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.

Watching Scotty Grow

As I get ready to write another Scotty book, I am busy making his acquaintance all over again. It might seem strange, but yes, although I’ve written eight books about my ex-go-go boy/personal trainer/private eye, it remains true in this as in all other aspects of my life that my memory is not what it once was; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever written a Scotty book since the first three without having to go back and revisit the series again. I have made continuity errors over the years (Scotty’s mother’s name changed over the course of the series, from Cecile to Marguerite and back to Cecile again), and I may forget things about his past and things I’ve written in previous books, but the one thing I never ever forget is his voice.

No matter what else is going on in my life, Scotty’s voice is very easy for me to slip back into, like a house shoe, and it somehow always feels like coming home to me in some ways. This is odd–because I would have always thought Chanse was the series character I was more connected to rather than Chanse, but that’s not the case at all. Scotty just won’t go away; but I ended the Chanse series and only every once in a while do I regret it (although I am beginning to suspect that I am going to probably end up writing another Chanse novel at some point in my life; I have two ideas that he’d be perfect for, but it also might be better and more challenging for me to simply come up with a whole new character for those stories rather than resurrecting Chanse); Scotty just won’t ever go away.

The idea for the Scotty series famously came to me during Southern Decadence, 1998.

(Well, I don’t know about famously, but I know I’ve told this story before many, many times. Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to see how I remember the birth of the character and the series now)

It was a Sunday afternoon, and Paul and I had somehow managed to get prime balcony standing spots–at the Bourbon Pub/Parade, right at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon where the railing curves at the corner to head alongside the upper floor down the St. Ann side; so we could look down directly into the roiling mass of sweaty, almost completely naked bodies of hundreds of gay men from all over the country. That was my favorite spot for Decadence sight-seeing (Halloween, too, for that matter), and as I looked down into the crowd, I saw a guy in booty shorts and a very very loose fitting tank top, carrying a bag and trying to get through. I recognized him as one of the out-of-town dancers working at the Pub/Parade that weekend (I may have tipped him the night before) and as I watched in sympathy as he tried to get through that tightly-packed crowd of gays in various stages of being wasted, I closed my eyes and an image of him–or someone like him–fighting his way through the Decadence crowd while being chased by bad guys with shaved heads popped into my head just as Paul said, next to me, “You should really write a story set during Decadence” and then it popped into my head: someone escaping the bad guys has slipped a computer disc into one of the dancers’ boots on Friday night as he danced on the downstairs bar, and the bad guys want the disc back.

I didn’t have any way to write it down, obviously–I was wearing booty shorts, socks, and half-boots that came to my ankles, with nothing underneath the shorts and I had my tank top tucked through a belt loop like a tail in the back–yet even the title popped into my head: Bourbon Street Blues. The idea clearly stuck, because when I got home the next morning at about six or seven, dehydrated, drenched in sweat and having lost the tank top at some point during the night, I remembered it and wrote it down.

At some point over the next two years, I wrote a short story called “Bourbon Street Blues” about my stripper–only instead of being from out of town, I made him a local, filling in for someone booked from out of town for the weekend who had to cancel–and wrote about seven thousand words. It felt very rushed to me–the story–and I kept thinking it’s too long for a short story, it would have to be a novel but I also wasn’t sure there was enough story there for a novel. But I liked the idea, no one (at least, to the best of my knowledge) had written anything like it, and I thought, someday I’ll get a chance to write this story and develop this character.

Flash forward to 2001. This was during the time Paul and I had moved to DC to work for the Lambda Literary Foundation, we were miserable there and wanted to move back to New Orleans but didn’t have the money to do so, and the release of Murder in the Rue Dauphine was still at least a year away. I was talking to an editor on the phone about one of his new gay releases, and out of the blue I just pitched Bourbon Street Blues to him. He loved the idea, and asked me to write a proposal and email it to him. I had never written a proposal before, but I thought what the hell, how hard can it be? and so I wrote a two page proposal for the book. Two months later they made me a two-book offer–and the money was good enough to pay for Paul and I to move back to New Orleans as well as to live on for a while. I had only seen the book as a one-off, but they wanted a series. I needed and wanted the money, so I thought I can figure this out later and signed it.

Three months later, we moved back to New Orleans and I started writing the book.

The one thing I wanted to do with Scotty was make him unabashedly, unashamedly, gay. I didn’t want him to have any hang-ups, a sad backstory, or parental issues. I wanted him to be a free spirit who embraces life with both hands, lived in the Quarter, and loved having sex, loved being found desirable, and never really said anything or thought anything mean about anyone else. I made him a personal trainer, and his poverty–he agrees to do the dancing gig for Decadence because he’s behind on his rent and other bills; he teaches aerobics and was a personal trainer–comes from his grandparents freezing his trust funds when he dropped out of college to go to work for a booking agency for male dancers. He has since stopped doing that, but fills in when needed (and when he needs the money) at the Pub/Parade. I also based the shitty politician running for governor–and trying to mount a Christofascist takeover of the state, beginning with an attack on Southern Decadence–on an actual politician who ran for the US Senate shortly after we moved here; we saw him being interviewed on the news and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a joke, some kind of performance art–but forget it Greg, it’s Louisiana.

I also want to let you know that while I was working on this manuscript my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, was released–and I got a “damned with faint praise” review from the Bay Area Reporter, which complained that “it would have been nice to see inside the heads of the other characters”, which took me aback as the book was a first person narrative, which made that impossible. What the reviewer I think was trying to say was that she wished the book had been told in the third person; that to her that would have made the book more interesting to her. But in my baby-author naïveté, all I could think was how can you see inside the heads of other characters in a third person narrative unless the main character was psychic?And the proverbial lightbulb came on over my head. Make Scotty a psychic. This was also an integral key to the puzzle of who Scotty was; the reviewer also yawned over my “gay stereotypes” in Rue Dauphine, so I decided to make Scotty the embodiment of all the worst stereotypes of muscular gay men who worked out and had a lot of sex. Just writing that down now, I realize how incredibly insane it was for me to use my new series book and character to respond to criticism o my debut novel; and when the book came out I braced myself for the inevitable backlash to come.

No one was more surprised than I was at how readers embraced him. The book got great reviews, even from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal (Kirkus, of course, has always pretended I don’t exist). Bourbon Street Blues was even nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery of 2003 (I lost, I think to John Morgan Wilson?) shortly after the sequel, Jackson Square Jazz, was released.

