homage to both the book and the original film. You can’t improve on what came before, so why not reinterpret it? I know Jackson purists were outraged, but having seen the dreadful 1999 remake…yeah, this wasn’t that, for sure.)

Also, because of the movie, whenever I read the book I see it in my mind in black and white. The film wouldn’t work in color, either.

If you’ve not read the book, you really should. It’s a masterpiece on every level.

The Nightwatchers

I never really thought much about writing vampire fiction.

I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I read a battered paperback copy of Carrie when I was fourteen, and ‘salem’s Lot continues to be a top 5 King novel for me, if not my favorite (it’s always a toss-up between this and The Stand, frankly) and despite my attempts to turn myself into a King clone in the 1980’s, I’ve never been very good at writing horror. I love to read it–there are some truly terrific horror writers publishing now (if you’ve not read Paul Tremblay, you really need to start), and they are, if you’ll pardon the incredibly cheap pun, killing it. I can do creepy. I can do Gothic. I can do atmosphere and all those marvelous things I love in horror fiction. But I cannot, for the life of me, scare people. I don’t know why I can’t write anything that gets under your skin and into your nervous system; the kind of thing that makes you leave a light burning after you go to bed. I wish I could write like that. I’ve certainly tried a few times…I still have an idea for a horror novel sitting in the back of my brain that I am really going to have to try to get around to writing at some point, because I really should give it a real try sometime.

I have always enjoyed reading vampire stories. “salem’s Lot has always been one of my top five Stephen King novels; I loved Dracula (oh to write an epistolary novel!) and numerous other such tales. It took me awhile to come around on Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (a tale for another time), but I did eventually. Twilight never struck any chords with me. But the one thing I never thought I would do was write about vampires, despite loving them the way I do–going all the way back to my childhood and Dark Shadows. I don’t think I ever would have written about vampires, but my editor at Kensington thought I could; thought I would do a good job at it, and encouraged it, beginning with an offer to write an erotic vampire novella for a collection to be called Midnight Thirsts.

Go home, old man, Rachel thought, tapping her black fingernails on the counter.

It was a quarter till nine, fifteen minutes before she could lock the doors. Everything was clean and the cash register was already counted down. All she had really left to do was dump the remains of the day’s coffee down the sink, lock the cash drawer in the safe, and turn everything o. She’d be gone by ten minutes after at the latest.

She glanced out the big windows fronting the coffee shop. The streetlight just outside cast a yellowish glow in the thick mist pressing against the glass. She shivered and looked back at the old man. He was sitting at one of the tables in the far corner, with the same cup of coffee he’d ordered when he came in around seven thirty. He hadn’t touched it. It was still as full as when she’d filled the cup, only no steam was coming off the black surface now. He didn’t seem to be watching for anyone, or waiting. He never glanced at this watch, which she’d spotted as a platinum Tag Heuer, nor did he ever look out the window. Every once in a while. he would look up from his newspaper and catch her staring. He’d smile and nod, then go back to his reading.

Apparently, he was determined to read every word.

She stood up, bending backward so her back cracked. The night had been really slow. The Jazz Café, even on weeknights, usually was good for at least thirty to forty dollars in tips. Tonight, when she counted out the tip jar, it yielded less than seven dollars. Just enough to get her a pack a cigarettes and a twenty-ounce Diet Coke at Quartermaster Deli on her way back to her apartment. It wasn’t, she thought, wiping down the counter yet again, even worth coming in for.

Usually, on this kind of night, cold and damp and wet, Rachel was kept busy with orders for triple lattés. The tables would be full of people who would coming in shivering, bundled against the cold wetness in the air, which seemed to penetrate even the thickest coat. They’d hold their steaming cups of coffee with both reddened hands, talking and laughing. SOme would be doing their homework on laptops.

She liked busy nights, when the orders kept coming and the tip jar filled. Then, the time seemed to fly by, her closing shift passing in the blink of an eye. She hated the slow nights, when every passing minute seemed to take an eternity. She glanced back at the clock on the wall, then back at the old man. If you would just leave, she thought, I could go ahead and close early.

He’s kind of good-looking, she thought as she sipped her tepid cup of green tea, for an older guy.

At that moment he look up, and their eyes met. His were blue, a deep blue with some green in it. Once again, he nodded his head to her and smiled, but this time he didn’t go back to his newspaper. He held her eyes.

Not to worry, my child, I’ll be gone soon enough.

She turned away, shaking her head, the hair on the back of her neck standing up…

As is frequently the case with my work, The Nightwatchers began as a short story. Within a year of moving here, Paul had struck up a friendship with the director of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (which is where he now works), and as such he volunteered us both to help out with the 1997 Festival. I worked at the sign-in desk, where people picked up their badges and so forth, and it was in the lobby of Le Petite Theatre de Vieux Carre, a marvelous old theater on the corner of Chartres and St. Peter, right across the street from the Cabildo, and kitty-corner to Jackson Square. It was very old, and the main stage was named for Helen Hayes, who’d actually played there before. It was haunted, too–every building in New Orleans is–and I heard some of the stories. Being a volunteer, I had access to back stage, upstairs to the balcony, the prop attic; everywhere. (I eventually used some of this knowledge in Jackson Square Jazz.) At some point during the weekend I had an idea for a story–a horror story–about a theater company rehearsing in an old haunted theater in the French Quarter, where the person always cast in the lead female roles is also sleeping with the director. The young actress who deserved the part doesn’t listen to company gossip, but she does eventually find out that the rumors are true, and at some point made a deal with a devil who appeared to her in her dressing room, on and on and on. I called the story The Nightwatchers, because to me, that was what the devils/demons were called–they watch at night for souls to prey on. When I was asked to write this novella, I dug out the story and reread it, deciding it was perfect to adapt into something new.

I played with it a while, and couldn’t quite get it right in my head until I decided to abandon the theater idea; I’d tried turning the girl into a gay guy but it didn’t really work. I also couldn’t seem to get the atmosphere right, either, and I was convinced–still am, in fact–that the atmosphere had to be just right or the story wouldn’t work. Then one night I was walking through the lower Quarter in December–meeting Paul somewhere, I think–and it was one of those evenings when the fog is so insanely thick that you literally can’t see more than a foot or so in front of you at any time. As I walked along the sidewalk, with the old buildings pushing up against the sidewalk, when I heard the sound of hooves on the street–and realized, bemusedly, that in the fog and the only light from a gaslight–that I could have traveled back in time. Only in New Orleans can you feel like you’ve traveled back in time when it’s foggy, I thought, and wrote an entire scene around that feeling when I got back home. It was the perfect mood/atmosphere for the story, and it worked very well.

