Sail Away

So I went ahead and sent out three stories on submission yesterday; “This Thing of Darkness,” “Night Follows Night”, and the Sherlock story. Will any of them actually be accepted? Who knows, but that’s all part and parcel of the joy of being a writer who likes to write short stories despite being rarely asked to write them. I have like 86 short stories in some form of progress now, but it felt really good to write finis on these and sent them out. If they are rejected, oh well; I’ll just save them for my next short story collection.

See how that works? Staying positive is always a plus, you know?

And last night before I went to bed I checked the Pandora’s Box known more commonly as my email inbox to discover a delightful email from the editor of the Sherlock anthology that she loves the new edition of the story and is sending me a contract! How absolutely delightful. I am glad “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” will see print, and as always, it’s lovely to get that kind of affirmation. It’s also a period piece, which was just as daunting as writing a Holmes story set in New Orleans–the only rule for the anthology was that it couldn’t be set in London, and Holmes and Watson couldn’t be English. So I made Holmes a Louisianan–and we never are quite sure where Watson is from. But it was great fun, challenging, and very, as I said, daunting. While I’ve read the Holmes stories–and the Nicholas Meyer novels, and other stories written by modern day Sherlockians (notably, Lyndsay Faye and Laurie King), I don’t think of myself as an avid Sherlockian. Even now, I cannot think of the plot of either A Scandal in Bohemia or The Red-headed League.

So, I wasn’t a hundred percent certain I could write such a story that would be worthy of publication, but it was a challenge–and I do enjoy challenges. I like pushing myself as a writer, trying something different, seeing if I can continue to grow as a writer. (But just between you and me, the only reason I even thought I could possibly do this was because it was specified not to be canon–no London, not the late nineteenth century, no need for continuity. No, this was a way I could write a Sherlock story and make it entirely my own as well. And of course, setting it in 1916 was also a bit of a challenge for me as well; I’ve never done much period/historical writing, and since I knew, once the title came to me, that Storyville had to be involved (how else could one write “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” and not involve Storyville?), which presented a host of other issues. Fortunately, I’ve been reading lots of New Orleans history lately, and one of the books was about Storyville: Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin (highly recommended, by the way), and in a short story I wouldn’t have to have the ongoing detail a novel would require, so I thought, fuck it, let’s give it a shot.

I was also able to use one of the locations I often use in Scotty books, the Hotel Aquitaine, which made it even more fun for me.

So, apparently, the thinking positive thing might actually work. How lovely!

Also, yesterday I (the ever-present resident Luddite) managed to figure out how to go back and read the chat from the Queer Noir at the Bar reading on Friday night–I kept accidentally closing it, and when I was reading I never looked at it–and wow. Everyone was so gracious and kind about my reading! I’m glad, though, that I wasn’t reading the chat while I was reading because it would have freaked me out. Thank you all for being so kind.

I also started reading Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, and as I read, I began to remember why I hesitated to read it. Being from the South, and from a particularly poor part of the South, I sometimes have trouble reading about that world; because of the memories it brings back, and while Ford’s prose is magnificently beautiful, she also brought me right into a world I know so well–a world I’ve been trying to shake off my entire life. There’s probably something to be said, or perhaps written, about my struggle with where I am from; the deep pride instilled in me my entire childhood about being Southern and the defensiveness that automatically arises whenever someone else is critical of (what I still think of) as home; and how that pride also runs concurrent with a river of shame–two rivers, running parallel, a kind of Tigris and Euphrates within my soul, my psyche, my being. I’ve started and never finished any number of stories and novels set in Alabama; my files run over with them. Bury Me in Shadows is the first manuscript set in Alabama I’ve ever finished a full draft of (there are a couple of short stories I’ve finished; Dark Tide is also set in Alabama but down in a little town on Mobile Bay–which isn’t quite the same thing), and I have yet to complete it enough to turn it into my publisher. Reading Kelly’s book takes me to the same places Daniel Woodrell’s work takes me, or Ace Atkins’ The Ranger series…that inner conflict, that inability to decide, that pride of place and where I come from coupled with shame. I could see it all so clearly in my head as I read that first chapter…she may have been writing about rural Arkansas but it could have been rural Alabama. It’s real, it’s vivid, and it’s beautiful.

The rural south is savage in its beauty.

My whole life has really been about dualities; being Southern but not growing up there; closeted self v. authentic self; being a writer but also always having some other job for whatever reason. My identity has always been sort of splintered; it’s probably why I am so constantly down on myself because I never really feel whole, or like I fit in somewhere–because I’ve been outside my entire life.

And, I have found few things trigger me to dark emotion–anger or depression–than being reminded that I am an outsider.

We started watching Perry Mason, and we’re enjoying it–but it’s really not Perry Mason. It’s something entirely else, with the characters given the same names as the ones Erle Stanley Gardner used. The cast is fantastic, and it’s a terrific noir series (if a bit reminiscent of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels–which we stopped watching, for reasons that are not pertinent here), so we will keep watching–but, it’s not really the same show or characters.

And it makes me want to reread one of the originals again.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Please Remember Me

I am often, incorrectly, referred to as a “New Orleans expert.”

Nothing, as I inferred in that sentence, could be further than the truth.

Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely, positively love New Orleans, for many and varied reasons. The short, elevator-pitch answer is always Because I’m not the weird one here. And it’s true; New Orleans is an eccentric city filled with eccentrics. No other city in North America is like it, even remotely; New Orleans is a city that doesn’t abhor strangeness, but rather embraces it. When I came here for my thirty-third birthday in 1994, when I got out of the cab at the intersection of St. Ann and Bourbon that first night, my actual birthday, to go out to the gay bars of the Quarter, I knew I was home. There was no doubt in my mind, no question; just an immediate and instant connection with the city and I knew, not only that I would eventually live here, but that if and when I did all my  dreams would come true.

And that feeling was right. I fell in love with New Orleans, I fell in love in New Orleans, and after I moved here, all of my dreams did, in fact, come true.

So, when I write about New Orleans my deep and abiding love and passion for the city inevitably comes through. But I always kind of smile inwardly to myself when people call me an expert on the city; I am hardly that, and libraries could be filled with what I don’t know about the city. Sure, I do know some things, but an expert? Not even remotely close.

A perfect case in point is Milneburg. What, you may every well ask, is Milneburg? Milneburg was a resort village on the lake shore that many New Orleanians would escape to during the wretched heat of the summer (and I am vastly oversimplifying this); I’ve read about it in history books and so forth. I even thought Murder in Milneburg might make for an interesting historical mystery. I always saw it, though, in my mind’s eye, as close to the parish line between Orleans and Jefferson parishes; closer to Metairie and the causeway. So, you can imagine my shock when I saw a map of Milneburg posted on one of the New Orleans historical Facebook pages I belong to, and realized that I was completely wrong: there was a railroad line from New Orleans to Milneburg (which I knew) that ran along what is now Elysian Fields Avenue. 

So, Milneburg was actually where the University of New Orleans is now located; and the train line continued along east, crossing at the Rigolets.

Some New Orleans expert I am, which is why I decided to start reading more histories of the city over the last few years. It’s been quite an education, and there are still some things I don’t quite grasp–like when the Basin Canal was filled in to become Basin Street, and what relation that had to Storyville and Treme, because the train station also used to be located near Storyville (this was part of the reason why the drive to clean up Storyville and end legal prostitution in New Orleans was successful; the other part was because New Orleans was an embarkation point for the military during World War I and the Pentagon frowned on delivering green military recruits to whorehouses).

So, yeah, some expert I am.

But I really enjoyed Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street.

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There are no straight lines in nature. Nor are there any right angles. Rather, intricate arcs and fractures merge and bifurcate recurrently, like capillaries in a plant leaf or veins in an arm. Nowhere is this sinuous geometry more evident than in deltas, like that of the Mississippi River. Starting eighteen thousand years ago, warming global temperatures melted immense ice sheets across North America. The runoff aggregated to form the lower Mississippi River and flowed southward bearing vast quantities of sediment. The bluffs and terraces that confined the channel to a broad alluvial valley petered out roughly between present-day Lafayette and Baton Rouge in Louisiana, south of which lay the Gulf of Mexico.

Into that sea disembogued the Mississippi, its innumerable tons of alluvium smothering the soft marshes of the Gulf Coast and accumulating upon the hard clays of the sea floor. So voluminous was the Mississippi’s muddy water column that it overpowered the (relatively weak tides and currents of) Gulf of Mexico, thus prograding the deposition farther into the sea. Occasional crevasses in the river’s banks diverted waters to the left or right, creating multiple river mouths and thus multiple depositions. High springtime flow also overtopped the river’s banks and released a think sheet of sediment-laden water sideways, further raising the delta’s elevation.

In this manner, southeastern Louisiana rose from the sea. The process took about 7,200 years, making the Mississippi Delta, as Mark Twain put it, “the youthfulest batch of country that lies around there anywhere.” Young, dynamic, fluid, warm, humid: flora and fauna flourish in such conditions, as evidenced by the verdant vegetation and high productivity of the delta’s ecosystem. Humans, on the other other, view these same conditons as inhospitable, dangerous, even evil, and endeavor to impose rigidity and rectitude upon them, so as to better exploit the delta’s resources.

If New Orleans is known for anything, it’s Bourbon Street. Everyone has heard about Bourbon Street, it seems; just as they’ve heard about Carnival/Mardi Gras, beads, and show us your tits (which locals do NOT do–either yell it or bare them). Campanella’s book traces the history of the famous street, and by extension, the French Quarter itself, from its very beginnings when the French arrived and designed the streets, to its modern day incarnation as a street of endless partying and no little debauchery. It’s very well researched, and Campanella, who I believe teaches at Tulane, is the true expert on the city; I follow his pages on Facebook, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much inspiration and information Bourbon Street  has given me. I’ve put so many page markers in my copy that I’m worried about breaking the spine!

One thing that my reading of New Orleans history has further emphasized to me–and it also really comes through strongly in Campanella’s book–is how New Orleans has always been a city of neighborhoods, and how each neighborhood of the city had (has?) its own unique  sense of itself, and how those who lived in those neighborhoods so strongly identified with them. The evolution of the French Quarter from the original city and seat of its government, to the original French leaving and being replaced by immigrants (as late as the 1960’s the lower quarter was known as ‘little Sicily’ because of all the Italian immigrants and their descendants who lived there), and then evolved again into a different type of neighborhood, with mixed incomes and everything from inexpensive apartments to gradiose condos; and a variety of ethnicities, races, sexualities, and gender identities.