Jackson Square Jazz’s story was actually a recycled idea I had for a spin-off book for Chanse’s best friend Paige. The original concept was that someone would steal the Louisiana Purchase from the Cabildo–and somehow Paige stumbled onto the theft, and knew that the one on display currently there was a copy. (I was calling it, originally enough, Louisiana Purchase.) I decided to make that the basis of the second Scotty book. (This was inspired by a documentary I’d seen about the Cabildo fire of 1989–that may be the wrong date–and how the fire department tried saving everything in the museum before fighting the fire. I remembered how in the documentary they literally were placing historical objects and paintings against the fence at Jackson Square and thinking, anyone could have walked off with something during the fire…and my imagination immediately was off to the races.) Unfortunately, when I met with the museum director–whose actual first day on the job was the day of the fire–I found out that 1) the copy of the Louisiana Purchase at the Cabildo was actually only a replica and the original was stored in the weather-protected underground archive at the Library of Congress and 2) it was more than one page long–I’d imagined it was one large document like the Declaration of Independence; it is not. However–he also suggested I make the MacGuffin the Napoleon death mask–one of the three originals made when Napoleon died–and gave me some great backstory on it as well that I don’t remember if I used in the book or not; but it was a lot of fun talking to him (his name escapes me at the moment, alas) and was a great example of why it is important to actually do research and talk to people.

I also wanted to include figure skating–the working title for the book was Death Spiral, which the publisher made me change, asking for something alliterative, like Bourbon Street Blues–and so I decided to open the book with Scotty having a horrific hangover and then realizing someone was in the bed with him (it’s to this day one of my favorite book openings; what slutty gay man hasn’t been there?)…and then I remembered I’d introduced two love interests for Scotty in book one, and here he was in bed with someone else entirely. (The young man he woke up with was a figure skater in town to compete at Skate America, being held in the Smoothie King Arena.) I loved both of his love interests, and knew I was going to have to bring both of them back somehow, and then I was going to have to figure out which one he’d end up with. (Spoiler: I couldn’t decide, so he wound up with both of them.) I also threw in a ghost, a billionaire artifact collector, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. I turned in the book, along with a proposal for Book Three, in which I finally decided I was going to resolve the threeway relationship personal story, and that would be the end of the Scotty trilogy.

Man plans and God laughs. (Jackson Square Jazz was also nominated for a Lambda; I think this was the time I lost to Anthony Bidulka.)

Mardi Gras Mambo turned out to be an entire other kettle of fish.

I’m not entirely sure I remember exactly what the original plot of Mardi Gras Mambo was going to be, but I know it had to do with the Krewe of Iris (Scotty’s sister Rain belongs) and the book opened at the Iris parade on the Saturday morning before Fat Tuesday. It was due in June of 2004, and of course, I wasn’t nearly finished by the time Memorial Day rolled around, and was planning on asking for another month on the manuscript on the Tuesday after. Of course, that was the Memorial Day weekend when Paul was attacked and everything went to hell in my personal life. My publisher was incredibly kind; they took the book off schedule, told me to take care of Paul, and get the book done whenever I got the book done.

I started writing it again in January of 2005, shortly after I began keeping a blog in order to get me writing again. That was when the Christian/Virginia nonsense happened, and everything got derailed again. When I started writing the book again, I threw out everything except that first chapter at the Iris parade–which did wind up in the final book–and I do not recall what the second plot I chose to write was at this time, other than I knew I was bringing in a Russian character, inspired by someone I’d seen around in the bars for years and had always been just awestruck by his body–and yes, that Russian turned out to eventually be Wacky Russian, my personal trainer. I actually kept this as an inspiration–Eclipse used to be the nightlife insert for IMPACT News, a queer newspaper that died out in the early aughts:

Finally, it was April 2005, and I started writing Mardi Gras Mambo again. I had the plot all figured out–it was completely insane–but I also realized I couldn’t end the personal story with Scotty the way I had hoped and wrap it all up with Book Three. There had to be a Book 4, and so when I finished the book at last and turned it in, I included a proposal for a fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle–which was going to be set during an evacuation for a hurricane that missed New Orleans…I always thought it would be interesting to write a mystery story set during such an evacuation.

Of course, I turned the book into Kensington on August 14th, 2005. Fourteen days later, Paul, Skittle and I fled from New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina.

I wouldn’t come back for good until October 11. Paul didn’t come home until after Thanksgiving.

Of course, I wrote to my editor a day or so after the levee failure to say, well, I don’t think I can write that book I proposed now.

I didn’t see, for a very long time afterwards, how I could write another Scotty book–light, funny, zany–in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then one day I was walking to work from where I’d parked my car and some people on bicycles came riding toward me. They smiled and waved and I smiled and waved back…and realized oh my God, that was Brad and Anjelina. Their house wasn’t far from my office–in fact, it was quite literally around the block from where Scotty lived–and I thought, you know, Brad kind of looks the way I describe Scotty–wouldn’t it be funny if someone tried to kill Scotty because he looked like a movie star who lived in his neighborhood? The more I thought about it, the funnier it became, and I started writing the proposal for Hollywood South Hustle when I got home from work that night. I was so certain they would take it that I started developing the characters and writing out a detailed synopsis…and they turned it down.

I wasn’t expecting that, but it was a marketing decision. Even if they signed the book immediately, it would still be another year before it would come out, and they felt by then Scotty’s audience was long gone, if it wasn’t already. It was disappointing, but right around the same time Alyson came back to me for a fourth Chanse book but they needed it right away–like within ten weeks–so I turned the Scotty story into Murder in the Rue Ursulines. I finished the book, turned it in, and figured the Scotty series was dead, alas.

Shortly thereafter, during the Gay Easter Parade an idea for a different Scotty book occurred to me . The parade was over and I was walking back to my car to drive home when I walked underneath a balcony…just as they started watering their plants. I got soaked–you can’t get mad, it happens in the Quarter periodically and it’s just one of those New Orleans things–and I thought, you really need to write about this. As I walked to the car, dripping, I pictured Scotty hurrying to catch a ride on his parents’ business’ float for the Easter Parade–and of course, he’d wear a white bikini, rabbit ears, and have a rabbit tail–when the exact same thing happened to him, only his bikini would become see-through when wet. By the time I’d driven home, I’d figured that the person on the balcony would be an old friend of his parents’, he’d invited Scotty in to dry off, and when Scotty was on his way home from the parade, the cops would be there because the friend had been murdered. Using The Moonstone as my inspiration, I came up with another MacGuffin story, a way for Colin to come back and explain everything that happened during Mardi Gras Mambo, and I had the perfect ending to Scotty’s story. I just didn’t have a publisher.

But Bold Strokes Books, a primarily lesbian publisher, had started doing books by and about gay men. I’d taken an erotica anthology to them when it was orphaned by the death of its original publisher, and so I wrote and asked if they wanted a Scotty story. They did, and thus Scotty came back to life one more time…and I figured that was the end of it. I wrapped up the personal story about the three-way relationship in a way that was organic and made sense; and I also added a new wrinkle to Scotty’s personal life: Frank’s late-in-life decision to become a professional wrestler. (One of the things we locals learned from Hurricane Katrina was to not put off following or chasing dreams or goals; my attitude thus became go for it and I started chasing down dreams I’d pushed to the side for years.) Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo were both nominated for Lambdas, but at this point I can’t remember who I lost to in both of those cases–for the record, Lambda has never rewarded a Scotty book with an award–probably because they are inevitably funny and over-the-top, which never wins awards because funny is seen as “not serious,” despite the fact that humor/comedy is much harder than drama/tragedy.