And as I wrote the novella, I got more and more into the characters and started imagining my own supernatural world, with vampires and witches and werewolves and everything else, including a ruling council over the paranormal world, the Council of Thirteen, and the old man Rachel sees in the coffee shop is a representative of the Council, in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire…a vampire who believes her young friend Philip Rutledge (now the center of the story) is the reincarnation of someone he loved hundreds of years earlier when he was human (shades of Dark Shadows!) and so wants to turn Philip into his eternal companion, and it’s up to Nigel and Rachel to rescue Philip.

It was a lot of fun to write, and I left the ending a bit open so I could write more about the characters if I ever chose to do so; I actually slotted a continuation novel into my writing schedule; it was supposed to be what I wrote next after finishing Mardi Gras Mambo…needless to say, life conspired to keep me from ever getting around to this book. I am still a bit disappointed I never carried on with the story; I used this same mythology when I returned to writing about vampires again several years later with Blood on the Moon.

So, that’s how The Nightwatchers came to be a story. Writing this now I see the parallels between what I wrote and some things I read and enjoyed (or watched, a la Dark Shadows); and is my “Nightwatcher” group that different from Anne Rice’s Talamasca? Probably not.

I did read and enjoy the other novellas back in the day; I’ve been meaning to revisit Michael Thomas Ford’s because it was particularly memorable.

Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)

I often refer to ‘salem’s Lot as “Peyton Place, but horror.” Because while Stephen King’s second novel (and still one of my favorites) absolutely does its job as a wrenching piece of horror fiction, it’s also a truly insightful and meaningful look at a small town (population 1300) and how everyone knows everyone, as well as the way their lives intersect and connect and cross intricately; we get to know a lot of the townspeople before they succumb to the horror that is overwhelming their little town. If you took the vampires out of the story, you’d have to replace them with something, as there’s no story without them, but at the same time, this novel along with Needful Things some twenty or so years later, are remain two of the best books about life in small towns that I’ve ever read.

I used to reread old Stephen King novels a lot for comfort, losing myself in the worlds he creates and enjoying the stories, the writing, and the characters. ‘salem’s Lot is definitely one of my favorites of his; definitely always in the Top 5, with perhaps only The Stand outranking it.

Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.

They crossed the country on a rambling southwest line in an old Citroen sedan, keeping mostly to secondary roads, traveling in fits and starts. They stopped in three places along the way before reaching their final destination: first in Rhode Island, where the tall man with the black hair worked in a textile mill; then in Youngstown, Ohio, where he worked for three months on a tractor assembly line; and finally in a small California town near the Mexican boarder, where he pumped gas and worked at repairing small foreign cars with an amount of success that was, to him, surprising and gratifying.

Wherever they stopped, he got a Maine newspaper called the Portland Press-Herald and watched it for items concerning a small southern Maine town named Jerusalem’s Lot and the surrounding area. There were such items from time to time.

He wrote an outline of a novel in motel rooms before they Central Falls, Rhode Island, and mailed it to his agent. He had been a mildly successful novelist a million years before, in a time when the darkness had not come over his life. The agent took the outline to his last publisher, who expressed polite interest but no inclination to part with any advance money. “Please” and “thank you,” he told the boy as he tore the agent’s letter up, were still free. He said it without too much bitterness and set about the book anyway.

The boy did not speak much. His face retained a perpetual pinched look, and his eyes were dark–as if they always scanned some bleak inner horizon. In the diners and gas stations where they stopped along the way, he was polite and nothing more. He didn’t seem to want the tall man out of his sight, and the boy seemed nervous when the man left him to use the bathroom. He refused to talk about the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, although the tall man tried to raise the topic from time to time, and he would not look at the Portland newspapers the man sometimes deliberately left around.

When the book was written, they were living in a beach cottage off the highway, and they both swam in the Pacific a freat deal. It was warmer than the Atlantic, and friendlier. It held no memories. The boy began to get very brown.

This is the cover of the version I originally read in high school–I bought it off the paperback rack at the Safeway in Emporia, Kansas. I kept that copy for years; eventually replacing it with a hardcover reprint in the 1990′, before finally getting an old copy with the original cover on eBay (which has since turned out to be a first edition; I love finding all the mistakes in it as I reread it).

I had read Carrie in paperback in one night when I’d borrowed it from a friend; it was only in the last decade that I finally acquired a copy of it to keep and reread periodically (I bought it to read the opening shower scene at Banned Books Night; ironically, the objections to the book have nothing to do with explicit talk about menstruation, or bullying, or violence…people object to the book because of its depiction of Christianity, particularly in the case of Carrie’s fanatic mother, Margaret (whom I always see in my head as Piper Laurie, who should have won an Oscar). I don’t think Carrie was the book that made me begin to question Christianity, to be honest; I think I already was questioning it before I read the book, but it was one of the first times I’d see a disparaging representation of someone committing horrifying abuses in the name of Jesus, or how the way the religion viewed sexuality could be taken to such horrific extremes. But I loved the book and became interested in Stephen King as an author. I was aware of ‘salem’s Lot before I found a copy while grocery shopping with my mom; I’d known he’d published a second book because I saw it in the book club ads (Doubleday, Book of the Month, etc.) in magazines. I had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it–I had no clue it was about vampires, and vampires never even crossed my mind when I started reading. It was a Saturday (Mom always drove into Emporia on Saturday to buy groceries), and I repaired to my room with the book (my homework was already done, and whatever college football game was on that Saturday was of no interest to me) and started reading. I finished reading it at around two in the morning, and was completely blown away by it. There was no way I was going to stop reading, and there was no way to stop reading once the big reveal about the vampires happened and the pace picked up.