One of the primary concerns modern-day New Orleanians have is the fear of the loss of those neighborhoods; because those neighborhoods were the incubators for all the things that makes New Orleans so special and unique: the music, the art, the literature, and the characters. Short-term rentals are carving up neighborhoods and the rents/property values are currently climbing, with no peak in sight, and people are rightfully concerned about these things.

But one thing I’ve learned from reading these histories, and Campanella’s in particular, is that New Orleans has always changed and evolved, yet has also always managed to keep that unique strangeness that make it New Orleans somehow intact.

If you love New Orleans or find it at all interesting, I cannot recommend Bourbon Street enough to you.

O Come All Ye Faithful

I got my copy of the graphic novel Watchmen this week, and it’s way past time for me to read it; particularly since I’m loving the television series so much.

Then again, Regina King can do no wrong.

I did start reading Watchmen, and while not even halfway finished–not only am I hooked, but I am completely blown away by the story-telling…and the art is extraordinary. I can now see why it’s been talked about so much since its first publication. This is some epic story-telling, and even more amazing world-building. The storylines have layers and textures, the relationships between the characters, and the characters themselves are messy masses of contradictions and layers; it’s just simply mind-blowing how well this is done. The story itself, and how it’s structured, is also incredible. Watchmen not only lives up to all the hype–it surpasses the hype and deserves even more hype. The graphic novel is so stupendously good that it only emphasizes how incredibly well-done the show is–the show is a sequel to the graphic novel, some thirty years later.

And obviously, while it isn’t necessary for one to read the novel to watch the show, reading it does enhance the show tremendously.

I had also started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside last week–just the first few pages, getting a taste for it, and it really grabbed me. Yesterday I read the first few chapters and am also greatly enjoying it. This has been an exceptional year for crime fiction, and may even go down as one of the genre’s greatest years.

I’m now up to Prohibition in Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which was, quite naturally, an interesting time in New Orleans. I am pondering writing a crime series set during that time; the first woman police office, Alice Monahan–known as “Mrs. Officer”– worked during that time, and I think basing a series on her, dealing with everything going on in New Orleans and the country at the time; plus it’s a chance to explore the entrenched racism and misogyny of Jim Crow New Orleans.

Storyville is merely an added bonus.

Seriously, New Orleans history is so rich and vibrant, there’s material everywhere.

One of the reasons I wanted to write about Christmas in New Orleans in Royal Street Reveillon is because Louisiana’s culture is so rich and vibrant that it surprises me that we don’t have our own Christmas stories here. Sure, there’s The Cajun Night Before Christmas, which I love, but where are the other Christmas stories? As I mentioned the other day, I tried writing a Christmas fable once, “Reindeer on the Rooftop,” but it was so sentimental and sappy that it nauseated me. I tried revising it and making it more real and less sentimental for Upon a Midnight Clear, but I just couldn’t get anywhere with it. I did write one called “The Snow Globe,” which was more of a horror Christmas story, for an anthology that didn’t take it; I did get good feedback, and one of these days I’ll sit down with the story and the feedback and pull it together. Not sure where I’d try to get it published, but most likely it would go into my Monsters of New Orleans collection.

I just used the google to check, and I was correct: there are no hits on “New Orleans Christmas stories,” but broadening the search brought up an out-of-print volume called Christmas Stories from Louisiana, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins, and with quite an impressive collection of contributors. There are also some more listed here.

And wouldn’t a Hallmark Christmas movie set in New Orleans be amazing?

We even have a year round Christmas shop on Decatur Street, for Christ’s sake! (And don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind to write a series around that Christmas shop, either.)

But all these stories, at first glance, are simply plays on traditional Christmas stories–nothing new or unique to Louisiana or New Orleans.

So, maybe it’s up to me to create one?

Hmmmm.

Perhaps that is just what I’ll do.

I mean, why don’t we have something terrifying, like the Icelandic Christmas cat?

Maybe there’s a Christmas rougarou story that needs to be written.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I have been itching to write for days now, and I am going to spend the morning writing. Paul and I are going to stop in to see a friend who’s  been dealing with an injury this afternoon, and then it’s back home and to the computer. Tonight is the Heisman Trophy presentation, and I imagine we’re going to tune in to that in case Joe Burrow (GEAUX JEAUX!) wins that tonight–he’s already won every conceivable quarterback award under the sun over this past week. The kid is definitely an LSU legend…and then I can finally finish and post the lengthy post I’ve been writing throughout the season about him.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Land of Confusion

Wednesday, and my body clock  has apparently, finally, after all these years, adjusted back to getting up early the first two days of the week. This morning I woke up again around four, went back to sleep, woke up again around six, and then fell asleep again so that I could wake up just after eight feeling rested and refreshed. Which is cool and lovely, since today is a half-day for me and I can get sort of caught up on things around the Lost Apartment. The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, and there are two loads of laundry in some sort of the process of being laundered; the living room is a mess, and so forth. I can also run get the mail after work, and stop at the grocery store for a minor grocery run as well.

Pulling Bury Me in Shadows together is proceeding apace; by the end of this evening I hope to  have over half of it done, with the corrections and additions made that need to be made. This does put me right on schedule for turning it on Monday of next week, which is lovely. It feels good to be producing again, and of course, the whole “Moist Money” thing was really cool this week, too–that’s two short stories I’ve placed over the last few months, which is truly a lovely thing to contemplate. I put some more out for submission earlier this week, too, so hopefully there will be more good news in the future….