I didn’t think I was going to write another Scotty book then, either. But then something miraculous happened: the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, and I wanted to write about what it was like to live here during that incredible time. It didn’t seem like the right story for another Chanse book, so I thought, well, I can pull Scotty back out and write it from his point of view.

And of course, Who Dat Whodunnit was just sitting there for the title. How could I not write that book?

I had already established over the course of the series that the two sides of his family–the Diderots (maternal) and the Bradleys (paternal) didn’t really get along. The Diderots go back to Iberville and the 1718 settling of New Orleans; the Bradleys were Americans who came after 1803, and thus are not only parvenus to the aristocratic Diderots, but also l’Américains. Perish the thought! We’d also established that the Diderots were not nearly as conservative as their State Street living in-laws, but we’d never actually seen much of the Bradley side of the family, so I thought why not do the Bradleys and let us get to know the other side of Scotty’s family? It was around the same time I started reading about a megachurch out in Kenner (or Metairie? I don’t recall) that was rising to prominence in local politics and was, as you can imagine, homophobic. The same-sex marriage wars were also being fought at this time; and during one of those pageants (Miss America? Miss USA?) the reigning Miss California was asked about same-sex marriage during the question portion by judge Perez Hilton (why was he judging a beauty pageant for women is a mystery for the ages) and she responded that her faith had taught her that marriage was between a man and a woman (the audience started jeering) and she apologized by saying “I’m sorry, but that’s how I was raised!” She wound up as First Runner-Up, and some felt, rightly or wrongly, that her “politically incorrect” answer cost her the title. In some ways, I felt bad for her (although it’s not my fault it’s how I was raised I have always thought was an incredibly stupid thing to say; you have free will, and you should be capable of making up your own mind rather than simply parroting things without question you were raised to believe. So if your parents were racist white supremacists…) but then of course, the Right tried to turn her into a martyr and heroine, and she dove right into that headfirst, erasing any sympathy I might have felt for her (I still think the question was inappropriate for a pageant, as would be anything polarizing–and yes, well aware that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be polarizing, but here we are), and of course, Miss Upright Moral Christian had a bit of a shady past that eventually came out and that was that. I decided to base the murder victim in the book on this girl, and tried to explore the influence of this megachurch on her. I also gave Scotty a first cousin who was the darling of the Bradley grandparents because he was a jock and was on the Saints team as a player–but also a homophobic asshole. The Bradleys were like something out of Tennessee Williams–I think I even named Scotty’s uncle (the football player’s dad) Uncle Skipper as an homage to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

There’s a lot of story there left in the Bradley side of the family, now that I think about it–and I’ll be digging into that in the new one, rest assured!

Funny story: After I wrote Who Dat Whodunnit, I decided I was not going to write another Scotty book. This had been Book 5 of what started as a stand-alone and then became a trilogy and yet somehow, I’d kept going on top of that. I kind of felt played out a bit with Scotty, and the longer the series went on, the more problems I was having with things like character ages–Scotty was getting older, which meant his parents were getting older, which meant his grandparents were getting older, too. I didn’t want to deal with the deaths of his grandparents (or Aunt Sylvia, who was his grandmother’s age and had married Uncle Misha), and so I had two options: pretend they weren’t getting older and not talk about their ages, or let the series go. I was still writing Chanse at the time, and I kind of figured that would be the series that went on longer. But I was on a panel at Saints and Sinners and someone from the audience asked me if there would be another Scotty.

GREG: Probably not, but if I can figure out a way to include Mike the Tiger (the live tiger mascot at LSU), Huey Long, and a treasure hunt for Huey’s deduct box, I will.

(I had read T. Harry Williams’ award winning biography Huey Long and had become fascinated completely with him. All I had known about Long going into reading that biography was that he’d been a demagogue (thanks, US History textbook from high school) and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men had been loosely based on his life and career. Mention Long’s name to anyone and they immediately reply with “oh, he was so corrupt”–which amused me, since every Louisiana politician is corrupt to a degree–and I knew Roosevelt and others had worried about him as a populist politician who reminded them of Hitler (and the way he crushed his opposition in Louisiana and essentially became the state’s dictator, who could blame them?), but what was the real story? And Huey Long made me start to have what was at first a grudging admiration for him which grew into a kind of fandom the more I learned. (There are some similarities–more than one would think–between Long and LBJ in the Caro biographies, as well as with Robert Moses, another Caro biography; which would make for a very interesting comparison/contract essay at some point.) But the more I read about Long, the more I wanted to write about him. He fascinated me, and the fact that his trove of cash–the deduct box–was never recovered after his murder was even more fascinating to me.)

And don’t you know, later that night, it came to me. A few months earlier there had been a bomb threat at the LSU campus, and there had been some controversy about how the administration had handled the situation–they’d evacuated Mike the Tiger off the campus before the mass evacuation call for the students. It made sense to me (but I didn’t blame the students for being upset because it absolutely looked like the administration cared more about the tiger’s safety than the students’)–in the chaos of evacuating the campus, getting the tiger out safely would have been a nightmare, and God forbid something happen and Mike got loose. Then it hit me: what if some animal rights’ activists had staged the bomb threat in order to steal the tiger in order to set him free somewhere? (Mike is a frequent target of PETA, who often calls for him to be released into the wild–not in the US, of course–, or sent to a big cat sanctuary.) So, I had the tiger kidnapped, and since Huey Long was responsible for LSU being what it is today, it only made sense for the treasure hunt to have to do with his missing “deduct box”–Huey always used cash, after his assassination the deduct box containing thousands and thousands of dollars in cash disappeared–and there we had it: a plot involving Mike the Tiger, Huey Long, and the deduct box.

This was also the book where I decided to extend Scotty’s family a bit further by adding a new, younger gay character to the mix: Taylor, Frank’s nephew, disowned by Frank’s sister and her homophobic husband after he comes out to them after a semester in Paris, and so he comes to live with Scotty and the boys in the house on Decatur Street. I wanted to bring in someone younger, and gay, with literally hardly any gay experience in the world to reflect the change between generations of gay men and how they view being gay and the rest of the world.

I also figured this would be the last one, but like I said, Scotty just won’t go away.

SIDENOTE: I had to write to the administrators of the Huey Long website for permission to use some quotes from the site in the book. Needless to say, they were very wary of me when they responded, so I emailed them the chapter where I would use the quotes–Scotty was doing some research on Long, and came across the website. Like me, Scotty had always been told Long was corrupt and a demagogue…but demagogues also don’t get things done, which Long did. Some of Long’s programs–like the Homestead Exemption–still exist as public policy in Louisiana. They wrote me back, granting permission…and that was when I found out the person I was talking to was Long’s great-granddaughter, who was rightfully suspicious of anyone writing about her great-grandfather. I sent her a copy of the book when it was finished, and she sent me a lovely thank you card, which is probably one of my favorite writing souvenirs.