The book was utterly terrifying, and it started raining later on that day as I read. I was living in a small town (population 973) and my bedroom window looked out at a corn field that was right across the street. I started seeing, as I read, a lot of similarities between Jerusalem’s Lot in the book and my little town–the characters, the interconnectedness of the community, and like Ben Mears, I was still kind of a stranger in the town. I just remember that when I got to the part where Danny Glick comes to Mark Petrie’s window, the storm outside brushed a tree branch against my window and I literally jumped, the book flying out of my hands and landing across the room in the middle of the floor.

It was also the first time I remember reading a book whose main character was a writer–something Stephen King returns to quite regularly, write what you know indeed–which also helped me connect with the book more; Ben Mears was a publisher novelist of minor success, but had published three books already and hadn’t graduated from college. He also seemed like a real person, living and breathing and absolutely real; it wasn’t until this reread that I realized how much physically he’s like King–tall and slender with thick black hair.

But it was also the first time I’d read anything about vampires that was so clearly set in the real world, in the real present, and with real characters I could relate to–which made it even more terrifying. I started thinking about how easy it would be for, say, a vampire to come to our small little town and how quickly people could be turned, primarily because no one would believe it was actually happening until it was too late–which King handled beautifully in the book.

It still holds up, and I am glad I revisited it.

Skies the Limit

I finished my reread of ‘salem’s Lot (entry to follow at some point) and really enjoyed it, as much as I have every time I’ve reread it. It’s a marvel that the book was King’s second published novel, and while yes, it was, like Carrie, horror–but it was a completely different kind of book, in style, tone, voice and structure. How can anyone have read King’s first two books and not seen the rise of a major new force in publishing? The pacing is stunning as well; the first act is kind of charming and meanders here and there, introducing us to the characters and the town as well as letting us know something bad is coming, and it just keeps picking up steam, faster and faster, until the last hundred pages or so just fly. The ending was left open to a sequel–I remember reading once that King had written the opening of a sequel, or had the idea or something–but it never happened.

Probably just as well.

I also started my reread of The Haunting of Hill House and as ever, am completely captivated by the power of that first chapter and Shirley Jackson’s writing style.

Yesterday’s LSU game was quite fun, if stressful. As always, they got off to a relatively slow start by playing a little loose and sloppy at first; early in the second quarter LSU fell behind 17-3 because of miscues and mistakes–it easily could have been 17-14–but then the team found it’s rhythm and went on a 42-3 tear against a 7-0 6th ranked Mississippi team (who, to be fair, really hadn’t played the meat of the schedule so far; their biggest win had been Auburn, who is floundering this season) to win the game handily 45-20, and to look pretty impressive while doing so. The last time Mississippi came to Baton Rouge 7-0 and in the top ten (#3, actually) was in 2014 when an underachieving LSU beat them 10-7 (apparently, LSU is 1-5 against Mississippi when they are ranked in the Top 10–is it any wonder they hate us so? Add in to that the fact that LSU’s most legendary and iconic play of all time–Billy Cannon’s Run–was against them, and you see where their antipathy comes from. I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t a fan of Brian Kelly’s or his fire, but he is 100% turning this program around from the depths of the last two seasons and it’s entirely possible LSU could go 9-3 this season–maybe even 10-2 (I daren’t to dream yet; a win over Alabama this year seems almost too much to hope for; but if it happens Brian Kelly will immediately be crowned King of Louisiana) but hearing people talking about SEC titles and play-off games this year seems to be a bit premature–but watch out for LSU next year. Jayden Daniels is really quite a player–I wasn’t completely sold on him, either, to be honest, but he’s really turned out to be quite the player; fun to watch, and getting better and more seasoned and acclimated as the season goes on. Seriously, next year LSU will be a contender for sure.

And yes, it’s petty, but I also kind of enjoyed that Texas A&M lost to South Carolina last night, and good for USC, really (I started to write “good for the Cocks” because I am ten years old; but in fairness they call themselves the Cocks). Petty because they wanted Jimbo Fisher at LSU, and now having seen what he can do with all the money and resources behind him at A&M? Yeah, glad you chose College Station instead of Baton Rouge, Jimbo. Have fun with the Aggie alumni, and let us know how that goes. I can’t believe they wanted him so bad that his buy-out had no restrictions…they are either going to be stuck with him for a very long or getting him out is going to be extremely costly. Again, oh, well, too bad so sad. You had some success at Florida State, but they were already circling the drain before you bailed on them, Jimbo…and this is yet another year A&M won’t be in the SEC title game. Oh, well.

Another rather interesting football season. Tulane also won, so they are 7-1 now, too. Good on you, Wave!

I feel very rested and relaxed this morning. I was stressed during that first quarter of the LSU game, so rather than sitting in my chair stewing in my worry and letting myself get worked up (I literally sometimes get so into games that I have to remind myself, Dude, it’s a sporting event, not the end of the world) so I decided to use that nervous energy to clean the house and work on the book while I watched the game. I planned some of the next act of the book, so I can get some chapters written in the meantime, and I also pruned the books; did some more laundry; did the dishes; and cleaned the floors. I also did some filing that needed doing. Paul had some errands to run in the afternoon–he didn’t check the game time when he made appointments–so he didn’t get home until the fourth quarter, and then we watched the short programs from Skate America, which I’d recorded. The young American “quadgod” Ilia Malinin is definitely a rising star, as is Isabeau Levito, the young American woman who looks like she’ll be our best and most successful since at least Sasha Cohen, if not Michelle Kwan (although achieving more than Kwan is unlikely for any other skater). Today there’s not a Saints game, and I am going to finish this and do some things before diving deep into my book to get it going again. Paul will be gone next weekend, and LSU is on a bye week, so I have literally no excuse next weekend for not being highly productive and getting caught up on things–I still have to empty the dishwasher and fold clothes; and I want to make white bean chicken chili today as well–it’s getting to be soup and chili season in New Orleans, and I do love this time of year and would even more if it didn’t get dark so early.

I’m glad I feel rested this morning, to be sure. Hopefully I will be able to motivate myself to work my way down and through my to-do list. But I am not getting there by doing this, so I am going to bid you farewell now, Constant Reader, and head back into the spice mines.