..or devastating confirmations of my imposter syndrome. We’ll see how it goes.

Yesterday Facebook memories reminded me that nine years ago was the day we brought Scooter home from the Cat Practice for a two week trial, to see whether we wanted to adopt him or not. He was home with us for exactly two hours before we decided he was a keeper, and went back the next morning to finalize the adoption. It’s so funny; over the years neither Paul nor I had ever had a cat; I’d had roommates with cats, but for the most part they were distant and aloof and rarely seen. Friends had cats, but we were both more dog people, and the sad truth is, we only acquired Skittle when we lived in the carriage house because we had a mouse. Owning Skittle turned us both into cat aficionados; whenever we visit anyone who has a cat, Paul will spend most of the night trying to befriend the cat. Skittle’s untimely demise from cancer was devastating to both of us; Paul was so torn up over it we weren’t sure we’d get another cat. But the Lost Apartment felt so empty without one…when I went back to the Cat Practice to pick up Skittle’s ashes, there was a cat up for adoption in one of the cages behind the front desk–an orange cat whose name was Texas. He was very sweet, and I told Paul that night about him, as Paul was already looking into getting another cat. “Why don’t you go down there and take a look at Texas?” I told him, and so Friday morning before work he walked down there and did, indeed, take a look at Texas. He emailed me when he got to his office and we decided I’d pick Paul up later that afternoon and we’d go get Texas for a trial. I remember letting him out of the carrier, and Scooter immediately, timidly his under the coffee table. He stayed there for a while, with Paul teasingly saying “now, if all you’re going to do is hide under the table we’re not going to keep you.” We turned on the television and started watching….and before long he came out, climbed up onto Paul’s chest, purring and cuddling, and we were his.

And have been, ever since. Nine lovely years. He’s such a sweet cat, too. I finally wrote him into the Scotty series–he’s Taylor’s cat, but Scotty and the boys are all wrapped around Scooter’s paws, the same way we are. It’s always lovely, you know, to come home from a day at work (especially on those shitty days) and have a cat climb into your lap, purring and wanting to cuddle and offering no-strings affection.

We got caught up with The Righteous Gemstones last night, which I am enjoying a lot more than I ever thought I would, and also started watching On Becoming a God in Central Florida–which I’m not so sure about whether we’ll continue watching. The first episode just made me feel incredibly sorry for the main characters, although I didn’t see the shocking death coming. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a comedy–perhaps a dark comedy?–or not, but it didn’t feel funny to me; I don’t like humor where poor people are the butt of the joke , and that’s how it seemed to me…I hate seeing even dark humor where the dreams of poor people to better themselves are mocked or belittled. I don’t care for that, because all I wind up doing is feeling sorry for them. I’ll probably give the show another episode or two, but if that’s all it’s going to be I don’t think we’ll finish watching–but Kirsten Dunst is terrific in the lead role.

I also finished reading “Murder in Basin Street” in Ready to Hang and am now onto the next famous murder, “Juliette and the Kind Doctor,” which seems like an almost perfect story to adapt into a fictional novel. As I read more and more New Orleans history, it’s astonishing to me how dark that history is; almost from the very beginning. I am definitely most likely going to wind up writing historical fiction about New Orleans at some point, I suspect; I see many hours in the archives at the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Williams Center, and the Tulane Louisiana Historical Research Association in my future. There’s just such a rich history to explore and dive headlong into….and as a history addict, I can get lost in such research for years.

Which reminds me, I have been asked to write a story for an interesting anthology; a book of Sherlock Holmes stories where the only requirement is that it can’t be set in England and Holmes/Watson cannot be English. My first thought on reading the email was I can’t write a Holmes story–I haven’t read Doyle since I was a kid and immediately thereafter, Oh, I can set the case in Storyville in the 1910’s and I can use that title I’ve been sitting on for years–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy!” 

Naturally, this made me very excited, and now I have to not only do some more research on the time period, but I need to go back and reread some Holmes stories, to get not only a feel for the character that isn’t influenced by either television series (Sherlock with Cumberbatch and Elementary), but it more Doyle-influenced. I’ve never been much of a Sherlockian; I did enjoy reading the stories when I was young, and I read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s (The Seven Per Cent Solution and The West End Horror), but other than watching the TV series and the occasional film (Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr, which was really just Holmes as Tony Stark in the nineteenth century), my interest in Holmes and Doyle is fairly minimal. Will writing this story turn me into a Sherlockian? I’ve already recruited some of my avid Sherlockian friends to give me advice and perhaps read early versions, to see if I am getting it right.

And stranger things have happened.

And on that note, I’ve got some emails to answer. Back to the spice mines with me!

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Looking for a New Love

Hey there, Tuesday! How you doin’?

I’m a bit on the sleepy side; I finally got a good night’s sleep for the first time in a few days, and as such I’m still  a big groggy and loopy this morning. Yesterday was an oddly out of sorts kind of day, during which I didn’t get a lot done but did manage to get some work done on the short story I have due by the end of the month. Kickstarting my writing really needs to become a priority as we wind up this seemingly endless volunteer project–but the end is so nigh it’s almost palpable, as thought I can actually taste the end as it draws near. I feel like this project has sort of sucked the life out of me and the marrow out of my bones, but it’s almost finished and perhaps now everything can sort of go back to some semblance of normalcy around here.

Like that ever happens.