The genesis of Garden District Gothic was weird, but yet serves as yet another example of my adage never throw anything you’ve written away.

I had always wanted to spin Chanse’s best friend, journalist Paige Tourneur, off into her own series. I had always intended to do so; from the first time I thought her up for Murder in the Rue Dauphine I thought, “she’s fun and witty and interesting and that weird name–there’s so much more story there than we can get to as a supporting player in a series about someone else.” I have so much written down about Paige and her origin story; how she came up with that name and why; how she wound up at LSU; and so on and so forth. A friend started an ebook publishing company, and wanted me to write Paige novellas for her; I did two–Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans–but the sales, frankly, weren’t there and I didn’t have the necessary time to put in marketing them to help drive the sales, so even though I’d started a third, The Mad Catter, we agreed to kill the series and pull the first two from availability; ultimately, I was working too hard for too little pay-off. I was disappointed, obviously; Paige was kind of a passion project for me–I’d made any number of false starts writing a series book for her, and it was sad to see that there wasn’t an audience for her after all. But I had about four chapters of The Mad Catter in place, and I didn’t want to waste the time spent on them…so I decided to turn them into a Scotty book, which became Garden District Gothic.

I also brought in a new character–a true crime writer with a shady past of his own–who actually wrote a book, a la Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, about the case. The name of his book? Garden District Gothic. I brought him in, thinking I would spin him off into his own book/series–I thought it might be fun to write about a writer…(I thought about using him as the main character in another book based on an actual unsolved string of murders in a rural Louisiana parish, but very quickly realized he was simply an amalgamation of Scotty and Chanse, so that book–The Bodies in the Bayou–went onto the backburner. I think I may have created the character before, in the Chanse series, but I could be remembering that wrong. I also used this book to sort of set up the next; I will explain that further when I am talking about Royal Street Reveillon. I also crossed the character of Paige Tourneur over from the Chanse series into the Scotty series (I loved the character, hated to sideline her after I ended the Chanse series and the novella series didn’t pan out); not that she will be a big part of the Scotty series, but hey, every so often I need a journalist, and why not use a character I am very fond of already and wasn’t ready to stop writing about?

The book was loosely based, obviously, on the Jon-Benet Ramsey case–a decades old notorious murder of a child in the Garden District that was never solved. I wanted to examine and explore issues of class in New Orleans, but I am not entirely sure I pulled off what I intended with the book.

Then again, I think that with every book, don’t I?

And we now come to the (so far) most recent book of the Scotty series, Royal Street Reveillon.

Originally I’d envisioned the Scotty trilogy (when it morphed from a stand-alone) as encompassing the three big gay holidays in New Orleans: Southern Decadence, Halloween, and Mardi Gras. Jackson Square Jazz wound up taking place just before Halloween, alas; Scotty talks about their costumes in the epilogue, but I hit the other two holidays out of the park. When I added a fourth book, I tied it to the Gay Easter Parade–Scotty is on his way to ride on the Devil’s Weed’s float when the book opened–and then of course the next book was sort of Christmas/sort of Mardi Gras/sort of the Super Bowl. Baton Rouge Bingo was the first book that wasn’t tied to a holiday of some sort; neither was Garden District Gothic. But for the next Scotty book, I wanted to do a Christmas book. I’ve never really written much about Christmas, and I do love the season, especially in New Orleans. I wasn’t sure what kind of plot I was going to use, but I knew it was going to be set during Christmas season and I knew I wanted to use reveillon, the Christmas season meal you use to break your fast for Mass, in the title. I had introduced one of the characters from Dead Housewives of New Orleans in Garden District Gothic, so it only made sense to me (or so it seemed at the time) for me to take the framework of Dead Housewives–the entire Real Housewives spoof I wanted to write–and build this new story around it. I changed a lot–made the overarching story much more complicated, and especially complicating the “whodunnit” aspects of the three murders that all occurred within twenty-four hours of the premiere party for Grande Dames of New Orleans.

I also did a couple of horrible things to Scotty and his loved ones over the course of this book…which will have to be dealt with in the new one, alas. I hate when I do this to myself! But with Royal Street Reveillon and its darker themes, I wanted to show how much Scotty has grown and changed over the course of the series; he’s evolved as a person, partly because of the changes to his life and partly because of what he experiences through the murders he finds himself involved in. Do I wish, as I start writing Mississippi River Mischief, that maybe I hadn’t given so many growth opportunities over the years to Scotty and his gang of family and friends? Absolutely. But that’s part of the challenge of writing a series, and what makes it so much fun.

*Funny story about the original cover of Bourbon Street Blues. Back in the day, publishers used to meet with reps from Barnes & Noble and Borders to show them covers and get their input; covers were changed based on those meetings. The Bourbon Street Blues cover was so in-your-face it took me aback when I first saw it; and they had toned the original image down dramatically, mainly smoothing down the bulge so it wasn’t so in-your-face. The Barnes & Noble buyer told them, “he needs a bigger bulge” so they made it bigger–but were still cautious; the image’s original bulge was still bigger. I do think that story is hilarious.

Love Child

Monday morning, you gave me no warning, of what was to be.

I had thought the Super Bowl was an evening game–what can I say? I never watch as a general rule, and when the Saints won it, it was a night game–so was very pleasantly surprised to find it on early last night, so I started watching. I was sorry to see the Bengals lose, but as I said yesterday–if I learned anything by watching Joe Burrow play at LSU, they won’t lose next time, and it will probably be next year. The Bengals are also only going to get better with every passing year. So, heads up, Cincinnati fans–you have decades of greatness before you. Congratulations to the Rams are in order as well; the Bengal defense didn’t get the job done when they needed to in the end.

It was a good weekend around here, in which I did manage to not only get rested but got a lot done. “The Rosary of Broken Promises” is out of my hair now for good; I worked on the anthology; and I started getting the draft of “Condos for Sale or Rent” underway. I do still have a ridiculous amount of things to get done this week, but am feeling much better about the entire thing now. Parades start on Friday, which makes working and getting home from work and running errands entirely problematic for the next two weeks; but when it is all over it will be March and time will start running out across the board. Heavy heaving sigh–where did February go? I have emails to answer this morning and more organizing to get done today–it’s really non-stop, to be honest–but I am no longer tired the way I was last week and feel more motivated than I have in a while, which is a good thing. That fatigue last week was the fucking pits, frankly, and now I worry that I’ll require time from every trip to recover going forward, which wasn’t something I had in the cards for this year.

But…you have to play what you’re dealt, right?