Everywhere

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all is well this morning. I slept in a bit (I also went to bed later than I usually do, so I slept about the same amount, really) and feel rested and relaxed this morning, which is always a nice, pleasant thing to feel. I didn’t get much work done on the book yesterday (355 words, all of them bad except maybe “Scotty” and “Frank” and “Colin”) but that’s okay; I feel a lot less stressed and a lot less pressured this morning about everything that needs to be done now. The stuff all needs to get done, of course; that hasn’t changed, but I am not feeling as much stress about it as I was feeling yesterday.

I read more of ‘salem’s Lot last night while I was waiting for my friend Ellen Byron (buy her books! Bayou Book Thief is amazing!) to text me to meet her for a drink. I picked her up at the Sazerac House (Canal and Magazine) and it had been quite a while since I drove down that way in the evening, and yikes. SO much traffic, so many people everywhere. I’m still not used to pedestrians in the CBD at night, even though the area hasn’t been a ghost town at night in years, but then we swung around and came up to have drinks at St. Vincent’s, which has been renovated and redone and remade and turned into a boutique luxury hotel right here in the heart of my neighborhood. I’ve posted some pictures of the place when I was doing my walks through the neighborhood last year; it’s even more beautiful inside than I imagined. These weekend is Tulane Homecoming, so there are a shit ton of people in town (that’s actually what brought Ellen to New Orleans, in fact; she is an alum) for that, and of course the people from Mississippi here for today’s LSU game in Baton Rouge (Geaux Tigers!). It was lovely to sit and have a drink and talk about writing and books and this crazy business we are in; she’s an absolute delight (buy her books!) and I look forward to the next time I get to see her.

But this morning I realized how utterly I am failing at reading. October is winding down; Halloween is a week from Monday, and I still haven’t finished my reread of ‘salem’s Lot, let alone done my annual Halloween reread of The Haunting of Hill House or getting caught up on the horror novels in my TBR pile. I’ll spend some more time with Mr. King this morning before I run my errands–I have to go get the mail and I have to stop at the grocery store because I want to make white bean chicken chili tomorrow, and have nothing I need for that–and I am debating whether I want to grill burgers today or not. The LSU game is on today at 2:30, and of course Skate America is airing this weekend (yay for figure skating!) so I’ll have to write around those times.

The reread of ‘salem’s Lot is a lot of fun, actually; I am really enjoying this revisit of the book and seeing why I enjoyed it so much the first time around. King wasn’t STEPHEN KING yet when he wrote and published it, so I am sure it didn’t get the kindest reception from critics of the time; particularly when you take into consideration what they considered to be great writing back then. I don’t remember when it was that the Literati changed their mind on Stephen King, but I do remember how he wasn’t taken seriously as a writer by them for a very long time (he writes horror! He’s too prolific to be a real writer!), and some of his best work was already behind him by the time he got the anointing he deserved for a very long time. I mean, he had quite a run, and quite a varied one at that, before he finally published a book I didn’t like (The Tommyknockers, for the record) and it seemed an aberration as he seemed to climb back on the horse and right the saddle in the next one after that. I love how many points of view he uses in ‘salem’s Lot, giving us little glimpses of fully realized characters and their lives to show us human beings so that when they actually wind up becoming vampires, you do feel a sense of loss. Many of these minor characters are objects of sympathy, while others you just kind of shrug when the vampires come for them and think, well, you were a shitty person anyway, oh well, this is justice of a sort. The scene where Mike Ryerson has to finish burying the coffin of Danny Glick is one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever read, and it still holds up today. I like how King gets into the point of view character’s head and gives them a voice–which is still King’s, but different from the other voices he uses–and that sort of structured stream of consciousness is something I really like and enjoy reading; I sometimes use that style in my own writing.

(I started to write something self-deprecating, but am proud of myself for catching it and not doing it. Progress.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the manuscript and do some cleaning before the errands are run. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later or tomorrow.

Eyes of the World

Tuesday morning and feeling okay, I guess. Yesterday I had to do some incredibly tedious things at the office that literally made my eyes cross and completely exhausted me by the time I was finished, but the good news is that we got it done and praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, please. I cannot get over how tired I was yesterday afternoon, and I’d slept really well Sunday night, too. Go figure. My supervisor got me a cappuccino on her way back from going to the Office of Public Health to drop stuff off, which also could have been the reason I crashed so hard: the high from that caffeine rush was bound to wear off, and what better time than when going through endless forms looking for particular ones? Yeesh, that was exhausting. And of course after running errands on the way home, I was exhausted when I got home. I did some work on the book–very little–but my brain was essentially shut down and so I didn’t get very far, alas.

I was also too tired to read much when I repaired to my easy chair, so I read another chapter of ‘salem’s Lot, which also wasn’t easy given how tired my brain was. Paul worked at home yesterday, so he came down earlier than usual and we finished watching Diary of a Gigolo, which had a very interesting end. I think tonight we’ll probably move on to a A Friend of the Family, another series that shows how wretched the 1970’s kind of were.

I also had the great good fortune to be interviewed by Sisters in Crime Executive Director Julie Hennrikus for the Sisters podcast; it was a lot of fun but I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but you can certainly listen to it here, or wherever you download your podcasts! I’ve been doing the rounds of podcasts lately, which has been kind of fun and interesting–certainly more so than I usually do, which is practically never–and I’ve never quite grasped the whole podcast thing. I know people listen to them all the time (my supervisor listens to them on the way to work) but I don’t know if I will ever listen to one that I have been on–I really do hate the sound of my own voice, which is something else that should be unpacked in therapy–and maybe someday I’ll explore the world of podcasts more (it’s just one more version of technology I neither understand or comprehend and I really don’t want to learn more, you know what I mean?) but as always, when I have more time.

Constant Reader, I don’t think I will ever have more time…

But I did get some things done yesterday, which is a good thing–even if they were miniscule and not really helpful in the overall picture of how much I have to get done. But progress is progress, and getting rid of the little things can sometimes help in the overall context of getting everything done. The month continues to slip through my fingers and I keep hoping against hope I’ll have one of those great writing days where I write like a gazillion words so the book gets back on track. Ha ha ha ha, as if. But maybe today will be that day when it all clicks into place and the writing gets easier, as opposed to the tooth pulling it’s been like since I started writing this damned thing.