We got caught up on The Righteous Gemstones last night, and I have to say, this show–which is also kind of weird and almost creepy in many ways–is quite enjoyable to watch. I’m not really sure where it’s going, which makes it even more fun, but it’s funny and sad and crazy all at the same time. John Goodman as the family patriarch and head preacher Eli Gemstone is perfect in the role, and pretty much everyone else in the cast is also perfect for their role. I am a little surprised there hasn’t been any nastiness from the evangelical community, but then again, how many  of them watch HBO?

I think tonight we’re going to start Succession, which comes highly recommended by any number of our friends, and one of the previews I saw last night made it look fantastic.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I continue to read Lords of Misrule, and the dark bloody history of this city continues to amaze and enthrall me. I’m shaking my head at myself–my ignorance of New Orleans history certainly gives the lie to the oft-stated notion that I am some sort of expert on New Orleans; I am anything but an expert on this city, particularly of its history. But I am learning, and studying, and I have to tell you, the more I read of New Orleans history the more inspired I am to write about the city.

I will say that I have been invited to contribute a story to an anthology, being done by a publisher in a foreign (yet English speaking) country. I am always excited to be invited to write for an anthology, and usually I see these tasks as challenges–there’s simply nothing more guaranteed to stretch and push your writing as writing to a theme. This one in particular is a strange one for me; it’s a collection of pastiches, where one is to take a particularly famous fictional character and make him a native of another place. You can make any changes to the character–gender, sexuality, age, time period, etc.–as long as, in this case, he isn’t British and the story isn’t set there. I have chosen to make him a New Orleanian during the time around World War I, and the crime he’s to become involved in solving has to do with the secrets of Storyville. I never considered myself to be anything more than a casual fan of this character, and had never considered doing pastiches about him, despite their increasing popularity. SO, I have the idea and I’ve already written the opening paragraph, and I am really looking forward to this challenge.

And I am very well aware that the Short Story Project has primarily taken a backseat to the Diversity Project, which I am taking a respite from in order to read Rob Hart’s novel, before getting back to it.

I do really want to get these other two short story collections finished at some point. But I also need to get some work done on the Kansas book; September is slipping through my fingers and there’s another all consuming project lying in wait for me for October and November–which means December will be spent on the Kansas book, with a goal to turning it into my publisher on January 1.

But we’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

And now back to the spice mines.

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I Sing the Body Electric

I’ve been reading a lot of history lately (nothing new there, really; my favorite non-fiction generally tends to be history), focusing primarily on New Orleans and Louisiana for the most part. As I read histories of New Orleans, here and there I find little bits, here and there, about the queer subculture in the long years and decades before Stonewall; little bits, here and there, more of asides in longer narratives than anything else. There were, of course, male prostitutes in Storyville back in the day–generally not housed or regularly employed in the houses, but should a customer be desirous of, shall we say, male companionship, the madams would send a runner down to a gay watering hole a few blocks away in the Quarter and find someone looking to make some quick cash…and they never failed to find someone willing to satisfy the “peculiar tastes” of the john.

Finding this, and other references to bordello activity by reformers protesting their existence and wanting them shut down, as “sodomy” quite naturally piqued my interest. As a port city that was, at one time, the largest port and largest city in the southern United States, a city that was also a blend of many different cultures and so forth, New Orleans clearly had always had havens for homosexuals in those dark times when we were outlaws. As I read other New Orleans histories, I do keep an eye out for these references, and mark the pages in order to find them easily again.

There’s a lot of stories untold there in the past, and I’ve been considering the possibilities of writing more historical-based fiction in New Orleans. I’ve already started a short story about a young gay man who occasionally picks up extra cash by working in one of the brothels at night “on demand,” and I think it has some terrific potential.

Queer people have often been erased by history, just as people of color and women have been, and while I will most likely never write non-fiction (you can’t make things up, which is the primary drawback for me), I do enjoy reading histories that focus on the gay community.

For example, David K. Johnson’s award-winning The Lavender Scare, about the purge of gay employees from the federal government in the 1950’s as intelligence risks (their sexuality left them open to blackmail from foreign spies; at least this was the fear) eventually led to my short story “The Weight of a Feather” (which I am still not convinced shouldn’t have been a novel); and as such, was quite delighted when Johnson released another scholarly look at queer American history this year, Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement.

I had, of course, known that “physique pictorial” magazines essentially were the original gay porn magazines; those images still can be found on the Internet.

buying gay

Johnson’s thesis holds that the mailing lists, and sales, of these magazines early on developed a cohesive gay market, and the recognition of said market gradually led to activism and wholesale societal change; that the magazines themselves created a sense of community by letting deeply closeted and frightened gay men know they weren’t alone; there were others like them, and helped them feel seen.

This further extrapolated into films and books, and gradually a gay rights movement.

The book is well written and deeply researched, as was The Lavender Scare (recently filmed as a documentary I am looking forward to seeing), and shed a light on a time I don’t know much about; few people know much about that time. One of the greatest tragedies of the community is how it was ravaged by HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and 1990’s, until the development of the drug cocktails that first extended life, and eventually managed to make HIV a manageable infection rather than a fatal one; a lot of oral histories were lost as a result, and an entire generation of gay men was not only lost, but deprived the next generation of community elders and mentors.

I’ve been toying, over the last few years, with several ideas for noir novels with gay themes and characters set in the decades before Stonewall, and Buying Gay will, should I ever decide to do so, prove to be an invaluable source of material.