I also reread Chlorine yesterday, and was…well, in all honesty, I was a little underwhelmed by what I have written already in this manuscript. Sure, the voice and tone are right–but the word rhythm is off, and I could also tell that I worked on chapters without revisiting what had already been written; lots of contradictions and changes from chapter to chapter which, obviously, will need to be corrected and changed when I start working on it full force again around April, most likely. But I managed to get some needed and necessary research taken care of over the weekend that will help pull it all together in some ways, plus it anchors the book in a time of the year which I hadn’t been doing up to now. It kind of messes with some other history, but that means I can play around a bit more with fact and fiction, which is also incredibly fun.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Don’t have much to say today, really–sorry about the brevity of the entry–but I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

The Way You Do The Things You Do

Sunday morning, and not only is the Super Bowl today, but it’s also our Costco run day. Hurray! And in a moment of perfect timing, this morning I also got the emailed rebate coupon from my Costco Visa, so we have almost a hundred dollars off whatever we spend there today. One really has to love serendipity when it happens, doesn’t one? It’s been a hot minute since we’ve been to Costco, and I am really missing my dark chocolate sea salt caramels…we’ve been out for a while. And with the next two weekends lost to parades, this is the last opportunity we have to go until after March.

Is it insane that I am excited about going to Costco? It also says a lot about the quality of my life, doesn’t it? LOL. Yesterday was a good day–I also had another good night’s sleep, which was lovely–and I got a lot accomplished around the Lost Apartment as far as cleaning and organizing are concerned. Everything looks, if still a bit cluttered, neat and tidy–at least the clutter is stacked nicely–and it really does make a difference in how I feel about the place. I also worked on “Condos for Sale or Rent” for a bit yesterday, made groceries (got Doris Day parking and everything), and settled in to watch the Olympics. I wasn’t thrilled with the ice dancing results–as always, the Americans were under-scored–but we’ll get a medal of some kind; the French were always a lock on the gold anyway. And both of our top teams won a silver medal in the team competition, so…really, can’t complain about too much at all here.

I got the edits for “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday, and it took me about ten minutes to get through them and make corrections where necessary. The story turned out a lot better than I had obviously thought, but the good news is the story is finished and turned in and the edits are done; so I can put the file away, add the title to the Table of Contents for my next short story collection, and move the electronic file into the This Town and other Stories folder. I have ten published stories, which is about half of the new collection, and of the other ten, well, four have complete drafts–and of course, I have two more stories to finish in the next few months as well. So, that will give me sixteen at some point, which is lovely, and even closer to a finished collection–would be, should I decide to throw a novella in there at some point. I also retrieved my folder on Chlorine so I could again read over what I’ve already written–with an eye to getting back to it in March or April; I’ve not really decided yet what I should do next other than these short stories. I also started writing a blog post about Joey Burrow that I will try to get finished today–I don’t think I’ve been such a fan of any pro quarterback since the glory days of Drew Brees–otherwise there isn’t much point. I won’t be watching the Super Bowl–or certainly not all the entire thing–since I have to get up early tomorrow (all week, in fact; I have to go into the office four mornings and I have to get up early again on Friday to take the car in for its oil change), but obviously the first thing I will do upon rising tomorrow is see how it all turned out.

I also want to go to the gym today after we go to Costco–I know, crazy, right?–but it looks lovely outside today (yesterday was so beautiful I got out the charcoal and barbecued burgers) so the walk to the gym will undoubtedly be lovely, and I want to get a lot of work done today once that’s over and done with. Paul is still working on Festival programming, so I need to make certain I am utilizing my free time wisely. After organizing the books and making them look more orderly yesterday, I am debating not buying any more books until I can get some more of these read and donated and out of the house. It does seem weird to be continually buying books when you have so many that you’ve never read–many of them classics and award-winners–and so maybe, just maybe, the time I usually was spending in the evenings writing could be utilized for reading for an hour or so every night, which will gradually bring me through the books. (I doubt I will get much reading done during parade season, frankly.) The only parades I really care about this year are Muses and Iris, frankly; but there are reasons Paul and I might end up going out there every night of parades, or many of them, at any rate. (Not my story to tell, but being supportive of a friend.) Note to self: get more take home COVID tests from the office.

And on that note, I am going to bring this to a close and start doing some more clean-up around here before we go to Costco. Paul’s alarm just went off, which means he’ll be getting up soon (later rather than sooner, of course) and I need more coffee to fortify myself for the journey.

Have a lovely Super Bowl Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.

A Place in the Sun

Tuesday morning and I could have easily stayed in bed another three or four hours. I slept very well again last night–the alarm was quite vicious and cruel this morning–and I am blearily drinking coffee and hoping to wake up completely before getting in the shower. I have a lot of work to do this week–and so many emails that have piled up in the meantime that I am not certain I will ever get it under control–and so must sally forth into the week, regardless of how much I would rather just get back in bed and slip under the blankets and go back to sleep, really. My batteries need recharging in a serious way.

I wanted to stay up last night to watch the men’s Olympic figure skating–but by the time ten pm rolled around the skaters I wanted to watch and see–the top ones–still hadn’t gotten on the ice and I rather sadly went to bed. I was glad to see Nathan Chen broke the world record for points in the short program–and disappointed that two defending Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu had made a colossal mistake in his to wind up in eighth, with probably no shot at the podium. I wanted Nathan to win–still do–but I was looking forward to their showdown as two of the greatest male skaters of all time. AT least I can stay up later on Thursday to watch their free skates.

Man, I am still a shadow of my usual self this morning. I feel, I don’t know, removed from my day, somehow, if that makes sense? Like I’m experiencing my day from a distance? Hopefully the caffeine will kick into gear relatively soon because, as always, I am behind on everything.

I turned in the short story I had due yesterday this morning; it’s not, I fear, as good as it could be or could have been; I am not, despite the marvelous high I got over the course of the weekend about my writing and career, feeling terribly confident about the work I’ve recently turned in. Then again I am not the best judge of my own work, and while I am sort of hoping I am wrong, I don’t think I am this time, either. I like the title, and I like the concept behind the story; I am not sure it fires on every cylinder and I am also not sure that it necessarily works. But I don’t know that rereading it or looking it over today will do me any good; I am still a little fried from finishing the book and then traveling this past weekend. I also have to work in the office on Monday–so four days in the office next week (AIEEEEE) which means four days of six am waking up to an alarm, heavy heaving sigh.

I’ve also got to take the car into the dealership this weekend–I have a tire leaking air (again) and it’s due for an oil change, which means I’ll need to get up early either Friday or Saturday. But…I do have another story due at the end of this month, and another due at the end of the next–and at some point all these rewrites and revisions are going to hit my inbox. Heavy heaving sigh–but at least there’s no football to distract me all day Saturday and Sunday anymore–although I may tune into the Super Bowl to keep an eye on Joey B and Ja’Marr Chase (GEAUX TIGERS!).

And on that note, I am bringing this to an end and heading back into the spice mines. Here’s hoping for some more coherency tomorrow.