One thing I was noting when I was reading a chapter of ‘salem’s Lot was that this was one of the first times I remember reading about a main character who was a writer–I think this was before I read Youngblood Hawke–and I remember, as someone who didn’t know how to type properly, being amazed that Ben Mears not only was a writer but he wrote at his typewriter. This boggled my mind completely. My parents never let me take Typing in high school (even though I wanted to) because it was a class for, ahem, “girls” (yes, Virginia, I grew up in a time when high school classes other than Gym were gendered), like Home Ec, and it was also not seen as a “challenging” enough class that would help prepare me for college. (The irony that every paper I had to do in college needed to be typed did not escape me.) I tried writing at my typewriter a few times throughout the 1980’s, but it never really worked for me…it wasn’t until I started using a word processing program on the computer at one of my part time jobs that I actually started writing at a keyboard. I actually bought a word processor from Sears in 1991, and have used some sort of computer to write on ever since. It’s also interesting to me that authors used to write on typewriters and books used to be significantly longer. I already mentioned the expansive word count on this book–and imagining that King wrote the entire thing on a typewriter?

I really should stop complaining about writing, shouldn’t I? Or whenever I do, I should remind myself now imagine doing this on a typewriter and that would be the end of that.

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

Big Love

Sunday morning and another good night’s sleep. The bed was enormously comfortable and I didn’t want to get up–knowing how much I had to do today–but c’est la vie; I knew that was going to be the case. I felt unwell most of the day yesterday–slightly feverish, low energy, no appetite–which was probably my usual flu-shot reaction (I know you aren’t supposed to get sick, but I always have a reaction to a flu shot) and I stupidly had them give it to me in the same arm I got my COVID booster injected into, so my left arm was achy and sore all day yesterday. It was okay, I knew I needed to just rest and relax, and fortunately, it was college football Saturday, so I curled up in my chair and started watching college games when the chores I was doing eventually wore me out and I had to retire to my easy chair with ‘salem’s Lot (more on that later) while watching games–and the two I wound up watching (Alabama-Tennessee and LSU-Florida) were pretty epic games.

The Tennessee-Alabama game was amazing, and deepest sympathies to my Tide friends; what a stinging loss, and to a bitter rival–even if it’s one you’ve beaten every year since 2006 (it was Nick Saban’s first loss to Tennessee at Alabama; he also had some pretty memorable wins over them at LSU). 52-49 was the final score, with the Tide missing a last-minute field goal with the Volunteers making theirs to hold off the furious Alabama comeback and capture the biggest win in Knoxville in decades. One thing you have to give Alabama–their losses are almost always incredible games because they never give up.

I didn’t have very high hopes for my Tigers going into the Florida game. Like Alabama-Tennessee, it’s a rivalry game (I don’t know how that happened or came about; maybe it’s because we are both swamp states with a large alligator population? I honestly don’t know, but it’s true) that has mostly been dominated by Florida throughout the series–but LSU has been catching up. The series record is now 33-33-3; tied. LSU has won four in a row against Florida for the first time since 1977-1980 (when Bear Bryant was still at Alabama, Florida had no national titles and LSU only had one), and because it had been so long since LSU won four straight, I figured history would be telling and LSU didn’t have much of a chance. The game was also the first between new coaches for both teams. LSU has won 8 of the last 10 games in the rivalry–losing in 2012, 2016, and 2018–and has won 10 of 13. And for the first time this season LSU looked good; usually this year they’ve fallen behind very quickly in the first half and had to dig their way back out, but not yesterday. Florida’s opening drive last two plays before they went up 7-0 and I thought oh, here we go again but LSU matched every Florida score and then added another just before half-time to take a 28-21 lead; by the end of the third quarter the score was 42-21 and despite a furious Florida comeback in the fourth (similar to Alabama’s, actually), held on to win 45-35. Nerve wracking, but exciting–and it was nice to see LSU finally starting to gel as a team. The schedule doesn’t get easier now–we have Mississippi, a bye, then Alabama followed by Arkansas and Texas A&M–and two of those teams are currently sitting in the Top Ten. LSU and Alabama are tied for second place in the division behind Mississippi, which makes both of those games crucial for all three teams (Mississippi and Alabama have yet to play as well; Alabama also plays LSU and Mississippi back to back) so it’s going to be an interesting November in the SEC West–while the Tennessee-Georgia showdown in the East also looms.

And the sting of the blowout loss to Tennessee at home doesn’t seem quite so horrific now that Tennessee has also beaten Alabama and scored 52 points to do it. I think that’s the most points scored on Nick Saban? It may even be the most points ever scored on Alabama? You just never think of any team ever scoring fifty points on the Tide. It’s definitely a weird season. And of course, Mississippi is coming to Baton Rouge in almost the same position they were in back in 2014, when they were 7-0 and ranked third; LSU won 10-7. This is only the third time Mississippi has started a season 7-0 (the other was 1962). Definitely an interesting season when there’s a chance that the SEC Title game could be between two unbeatens–but instead of Georgia-Alabama, which is what everyone was expecting, it could be Tennessee-Mississippi. How weird would that be? Tennessee hasn’t been in the title game since 2007, and Mississippi never has.

Definitely a weird college season, but very happy with my Tigers. It’s always lovely to beat Florida.

And today the Saints play the Bengals, which brings Joey Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase back to the Superdome for the first time since the 2020 national championship game against Clemson. I think I’ll hav the game on in the background–I can’t root against the Saints under any circumstance, but I also can’t ever root against Joey B and Chase, either.