Well done, Dr. Johnson.

Don’t Let Go

Tuesday morning. I am not as tired or sleepy this morning as I usually am on Tuesday mornings; I suspect my body is, at long last, adapting to my new work schedule. It’s only taken, what? Three months? And I am about to have another break. Next week I only work Monday and Tuesday, and then I am on vacation until Ash Wednesday.

So I’ll probably have to get used to my schedule all over again. Huzzah.

But I revised another chapter of the book last night, which was absolutely lovely. I am getting closer and closer to being finished, and this fills me with absolute delight. I also realized that there are parades this weekend, so getting a chapter done per day is not only wise but necessary; chances are I’ll be too tired and worn out this weekend from parade-going to get caught up if I fall behind…so I can’t fall behind; I need to keep revising at least a chapter a day in order to be finished by next Wednesday.

Huzzah! I think.

I also have decided, after further thinking on the subject, that my short story “The Blues Before Dawn” would actually work better as a novel rather than a short, so I am putting it on my list of novels to work on. It’s a period piece, probably will be set in the late 1950’s, and will require a lot of research about gay life in New Orleans during the Eisenhower years. Looking some things up in the index of Richard Campanella’s book Bourbon Street was what finally convinced me that it was a novel rather than a short story; I had originally intended for the story to be set in Storyville during the time the United States entered World War I. (I do think there’s some stories and/or novels, perhaps even a non-fiction research book to be written during that time period; as I continue to read up on New Orleans history, and once I start actually doing the research, I feel certain the floodgates will open and I’ll have all sorts of ideas for stories and things…and I need stories for Monsters of New Orleans.)

I watched another episode of Versailles last night, and yes, they’ve completely tossed any semblance of historical fact away for this final season. I’m no longer sure of what year it’s supposed to be; it’s somewhere after the Affair of the Poisons yet sometime before the War of the Grand Alliance. The dying out of the Hapsburg line in Spain is part of the story this season; which only confuses matters more. Louis XIV’s wife, Marie-Therese, was a Spanish Hapsburg, and the older half-sister of the last Hapsburg king of Spain, Carlos II. In last night’s episode much was made of the fact that not only was Carlos ill, but how close Marie-Therese was to him and so it was not out of the question that she’d want to return to Madrid one last time to see him before he dies.

This is a-historical. At the time Marie-Therese married Louis XIV, her father had only two children, she and a sister who married the Holy Roman Emperor.  Because Philip IV had no sons at the time, it was possible his daughters might be his heirs; so it was written into the marriage contract that Marie-Therese renounced all claims to Spain for her and her heirs; her sister, since she was marrying a Hapsburg, did not have to do so; this way Spain would remain a Hapsburg possession. Carlos II wasn’t born until Marie-Therese was already queen of France; she could not be, therefore, close to someone she’d never met. She also died in 1683, so this has to be set in the time period before 1683.

Sigh.

Incidentally, when Carlos II did finally die, he’d been persuaded to leave his possessions and his throne to his French relatives rather than the Austrians. This resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession.

I will keep watching, though, because I do love the period, the production design is spectacular, and they are also tackling the mystery of the man in the iron mask, one of my favorite mysteries of French history.

And now back to the spice mines.

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The Way I Feel About You

Well, my plans on how to stay calm during an LSU game most emphatically did not work yesterday.

I do, however, have a very clean apartment.

It was, on the whole, a most exciting game–if you’re an LSU fan, but it also had a lot of stressful moments, momentum swings, and tension. And yet, when the smoke cleared and the game clock ran down, LSU upset the second ranked team in the country and the national championship runners-up from last year decisively, 36-16. Hardly anyone gave LSU a chance, and even those who only made Georgia a seven-point favorite were doing so half-heartedly; as I watched the pre-game show it was so clear no one really thought LSU had a chance, or would even meet that seven-point margin; they were trying to hype up the ratings–if they said what they really believed, that Georgia was going to humiliate LSU–only die-hard fans would watch.

Which would have been a pity. LSU was dominant in retrospect–at the time it didn’t feel that way. We went up 3-0, stopped a fake field goal attempt on fourth down by the Bulldogs, and then drove down the field to go up 10-0. Two more field goals followed, along with some lights-out, tenacious defense, and the score at half-time was 16-0, LSU. Georgia had never trailed this season for more than fifteen seconds, and had not been held scoreless in a half in God knows how long. But it was really only a two-score game, and I was concerned about having to kick three field goals instead of touchdowns…then again, LSU had four scoring drives in the first half; it could have been 28-0. I worried those field goals might come back to haunt us in the second half. And I was wrong. LSU scored twenty more points in the second half to put the game away–although Georgia scored 16 points of their own–but the final score was 36-16, and the biggest win for LSU since the Alabama game in 2011; certainly one for the history books, and one that will go down in LSU lore as one of the great Death Valley wins.

Suddenly, after the Florida loss, with LSU looking slow and lackadaisical and almost mediocre, now LSU looks like a championship team who can compete with anyone. And while I don’t want to get my hopes up–Alabama looks completely unbeatable–how exciting would it be if we got to play Florida again for the SEC championship game? Florida has already lost to Kentucky; Georgia already has a conference loss with both Florida and Kentucky yet to play; all the contenders in the East have a loss already (Kentucky to Texas A&M; Georgia to LSU; Florida to Kentucky) so the stakes for the Florida-Georgia game are really, really high in two weeks.