Brutal

Wednesday morning and feeling a bit raggedy. Part of this is due to the Lost Apartment not having water–you can only imagine my great delight in getting a text from my neighbor yesterday afternoon at work asking if we had water, and then getting home to find out that we don’t. The story I got from the Sewage and Water Board was that a pipe had burst, but “it should be back on this evening.” She knew it was a lie, I knew it was a lie, but it was one of those situations where there’s really nothing to do but pretend she wasn’t lying and saying thank you and hanging up. Needless to say, this morning there still is no water. I brushed my teeth with bottled water and the water tank of the Keurig is full so at least I have coffee, but I can’t even wash my face, let alone flush a toilet or take a shower. Suspecting this would be the case this morning (any New Orleanian knows you cannot believe a word anyone from the S&WB says) I got my shift at the office covered and am going to work from home today.

It’s truly amazing what an effect a lack of running water can have on you. I couldn’t wash dishes, run the dishwasher, do any laundry; I cannot shave or wash my face, let alone shower; cannot flush a toilet because I don’t have enough water on hand to fill the tank–and I’d rather preserve what drinking water we have, frankly. As I was thinking about this last night–the thin veneer of civilization we have stretched over our lives–I decided that being without water was worse than being without power–certainly at this time of year, at any rate; if we lose power during the summer my position on the matter will most definitely change. This also put me in mind of the freeze in Texas and other states that don’t usually get a hard freeze or snow, and how so many people lost not only water but power as well. We don’t really hear much about that any more–the news has moved on–but from my own experience it takes a while to recover from such natural disasters, and everyone couldn’t get their water restored immediately, either–especially those whose pipes had burst. But no one is talking about that anymore, and so far as one can tell, you’d think the issue was in the past and normalcy has returned.

It also amazes me to think that I am quite literally one generation removed from, well, not having much in the line of running water. My mom grew up with a well with a pump that sent water to the kitchen sink; but there was no bathroom in her childhood home. I have hazy memories of visiting my grandmother before she had a bathroom put in and a septic tank…

So, as you can certainly imagine, last night was an “out of sorts” night for me; I was exhausted–I didn’t forget my coffee in the car, and yet completely ran out of steam yesterday afternoon while I was at the office–and being out of sorts this morning isn’t helping matters much. I did read a bit last night–nothing exciting, just my own manuscript; I’d sent the Bury Me in Shadows manuscript to the Kindle app on my iPad precisely so I could read it like it’s a finished book–and when I opened it, apparently I had been reading it already there some time in the past because it was open to Chapter Eight. So I read a few more chapters of that, watched some history videos on YouTube as well as the final quarter of the Saints win in the Super Bowl all those years ago; I’d forgotten we were trailing going into the 4th Quarter by one point, for example, but watching the interception by Tracy Porter run back for the clinching touchdown brought back all those joyous memories of how amazing it was to watch it live and hear the city cheering from inside the house. Paul got home relatively early as well–and what I mean by that is I was still awake when he got home; two nights in a row!–but he had work to do and repaired upstairs to do it while I continued watching history and sports videos on Youtube.

Really, such a fascinating life I lead.

So, at some point this morning I am probably going to go to the gym and shower there after working out–I am assuming they are far enough away from us to not be affected by this broken water main issue–and will spend the day making condom packs and doing data entry for work, all the while hoping that the water comes back sometime, adjusting my work hour appropriately to provide for that. Heavy sigh. Such is my life these days; trying to get things done, not being able to stay on top of things as more, newer things demand my attention all the time. Sometimes I despair that it will all get done, and then I have a mini-breakdown of sorts, after which I just buckle down and start pushing the boulder up the hill again. I need to get back to work on the current manuscript; I need to get caught up on so many other things; and so these setbacks–like not having water–inevitably seem much more defeating than they should. As Paul says, all too frequently, why does everything have to be so hard? He’s not wrong. I wonder this myself all the time…

And on that note, I am heading into the waterless spice mines. Wish me luck, Constant Reader!

Singularity

Ah, Monday morning and the sun has yet to rise in the east. It’s chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning, and as I steel myself for yet another day in the spice mines at the office, I am also pleased with how much I accomplished this weekend.–which wouldn’t have happened had there been parades. This week, of course, would be the big weekend of Carnival–with Muses and Orpheus and Bacchus and Endymion and Iris and so many, many others passing by down at the corner (well, not Endymion) and I would be trying to figure out how to get to and from work…so glad I don’t have to deal with any of that this year, quite frankly. But I do miss Carnival and the parades. I also have a long weekend coming up; Fat Tuesday is a holiday, so I went ahead and took a vacation day for Monday. Since there’s no distractions going on at the corner this weekend, I instead have four glorious days off in a row, which should help me get much further along with the revisions of the book and getting me that much closer to turning the bitch in.

I did wind up not working yesterday after all. I made groceries and then went to the gym; I was tired after that and repaired to my easy chair. I tried to read, but alas, was too tired and unfocused to get very far in what I was reading, so decided to rest for a while and take notes. This resulted into my falling into–of all things–a wormhole about The Partridge Family on Youtube; I don’t even remember how this came about, to be honest. I think a video was suggested to me, and after I got started down that garden path, there was no returning from it. This wormhole of course led me into music videos–clips from the show–and so forth; and who knew there was still so much Partridge/David Cassidy love out there in the world? (Shouldn’t really have been so surprising, really–look at how seriously the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys fans still take their devotion to those series books they read decades ago–there’s probably still some serious Leif Erickson and Shaun Cassidy fan channels on Youtube, with some significant crossover between Shaun fans and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew fandom as well.) What was really surprising to me was–despite not having heard the music in a while–how good it sounded. David Cassidy was a good singer–it really is astonishing what a superstar he was during that time period–and I could still remember the lyrics to a lot of the songs. I’ve always liked harmonies when it comes to songs, so I always enjoyed the harmonies, and some of the songs still hold up today. (I will not go far as to say the songs would be hit records again today) I had no idea their debut album peaked at Number Four on the charts, that they had so many hits–the first three albums went platinum; any number of gold singles–and listening to the music and watching videos took me back to those years. The Partridge Family spanned the time from when we lived in the city and moved into the suburbs; it finally went off the air when I was in junior high. My sister and I watched every Friday night, groaning our way through The Brady Bunch (even as a kid I thought it was juvenile and lame) as a sort of punishment for getting there. The humor/comedy/situations on The Partridge Family often wasn’t much better–sometimes the two shows used the same basic plot premises–but the concept behind it was so much more clever and original than The Brady Bunch, and it worked better.

And of course, as I watched the videos–there was a Biography, an E! True Hollywood Story, and so forth–I kept thinking about how weirdly Danny Bonaduce’s life has turned out, and then began thinking in terms of a novel about a similar type show in the past whose cast in the present day is trying to figure out why the one whose life took a Bonaduce-like turn did precisely that. He would be dead, of course, and some of the cast members would still be in show business and some would not; it would be one of the younger kids telling the story because their own memories of their time on the show would be vague since they’d been so young, and having left show business far far behind in their rear view mirror….looking into the dead one’s life would, of course, bring back memories of their own and remind them how glad they are to be out of the business now.