I did finish reading Interview with the Vampire the other night (I’ll write about it when the TV series is finished), and yesterday I started rereading ‘salem’s Lot, which is one of my favorite novels of all time and was the book that turned me into an unabashed Stephen King fan. I had bought a used hardcover copy on eBay sometime in the past decade (which I also had done with The Shining) and so as I was reading it yesterday I caught a typo–I’d never read this copy of it, and the typo was weird, so I flipped back to the front of the book to discover that it’s a first edition. I don’t think the person selling it knew they could have gotten a lot more for it than I paid for it; it was so inexpensive it never even crossed my mind it was a first edition (I had the same insane luck with a copy of In Cold Blood, getting a hardcover copy off eBay for less than ten bucks, only to have it arrive as a very well-kept first edition…signed by Truman Capote. You never know how lucky you can get on eBay, I guess is the point of this sidebar?) so I was pretty thrilled to see that my copy is actually an undiscovered treasure. Anyway, as I started rereading–and remembering just how great a novel it actually is–I started thinking about length; my longest book is around 100k (I don’t think I’ve ever exceeded 100k in a book, or by much if I did) and the average length for books I am hearing these days is 80k. Out of curiosity, I decided to see how long ‘salem’s Lot is; it’s just over 157k words. As I was rereading it–and enjoying those early chapters again, as King creates the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot so beautifully and perfectly–I also was thinking what would an agent/editor cut out of this to submit it for publication today if this was a first or second time author in modern times? They would cut out a good third of the book, I think; sure, there’s a lot in the story that doesn’t really advance it at all–a lot o the supporting characters and subplots could easily be cut without notice, but at the same time I think that would serve to damage the book and turn it into something else; as I was reading, I kept thinking “this is really just Peyton Place as a horror novel” and that, for me, is one of King’s strengths–the way he writes about small towns, and how interconnected everyone is, and how everyone has dark, dark secrets that aren’t quite as secret as they might prefer. I think when I finish reading this book, I may move on to another King that I’ve not read–there are any number of them in my cabinets; the days when I used to get King on release day (still do that) and then read the entire book within forty-eight hours are long gone, and so many of his book are really long…

And I just checked my email to see that I’ve placed another short story. Woo-hoo! More details on that as they develop.

And now back to the spice mines with me. I am going to have another cup of coffee and go read some more of ‘salem’s Lot before getting cleaned up and getting to work on the book. Have a great Sunday, Constant Reader!

That’s Alright

Sunday morning and I slept really well last night, so am feeling rested. I believe the Saints game is tonight, if I am not mistaken, which gives me most of the day to get things done. I did manage to get some things done yesterday in the wake of the LSU debacle; my kitchen is all straightened and cleaned up (I also watched the Auburn debacle against Georgia before giving up on football entirely for the day, as it was clearly not meant to be my day at all) and I finished reading my Donna Andrews book (Round Up the Usual Peacocks, more on that later) while getting started on my revisitation of Interview with the Vampire (which I realized, once again, upon starting that it’s really not a horror story of the kind one usually associates with vampires) and I also got some other things done yesterday as well. Today I have even more things to do, including picking up the groceries I ordered yesterday, and am hoping that I’ll be able to get a lot of things powered through. My coffee tastes great, I feel rested–if a little loopy from sleep, and that should wear off rather soon. A new episode of Interview with the Vampire should drop today as well–it’s fun to reread the book while watching the new adaptation–and of course, tomorrow I have to return to the office to see how much, if any, of a difference returning to the office for Mondays will make in how my work week goes every week.

We watched Sins of Our Mother last night on Netflix, a documentary about the so-called “Doomsday Mom,” who began to believe we were living in the end times and that she and her lover were modern-day prophets, which led to the murders of their spouses, one of her brothers, and two of her children. She hasn’t been tried yet–which of course led to my “why would you make the documentary before the trial?” question–but it was interesting. I feel incredibly sorry for her son Colby, her only surviving child–how do you go on with your life after something like this happens to you?– which is why the impact of crime on people is becoming more and more interesting to me than actually writing whodunnit murder mysteries. How do you go back to your normal life? How do you carry on, go on, get past the horror of your brother and sister being murdered by your mother and her lover? That she has become almost completely insane with religious fervor? I shudder at the thought.

We also started watching the Netflix adaptation of Christopher Pike’s The Midnight Club into a series. I loved Christopher Pike back in the day, once I discovered him; I made a point of going back and reading everything he wrote, and it was reading Pike (and from him, discovering other y/a horror/suspense writers in his wake like R. L. Stine, Jay Bennett, and Lois Duncan) that led me into writing my original three young adult novels (Sara, Sorceress, Sleeping Angel). I liked the Pike novels because they were so damned dark, and happy endings were never guaranteed in a Pike book (I always liked Pike more than Stine, even though I liked the way Stine linked his books together under the Fear Street series header), which I also liked. The Midnight Club is totally dark; the premise is that the book is set in a hospice for terminally ill teenagers, and they gather every night at midnight to tell each other stories–scary stories for the most part, but stories–and they also swear that the first one to die will try to come back and tell the others what death is like…while strange things are going on in the hospice itself, in which you can never be sure if those things are really happening or if the kids themselves are hallucinating from their drug protocols, which as I recall kept me off-balance as I read the book. Such a great premise, really; I don’t really remember much of the book other than the setting and the dying teenagers–which is pretty fucking grim, if you don’t mind me pointing that out–so there’s this almost-casual acceptance of their impending deaths as well as their curiosity about the supernatural and the world beyond–or if there even is one. I remember reading The Midnight Club and thinking “this is really heavy shit for teenagers to digest” but then…I was reading Stephen King when I was a teenager, so there’s that…but Pike was the one who made me realize my perceptions of what you could and couldn’t do in young adult fiction were heavily skewed and incredibly incorrect in almost every way. I’m not sure I am going to write any more of them, to be honest–I do have ideas for any number of others, but I think I’m going to pause my young adult writing for a while and maybe, perhaps, do some stand alones that are for adults rather than a young adult audience…(although I think mine do qualify as readable by adults, too, but I am not the best judge of any of that, really)

I really need to work on my book this morning once I finish this and get cleaned up. I want to do a little more reading on Interview today, and I have some other things that need to get done, too. The key is to not allow myself to get derailed or distracted, which is never an easy thing for me to have not happen, you know? I sometimes wonder how much I could get done if I weren’t so easily distracted from everything, but there you are; we’ll never know because I will always be distracted. Heavy sigh.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines this morning. Y’all have a lovely Sunday and if you have an NFL team you root for, I hope they do well today.

Never Make Me Cry

I slept really well last night, which I inevitably usually do on Thursday nights because I can sleep an hour later those mornings, which naturally makes for a better evening of sleep. I also stay up an hour later (I really have this thing about going to be before eleven that always feels wrong and like I am being cheated out of the evening or something). I was very tired after work last evening, but I did get a load of dishes finished and another started (which I will have to finish this evening). I didn’t write, but I did reread the chapters already in place and think (hope) that tonight I will get that revision finished and can finally, at long last, move on to the next.