Yes, it was a very exciting day around the Lost Apartment yesterday. GEAUX TIGERS!

I also watched another two episodes of The Haunting of Hill House, which is probably one of the best horror television shows I’ve seen in a while. I am quite frankly loving this television horror renaissance, which is producing such amazing programs. The Haunting of Hill House, of course, still can–and might–go off the rails, but so far it is terrifying, eerie, and mesmerizing; the call-backs to the original source material are enormously satisfying, and yet it could stand entirely on its own with a different title; it’s almost like a revisitation of the Lutz family twenty or so years after the original story of The Amityville Horror–how do you experience something supernatural and terrifying, particularly if you’re not really sure what it was you were experiencing, and deal with that trauma for the rest of your life? The Crain children, now adults, have dealt with this in varying ways, but they are definitely all suffering from PTSD and trauma. The first four episodes told the same story from different points of view of the adult Crains, their present reality juxtaposed with their memories of their stay at Hill House. All the characters are compelling, well-written and defined, and the acting is absolutely stellar. I said in a previous entry it’s reminiscent of the best of Stephen King’s It and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts; I am also going to throw in the first season of the television adaptation of The Exorcist as well–an excellent show that only lasted two seasons but I wish it could have gone on for longer. This is some excellent story-telling, and it is astonishing how true to the mood of the novel this show is.

I won’t deny it–at first I thought, when I heard of this and how it was going to be done, I rolled my eyes. You can’t do this better than Shirley Jackson, I thought dismissively, remembering the horrible 1999 film version (the original film version, in black and white, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris–who should have at least gotten an Oscar nomination–was superb and terrifying). But I was absolutely, positively, completely wrong. The show is amazing and fantastic, and I can’t wait to watch more; I might even do so today before getting started on writing–since there’s no Saints game today, and of course being sick last week put me desperately behind.

I also read some more in Empire of Sin yesterday–Storyville is now up and operational. I’ve always avoided reading about Storyville, or even considering writing about it; for me, I was thinking it was almost cliche to do so. David Fulmer has already done a series set in that time–Chasing the Devil’s Tail, Jass, Rampart Street, Lost River–with his detective, Valentin St. Cyr; he also had a story in New Orleans Noir, and since he has done so well with the period and the area I didn’t really see any need to cover that same ground. But now….now I am thinking I could, and differently. “The Blues Before Dawn” might actually turn into a novel rather than a short story, and it’s a great title, if I do say so myself. But once I get this revision under control, I’ll have some more time to play around with the story and see where it goes.

I’m particularly interested in Tom Anderson, the unofficial mayor of Storyville.

I’m also thinking I should watch Pretty Baby again; it’s been decades.

And on that note, I think I am going to take my coffee into the living room, ensconce myself in my easy chair, and watch the next episode of The Haunting of Hill House preparatory to heading into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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People Everyday

Hulu is streaming a two-part true crime documentary about a string of unsolved murders of women in Jefferson Davis Parish, Murder in the Bayou. I have a copy of Ethan Brown’s book of the same title, released a few years ago, but haven’t read it yet (instead, it’s sits on a shelf in the mini-bookcase to the right of my desk, where I also keep other nonfiction–histories, true crime, cultural studies–about both New Orleans and Louisiana; books which I delve into periodically in order to come up with ideas for stories (novels and short stories and novellas, etc.), or background for the same. (One of the many reasons I laugh when people refer to me as ‘a New Orleans expert’ is because I am everything but an expert on the city; there are literally hundreds of volumes of reference books information about New Orleans I’ve not read and know nothing about)  Mr. Brown came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, but I didn’t get to meet him or see any of his panels, but I did pick up his book that weekend.

So, you can imagine my surprise the other night when I opened the Hulu app on my television (ten years ago that sentence would have been as unintelligible to me as Latin) and I saw it listed as a show I might be interested in. “Huh,” I thought, clicking on it, “I wonder if this is the same story as the book I’ve not read?”

Sure enough, it was.

I finished watching the show yesterday afternoon, and then of course, got the book from the bookshelf and started reading it…and didn’t stop until I was finished. I hadn’t intended to do that; I actually started writing this post after I finished watching the documentary series and simply reached over to the bookcase and pulled it out–mainly to see if there were photographs in it–many true crime books do–and since it didn’t, I started reading…and then couldn’t stop. I’ll talk some more about both the documentary and the book in another entry; I want to think about it some more, and the issues that came to mind while watching/reading–but again, as I said earlier, it was yet another example of how little I know about not just New Orleans, but Louisiana in general. As I read more New Orleans history, and get to know my city better with each read, I find myself expanding my former-tunnel vision view focusing on New Orleans only to expand out into Louisiana as well. It’s a truly fascinating state, really–as someone said in the documentary, there are three Louisianas: New Orleans; north Louisiana; which is really part of the Protestant Bible Belt and could just as easily be part of Arkansas; and south Louisiana, which is overwhelmingly French and Catholic; heavily Cajun, in all honesty. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Atchafalaya basin, too; I sort of have an idea about writing about that area. Most of my Louisiana fiction has been confined to writing about New Orleans, or places on the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and sometimes dabbling on the North Shore. I am sure every state has just as rich and diverse and colorful a history as Louisiana/New Orleans; but I also don’t live there, and Louisiana with its strange mix of Creoles, Cajuns, Spanish, and Americans, with the attendant cultures, brews up a strange and endlessly fascinating gumbo.