And yes, after watching I did make a Partridge Family playlist on Spotify. Sue me.

WE also started watching a show called Resident Alien last night, which was actually kind of clever. I think it airs on Syfy; we’re watching it on Hulu, of course–we only watch the Super Bowl when the Saints are in it, so I think we’ve watched perhaps two Super Bowls this century–and the other one I watched was when I was out of town visiting friends and we went to a Super Bowl party, and I don’t even remember who played that year–and so I suppose this morning congratulations are in order for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, good for you. Anyway, I digress. I think Resident Alien may have been a film? The title certainly seems familiar, but the premise of the show–which really boils down to ‘fish out of water’–features an alien creature who had a mission to earth, only to have his ship hit by lightning and crash in Colorado. The creature then kills a human and takes over his life while trying to find his ship–now buried in snow–and trying to avoid human contact. Of course he gets unwillingly dragged into human contact, and there’s a big surprise twist at the end of the first episode. Some of the humor is predictable–an alien with no idea of what humans are actually like learning to adapt and become more human-like in order to pull off the deception; this was first done really well with Starman in the 1980’s, starring Jeff Bridges–but it’s still funny. And the little remote town in Colorado is an interesting setting. We liked that first episode and intend to watch more; it’s quite engaging, and while it’s eminently predictable–he’s going to start liking humans and getting personally vested in them–it’s still very well done.

And on that note, tis time to get ready for work. Talk to you tomorrow!

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

So yesterday was the last day of my vacation. Heavy heaving sigh. It was a bit on the weird side, though, because of the holidays and so forth I kept losing track of what day it was. Friday seemed like Saturday to me, and every day last week I had to really sit down and think about what day it actually was–or look at my Google calendar. #madness

I did finish the book yesterday, and sent it to my publisher two days late. I really thought I was going to get this one in on time–still not certain the final chapter is complete, but the manuscript currently sits at over 90,000 words and I just can’t think about the book anymore. I’m delighted to be finished with it, disappointed it took me an extra two days, and now I am going to breathe a bit as I try to get caught up with everything I let slide while I slogged through finishing this book.

As always, I overestimated how much time I can spend staring at a computer screen and underestimated how long it would take to put the copy edits/corrections into the entire document. And of course, the MacBook Air problems continued this morning as well. I fucking hate this thing, seriously.

But Bury Me in Shadows is finished; and now I can start figuring out how to finish #shedeservedit by March 1 and a short story by 1/15. And oh my God, the emails I’ve been ignoring while I tried to get this done. But I am glad to be going back to work this morning, despite having to get up at a ridiculously early hour, and I feel fairly well rested; I had issues sleeping during my vacation–of course–but now that I am going to go back to my usual schedule, hopefully that will be a thing of the past. I haven’t been to the gym since getting my inoculation (part one); my shoulder was sore and moving my left arm in an upward motion–required for the gym–hurt, so I thought it smart and prudent to skip it. I will go tonight after I get off work, of course, and try to make up for the lost time.

Since I was on deadline for a book, I never really had the opportunity to reflect on the shit-show that was 2020. It’s weird, too, because usually I am looking forward to Carnival–Twelfth Night is Wednesday, which kicks off the season, and there were King cakes already out at Rouse’s yesterday–but the parades are cancelled due to the pandemic, so Carnival is going to be weird this year. I’m kind of glad I don’t have to plan my life around parades, to be honest–but it’s still going to be different and strange…and imagine how insane parade season will be next year! I will eventually recap my 2020 for this blog at some point–favorite books and movies and television shows and so forth–but that isn’t going to happen today, as my memory is shot and I will have to go through old blogs to see what I read and what I watched this past year. I also haven’t really done a goals post for 2021 the way I usually do, either–primarily because there was one goal, and that was to get the book done. It was nice having the holidays and the little bit of vacation time to work on the book; it was one of those ah this is what life would be like if I only had to write books things, and it was quite lovely. One thing I noticed, too, while I was working on the final polish was that one of my biggest worries is that I forget things, or start something and never finish it off, leave subplots dangling without an answer, etc.–or names change for characters, that sort of thing. Partly it’s because when I write and I come to a place in the story where I have to remember something from earlier in the book, I usually don’t remember and guess–and it’s amazing how often my subconscious rises up and makes the correct guess for me. I always used to be able to remember the plot and things like that in my head; my memory is shot now, so I am generally terrified as I give the final a final polish and copy edit…there were only a couple of small minor things–a character’s last name changed once, a location’s name was the incorrect one–so I was pretty well pleased and the final step not nearly as difficult as anticipated or expected. (Thank God, as it took me three days to get through the manuscript and input those corrections and deletions; who knows how long it would have taken if the manuscript was more of a mess?) It also went from a book about a high school student to a college student–almost from the very beginning of its origins as a short story, the main character was young; going from about thirteen in the short story to seventeen in the original draft to twenty in the final. It also went from first-person/present tense to first person/past tense, and it was amazing to me how many verbs I’d missed going through and making those changes. Laziness, probably, being the correct answer to that.

As always, when I am pressed to finish a book my mind becomes very creative. I was scribbling down ideas in my journal almost all of last week, and I even came up with a new Scotty title, which might even be the next book–Twelfth Knight Knavery, which is just so fun I am going to have to do it. I had originally planned on doing a pre-pandemic book (French Quarter Flambeaux, primarily because the shitty Carnival season of 2019 deserved to be recorded for posterity), but this one….I kind of like the idea behind this one, and there’s no reason I can’t do two pre-pandemic books for Scotty before Quarter Quarantine Quadrille. My timeline for Scotty, after all, is completely under my own control. And I suspect people aren’t going to want to be reading about the pandemic for a little while at any rate. I do love the title Twelfth Knight Knavery, though.

We’ve also been watching the final season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and my God, how I love this show. I hate that it’s ending, but also get it–this final season has the gang taking on the Eldritch horrors, and where do you go after that? We only have two episodes left to watch, which will most likely occur tonight or tomorrow. The Saints also won yesterday, so football season is theoretically not over yet for Louisiana fans, but while people around here are talking Super Bowl…I dunno.

And on that note, it’s time to get back to the spice mines and try to get caught up on things. Have a lovely first Monday of the new year, Constant Reader.

Innocent

Sunday morning, and I feel good.