And today is the last day of September, October Eve, if you will, which of course leaves me shaking me head in bewilderment about where September could have gone, and why did it go so quickly? Why did I get so little done? I don’t know those answers, of course, but I do know we have been having some lovely weather this week–and it’s not because of the hurricane so we can enjoy it in peace (the cold front we are having, however, is what pushed Ian east and kept him there). It was sixty-three degrees yesterday morning when I went in to the office, so chilly that it even startled me a bit as I went outside. It was still cool when I got off work as well–there was a lot of wind, too, as there has been most of the week–but I am sure we’re going to have at least another couple of really warm weeks yet before the summer finally releases its chokehold on New Orleans.

My plan is only to read horror in the month of October, but since I’ve not had the bandwidth to finish reading my Donna Andrews novel that is one of the things I am going to work on getting through this weekend. It’s not a chore, mind you–Donna’s books are always entertaining and always great reads, and I love the world she’s created in these books–but I also want to be able to focus on the book and actually, you know, read it when my mind is not so worn out and tired, so it can really enjoy the book for the volume of sheer entertainment it inevitably will turn out to be. And then I am going to move on to horror. I have some more Paul Tremblay and Christopher Golden novels on hand to read, and of course I am years behind on Stephen King–might not be a bad idea to revisit some of the classics as well as start reading through the newer works, and of course I should reread ‘salem’s Lot, and I haven’t done a reread of The Stand in quite a while, or Christine or The Dead Zone for that matter. I also need to get back to reading short stories, and I have some lovely volumes of horror short stories on hand I can read as well.

LSU plays Auburn Saturday night at Auburn, so I have most of tomorrow free to clean and read and so forth. Paul is also planning a trip to visit his mother, probably around Halloween, so I am going to have a long and lonely week to look ahead to–thinking that I’ll be able to get a lot done while he’s gone which of course will end up not being the case–and right now I don’t know what other games are on this weekend, so I am hoping I won’t actually blow all of Saturday sitting in my chair, reclined, with a purring cat in my lap while I mindlessly watch teams play games I don’t care about. I need to get back on top of all of my projects and snap out of this weird blasé place I’ve been in since Bouchercon where I just can’t seem to have the energy or strength or will to work through being tired. But the weekend looms, and if I can manage to get a good night’s sleep tonight hopefully tomorrow morning I will wake up with lots of motivation and energy–and the strength of will to ignore Scooter’s plaintive cries to provide a lap for him to sleep in.

We started watching Reboot last night on Hulu, and it’s hilarious. The core of the story is actually kind of genius; an old family-friendly comedy from twenty or thirty years ago, similar to the kind of show Diff’rent Strokes and Full House were (heartwarming fare with cute kids with corny jokes and broad humor and–ugh, you know what I mean) is being rebooted…with the original cast…only as a more modern, darker, and more realistic show. It’s hilarious, and the entire cast is terrific (Johnny Knoxville being a surprising standout). We loved it, and can’t wait to watch more. I am also getting kind of excited to watch the new adaptations of Anne Rice’s series, The Vampire Chronicles and The Mayfair Witches (although I think the vampire series may be called Interview with the Vampire? I’ve not followed stories about either show closely, figuring I’d watch once they started airing and then would check into what the plans for the shows are). Elité is also coming back, as are some other favorites. Huzzah!

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely, lovely day, Constant Reader, and hope everyone in Florida is doing okay this morning. Check in with you again tomorrow!

Who Dat Whodunnit

Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?

I am a very proud member of Who Dat Nation, and have been since we moved here in 1996. I never really paid a lot of attention to the NFL before moving to New Orleans; I vaguely was aware of who was good and who wasn’t–and I knew very certainly that the Saints had routinely been one of the worst football teams, consistently, in the league since they were formed in 1966. You couldn’t not be aware of how hopelessly bad the Saints were, year in and year out. I always root for underdogs–a particularly American trait, I might add, which is another good essay topic (how we always root for underdogs, especially in our entertainment–film, television, books–but in the real world we either look the other way or actually pile-on. We all feel bad for poor bullied Carrie White in Stephen King’s Carrie and hate the cruel kids…but how many of us ever stood up for some kid being bullied in school? My experience as the bullied is NONE.)–and so I always wanted to see the Saints somehow turn their program around. Paul and I always watched the games–or had them on–when they aired; there were many times the games were blacked out locally because they didn’t sell out the Superdome.

Three things were inevitable in New Orleans: hot summers, termites in the spring, and the Saints would suck in the fall. When we first moved to Louisiana LSU was also in a downturn slump; some seasons they’d win, some they’d lose, but they were rarely, if ever, in contention for the conference title. I had a Saints ball cap and a Saints T-shirt, of course, but I was an idle fan of theirs for a very long time.

As with so many other things, my attitude towards the Saints was completely changed by Hurricane Katrina.

It was the best of times.

It was the craziest of times.

Well, what it really had to be was the end times, which was the only logical explanation for what was going on in the city of New Orleans.

Pigs grew wings and nested in the branches of the beautiful love oaks everywhere in the city. Some thought the pilot light in hell had gone out, so that icicles hung from the noses of shivering demons in the realm of the dark lord. Others started watching the horizon for the arrival of the Four Horsemen, for surely the Apocalypse must be coming. Surely the earth was tilting on its axis. Maybe aliens would land in Audubon Park, or the Mississippi River would start flowing backward.

Anything and everything was possible, because the Saints were winning.

GEAUX SAINTS!

People who don’t live in the South don’t really understand how important football is down here. Football is more than a religion in the Deep South. I’m not sure what it is–my mom claims it’s because the South lost the Civil War–but it’s true. On Saturdays, when the colleges play their games, the entire region comes to a complete halt. People live and die by their teams–whether it’s LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia or Tennessee–and how they face on Saturday. I myself grew up cheering for the LSU Tigers–even though attending Vanderbilt was a family tradition on my mother’s side. Whenever Papa Fontenot gives me crap for dropping (well, flunking is probably a more accurate word) out after my sophomore year, I give him a withering look and reply, “Maybe I’d have done better at LSU.

That always shuts him up.