I realized also yesterday while going through my blog drafts that I have never published my blog entry about reading Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin, which was what sent me down the Louisiana/New Orleans history rabbit hole in the first place.

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“The crime,” as detectives would later tell the newspapers, was “one of the most gruesome in the annals of the New Orleans police.”

At five a.m. on the sultry morning of May 23, 1918, the bodies of Joseph and Catherine Maggio, Italian immigrants who ran a small grocery store in a remote section of the city, were found sprawled across the disordered bedroom of the living quarters behind their store. Both had been savagely attacked, apparently while they slept. Joseph Maggio lay face-up on the blood-sodden bed, his skull split by a deep, jagged gash several inches long; Catherine Maggio, her own skull nearly hewn in two, was stretched out on the floor beneath him. Each victim’s throat had been slashed with a sharp instrument.

A blood-smeared ax and shaving razor–obviously the murder weapons–had been found on the floor nearby.

The book opens with an examination of the strange case of New Orleans’ most famous serial killer: the Axeman. Julie Smith wrote an entire novel  based in the story called The Axeman’s Jazz; it might be the second or third Skip Langdon novel. Poppy Z. Brite wrote a short story with the same name, and of course, American Horror Story: Coven also included the Axeman in its litany of past New Orleans horrors–in the Ryan Murphy version, he stumbled into the Robicheaux School for Girls (read: witches) and they killed him; his ghost haunting the house ever since. The mystery of the Axeman’s identity, of course, has never been solved–as well as the why.

Empire of Sin, however, isn’t about the Axeman entirely; it’s really a history of the Storyville district (again, another notorious part of New Orleans history, probably best known for its appearance in the Louis Malle film Pretty Baby, which probably, with its creepy pedophilia, wouldn’t hold up too well today), and really focuses on the man known as the mayor of Storyville, Tom Anderson, who rose to great wealth, notoriety, and political power through his successful bordellos there–even going so far as to providing the district with its own police force. It’s a story of immorality, the struggle between reformers trying to turn New Orleans into a city free from sin (they won small victories but New Orleans remains New Orleans to this day) and Anderson’s struggle against those “virtuous reforms.” He eventually failed, and Storyville was shut down, but Krist tells a fascinating story, extrapolating his tale of Storyville’s struggle to stay open and functioning (the money being made there brought with it the ability to, of course, buy off the police and politicians), along with the stories of corruption, murder, prostitution, violence and racism extant in the city at the time. It’s also a story of how Storyville also, surprisingly enough, gave birth to jazz music, and provided a way for musicians of color to make a successful living playing music. Storyville was the incubator that provided sustenance to the musicians playing this new form of popular music, enabling them to make a living while developing a wholly American form of music.

Reading Empire of Sin is what sent me down the road to reading history, as I said before, and as I love history, it also made me aware of just how little about New Orleans I actually do know. Discovering little throwaway bits in the book–that there were male prostitutes who serviced men with “more exotic tastes”–reminded me of how frequently, and almost completely, queer history has been successfully erased, and that made me start thinking about, well, doing something more about it. Reading this book inspired two short stories I’ve not finished–“The Blues before Dawn” and “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman”–and also inspired a potential series set during the time. It’s also what gave me the idea for my collection of noir/crime/horror stories that I want to write, Monsters of New Orleans.

I cannot recommend Empire of Sin highly enough.

All I Want

Today is the first time I’ve felt human all week.

I don’t know if I am completely over being sick yet, but I don’t feel bad and I don’t feel faverish and nothing aches, so I am considering this a win and that I’ve weathered whatever flu-ey type thing this was that descended, unwanted and uninvited, on me last Sunday. I am also hoping that I can make it through this day without getting sick again, and of course, now it’s the weekend and I can recover over the next two days and catch up on everything that’s lingered and slid this week.

Here’s hoping, at any rate.

LSU plays second-ranked Georgia this weekend in Death Valley; I imagine I am going to get a lot of cleaning done Saturday afternoon. Ceiling fans, windows, baseboards…maybe even sweeping dust off the walls.  There is no Saints game on Sunday–this is the bye week–so I should be able to spend the day writing, reading, editing and perhaps doing some cleaning; and maybe even make an appearance at the gym. Now that my sleep has returned to what I used to consider normal–waking up every morning just before seven–there’s no reason I can’t go back to what I used to do; answer email, write blog entries, do some writing, go to the gym–on the days when I don’t come to the office until later in the day; and on the days when I get off work early I can also go to the gym in the evening. The key is to not give in to the laziness and the inertia of doing nothing and once I get things moving, and get into a more regular routine, I can make a habit of it. I also need to focus on eating better; I think I lost a few pounds while I was sick.

I’ve also not worked on anything the last few days while sick, so I also need to start getting caught back up on everything again, since I am now behind. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I started reading Gary Krist’s wonderful Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle of Modern New Orleans. I just finished reading about the murder of Police Chief Hennessy and the lynching of the accused Italians–horrific, and horrifying–and have just gotten to the part where, in an effort to clean up New Orleans, the city decided to restrict prostitution to a small area–Storyville.

Seriously. I could get lost in New Orleans history research for the rest of my life and die there, happy.

And now back to the spice mines.

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