Yesterday was quite marvelous. As a general rule, I refrain from talking about politics, primarily because I feel I don’t really need to; anyone who knows me knows where I stand. Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows my politics, or they do if they’ve read anything I’ve ever written–essay, blog, short story, etc.. I only talk about equality when I do talk about our country or our system; and my feelings about equality should make it abundantly clear that I am pretty far to the left, and move even further left the older I get. So, when the presidential election was finally called yesterday morning, I ran upstairs with tears in my eyes to tell Paul the great news, and I pretty much realized three hours later, after viewing as much of the celebrations and reading as many articles and so forth as I could in my thirst to make it finally all seem real to me, that I was going to get absolutely nothing done yesterday. And I didn’t, either. I didn’t cook anything, didn’t wash a dish, didn’t write a word; I didn’t read my book, I did nothing constructive at all other than joy-scroll through my social media. I watched football games that meant nothing to me, since LSU wasn’t playing–Indiana beat Michigan for the first time since the Reagan administration; Florida beat Georgia; Notre Dame beat Clemson–but it was all just background noise, really, as I kept going through social media and sometimes would switch over to the news while the games were on.

Could I really afford to take the day off and do nothing? Of course not, but I did precisely that very thing. I figured that since we won’t be electing the first biracial female vice president of the United States ever again, I was allowed to take the day off and bask in the knowledge that this was another historic election.

If someone would have told me, back when I was casting my first presidential election ballot back in 1980, that one day I would be voting for the first black man to become president (and doing it twice), and another day I’d be voting for the first black/Indian woman to become vice president, I would have laughed really hard, as such a thing was completely unimaginable back in those days. (Four years later, Geraldine Ferraro became the first major party female candidate for vice president; it would only take another twenty two years for another one to be a candidate, and another thirty-six years for one to actually win. And yes, much as I am loathe to give the loathsome Sarah Palin credit she does actually count as a historic nominee–even if she is now essentially a political pariah and yet another “Christian values” candidate whose marriage has crumbled into divorce. #Palinfamilyvalues.)

And watching the international celebrations of our election results was also a reminder that, no matter what anyone thinks, despite all of our flaws and mistakes and judgment errors, the rest of the world looks to us for leadership; and despite all the inequality built into our system by imperfect men who were well aware of their flaws and prejudices, we are what they aspire to–our political stability, our peaceful transitions of power, and yes, our freedoms. (Although when they think about our freedoms I rather seriously doubt the right to bear arms is at the top of their list…)

I’ve always believed that history was taught incorrectly; our history shouldn’t be taught as dates and places and battles–those are important, don’t get me wrong, but they are not as important as the progress, throughout history, of human rights and human freedoms. As for the battles and the wars, those should be seen through the prism of whether they pushed forward (or held back) human rights and freedoms. As interesting as kings and queens and emperors and tsars might be…what was life like under their rule? Did the people suffer, or did they prosper, or were they merely seen as sub-humans not really worth the divinely appointed King’s time or consideration?

Heavy thoughts on a Sunday morning. I need to get to the gym today, and I also need to make groceries–I don’t really need to get groceries, really–there’s only a few things we need and it could conceivably wait till next weekend–but I am all about getting things over and done with and out of the way. The Saints play later tonight–an evening game with the Buccaneers–and I’ll undoubtedly watch that until around ten, when I’ll need to go to bed to wake up in time for clinic tomorrow morning–but that also gives me this afternoon to try to get to all the things I never really got around to yesterday–Westlake’s The Hot Rock, any number of short stories that need writing, the book I should be writing, and lots and lots of cleaning–but I feel good today. I feel like I can breathe again. I also am aware the results of the election simply means the start of the great work required to right this ship–and it’s going to be a struggle–and there are going to be disappointments along the way, but I am going to allow myself to ride this wave of optimism and hope as long as I can….it’s been in far too short supply these last four years.

We finished watching The Murders at White House Farm last night, and it was really most marvelously done. There was also enough ambiguity left in the crime itself to leave the viewer wondering if justice truly was done–as is the case unless there are eyewitnesses or a confession–and this ambiguity is what makes these types of shows so interesting to watch for a crime writer. In our fictions, we cannot leave our readers with that kind of complex ambiguity–we can allow killers to go free, but the reader has to understand completely that there is a miscarriage of justice occurring. Most of criminal justice is shades of gray in reality; our fictions are allowed some shades but cannot be completely gray over all.

I did spend some time wondering about the short stories I am writing, and of course came up with the idea for another one, called “The Oracle on Orange Street” (Orange Street is one of those secret streets in New Orleans that only exist for a few blocks; it was named for the orange groves that lined it back in the day–the street I live on is another one of those, and so is Camp Place, which only exists for two blocks near Coliseum Square; Camp Place is the setting for another novel I want to write some day called Voices in an Empty Room) and while I am not certain what that story is actually going to be, I kind of would like to write about a psychic (yes, Scotty is also one, but I want to write about one who makes her living as one; I’ve considered resurrecting the psychic who told Scotty’s parents that he had the gift to be the lead character; Madame Xena. But, as I mentioned the other day, it’s really a matter of age. If Madama Xena was already a psychic with a good reputation when she spotted Scotty’s gift when he was a child…how old would she be now?), but on the other hand, I kind of also want to write about a phony psychic being used in a noir fashion to convince a believer of something that isn’t true…decisions, decisions. But I like that title, and at some point I’ll figure out who and what “The Oracle on Orange Street” is about and who she actually is as a person.

But for now, I will continue savoring that title. Hell, for that matter, Voices in an Empty Room is also a really good one.

I also spent some time wondering about the next Scotty book–I know, I know, finish the two you’re already writing–and trying to figure out how best to write about this accursed 2020 Carnival season. There are also some things left over from Royal Street Reveillon that will need resolving in this book, and then I have to deal (in the next one) with the pandemic. It also begs the question, can’t you just pretend in Scotty’s world that it never happened?

It’s an interesting possibility, but in some ways for me it feels like copping out; like not writing about Katrina, or having it happen in Scotty’s world was just too easy an out. I get that people may not want to remember what it was like, or relive the horrible experience of 2020, but on the other hand I don’t see how, as series writers, we can simply pretend it never happened. I recognize that my world is fictional, and therefore theoretically in “my” world I can simply decide “no pandemic” and it never happened in this particular alternate universe; I’ve certainly never mentioned the Afghan or Iraq wars in a Scotty book, or 9/11 either for that matter (although the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security have come up, without explaining how they came to be in existence). There’s also some reluctance in actually tying a book to a certain year–although I did that with some of the earlier ones; after all, the Saints only won the Super Bowl for the first time one time–but again, sometimes when it comes to this sort of thing I am literally spinning my wheels and being indecisive because that leaves me in my inertia…always remember: a Greg at rest tends to stay at rest.

This morning my natural inclination is to blow off both the gym and making groceries, even though I know that neither is an option. The gym is only open until one today, and since the Saints game isn’t until much later, there’s no need for me to make the grocery run so early–gym first, groceries and gas up the car afterwards. I can spend the rest of the day writing or reading or playing intellectual games about my works in progress.

But last week I started feeling the old Gregalicious–the Type A one who gets a ridiculous amount done in a remarkably short period of time–starting to break through the cloud cover and start elbowing his way out to the front of my consciousness. This morning, I strongly feel like I can breathe and sleep and rest again….and soon I’ll be writing up a storm again.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines and get this kitchen cleaned up before I head to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.