I don’t think even the Saints organization knew how much the team actually meant to New Orleans until they tried to move the team after Katrina.

Everyone knows the Superdome was damaged by Katrina and the aftermath. I’ll never forget driving back into the city in either late September or early October and seeing it as I came around that curve in I-10 just past Metairie Road and the cemeteries; I wrote in Murder in the Rue Chartres that it resembled a half-peeled hard-boiled egg. One of the saddest things for me about seeing the wreckage of the Lost Apartment was finding my beloved Saints ball-cap lying on the rug in the living room and consumed by black mold. It seemed so symbolic of everything that had happened to us and our city.

Obviously, the Saints had nowhere to play home games and arrangements had to be made. Some games were played at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, others in San Antonio–and San Antonio made it very clear they would be more than happy to give them a permanent home.

It felt like the Saints organization was not only stabbing New Orleans in the back, but the entire state. I know I took it very personally; the city had supported and loved that team through decades of mediocrity if not outright suckage, and now when the city is at its lowest point, they’re going to move to San Antonio? But the NFL wasn’t having it–Tom Benson always made it seem like it was his decision, but the NFL was committed to New Orleans and wouldn’t let the Saints leave. The Dome was renovated and fixed in record time; the season tickets for 2006 sold out for the first time in years, and the new Saints–with our new coach and quarterback–debuted on Monday night football against the hated Atlanta Falcons. I wasn’t even aware of it, I was paying so little attention to everything going on around the country and world, to be honest. I ran my errands that day and noticed Saints flags were everywhere and people were wearing Saints jerseys and there was this strange sense of excitement in the air. Paul and I were living in the carriage house and we only had this tiny little black-and-white television, but we watched that night. And when Steve Gleason blocked that punt and the Saints recovered in the end zone–we both cried as we jumped up and down and screamed. (Everyone remembers the punt, but the entire game was amazing from beginning to end.) People call the blocked punt “the moment Louisiana healed,” and maybe they were right about that…but all I knew was for the first time in over a year we had something to be excited about, cheer about, and be proud of–and the Saints made it all the way to the NFC title game, so close to making it to the promised land of the Super Bowl.

I’ve been a rabid Who Dat ever since (2005 I also switched my first college allegiance from Auburn to LSU, but that’s a story for another time.).

And that magical season when the Saints not only went to, but won the Super Bowl? I had to write about it. I had never lived in a city that won a championship before, and let me tell you–it was insane in New Orleans that season, insane–as were the play-offs and the Super Bowl. I cried when Tracy Porter picked off Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter and ran it back for a touchdown to ice the game, and I cried again when the clock ticked to zero and the impossible had finally happened: the Saints had won the Super Bowl. It was so noisy that night; cars were honking their horns all night long, the streetcars rang their bells non-stop, and people were just chanting and cheering all over the city. We could hear the crowd at the bar on the corner, we could hear our neighbors, it was just insane and celebratory. Paul and I to this day have regretted not getting dressed and heading down to the Quarter to see it all; when will that ever happen again? The Saint may win a Super Bowl again, but it will never be the first time ever again.

I remember later that spring a friend asked if I thought the Saints would be good again the next year, and I just smiled. “I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is we finally won the Super Bowl and I can die happy, and I think a lot of us feel that way.”

The Saints are New Orleans, and New Orleans is the Saints. (I also am a little disappointed in myself for forgetting that A Streetcar Named Murder is actually set during football season; I didn’t mention it once and that’s a significant flaw in the book, honestly.)

So I decided to write another Scotty book, set it in that period between the Saints winning the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl so I could document that time, and I also decided to bring the other side of his family–the Bradleys–into the mix and give him a cousin who actually was on the Saints team and kind of a dick.

It was around this time, when I was planning or writing the book, that same-sex marriage was in the news a lot. Several suits were winding their way through the courts, and public opinion–thoroughly anti-queer in 2004 when it was on the ballot on a lot of states–was starting to swing back the other way. There was an incident at a beauty pageant when Miss California (her name escapes me now) was asked by Perez Hilton (who shouldn’t be judging anything, frankly) about same-sex marriage. She had to say she was against it, and even apologized, saying “I’m sorry, it’s how I was raised!” as the crowd began booing and jeering. She didn’t win, and I actually felt like it was kind of a shitty question to ask, but on the other hand, California had passed Prop 8 in 2008 (which was kind of the catalyst for the public opinion change, I believe). I also have always believed the old “it’s how I was raised” is a copout for bad or unpopular opinions–most white people are raised racist, after all–and questioning and reevaluating values and beliefs you were raised with is part of the maturation process of becoming your own person. But I was willing to cut her a break–she was young, it was a “gotcha’ kind of question, and kind of unfair–until she doubled down and decided to became the Patron Saint of Homophobia, following in the pumps of another runner-up pageant queen who became the face of hate and bigotry, wrapping it all up in religion and “concern for children”: yep, the hateful old bitch Anita Bryant herself, may she burn in hell for all eternity. She didn’t last long–its hard to paint yourself as a martyr for family values when you’ve been caught sexting (and recording yourself masturbating to send your man–and that was the end of that. I decided to make the reigning Miss Louisiana a homophobe who got that question at Nationals and is now dating Scotty’s cousin the Saints player–and he brings her to Christmas, with the end result that she gets slugged by Scotty’s mother and their family storms out.

And the night the Saints win the NFC championship, she’s murdered.

It was fun because I got to involve a megachurch in Jefferson Parish (there actually is one), and a sordid history of her own that the beauty queen was keeping secret for her own reasons–(coughs LESBIAN coughs) and even got to bring some more past characters back into the mix, like Emily who worked at the Devil’s Weed, and I had a lot of fun with this look into the other side of Scotty’s family (the one I am working on now also deals with another branch of relatives).

And I got to write about the Saints winning the Super Bowl, which was even more awesome. This was the book where I really thought I was done with Scotty. The year after it came out, at the next Saints and Sinners, was when I was asked if I would do another Scotty book; this was when I made my famous reply, “if I can figure out a way to include Mike the LSU Tiger, Huey Long, and his deduct box into a book, I will write another Scotty book.”

Of course, later that night it hit me like a 2 by 4 across the forehead, and I made some notes that eventually became Baton Rouge Bingo.