Big Star

Sunday morning, and all is well–as well as it can be, at any rate–in the Lost Apartment. The Saints play the hated Falcons today at noon, with Taysom Hill–he of the sparkling blue eyes, the shredded muscular body, and the big warm infectious smile–getting the start as quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who is injured with broken ribs.

LSU eked out a win yesterday over Arkansas by partially blocking a field goal attempt in the closing minutes, 27-24, but with the only games left being Mississippi (it really requires effort not to say Ole Miss), Texas A&M, and Florida left to play, and a possible rescheduling of the Alabama game (still to be determined), means a losing season is still hanging in the balance. Alabama and Florida are both ranked in the Top Five, and none of those remaining games are going to be easy. They could easily go 0-4; 4-0 is unlikely; 2-2 is possibly the best we can hope for, which would leave the Tigers 5-5 on the season. The officiating in the game yesterday was absolutely terrible–not biased; the calls both for and against LSU were constantly questionable (some of the things that weren’t overturned were astonishing in retrospect).

I got some things done yesterday–the early game time for the Tigers certainly helped in that regard–did some serious cleaning, which was absolutely necessary, as well as some deep filing, which was enormously helpful. I discovered that, much to my surprise, my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” actually began as a short story called “A Streetcar Named St. Charles”–which, obviously, I ditched once I wrote a story called “A Streetcar Named Death”–and what was interesting about finding the original story was that I originally intended for my main character to meet the love interest on the streetcar; I think that’s still going to happen in the new version I am doing, but not quite in the same way (plus, that was also how I started “A Streetcar Named Death'”–a chance encounter on the streetcar, so yeah, changes). Some of what I wrote can still be used, of course, in the newer, improved version I have in progress, but what was truly amazing was how completely I’d forgotten the original.

I also started writing another story that formed, somehow, in my brain as I cleaned and filed yesterday: “The Rosary of Broken Promises.” If you will recall, I had started my story for the Christmas horror anthology, “To Sacrifice a Pawn” (really love that title) and then decided I didn’t have enough time to write it and do a really good job….so of course, yesterday I began to form another idea, drawing from the mists of my brain a similar opening as the “Pawn” story, but with a different tone, mood, and main character, and the newer idea was much darker than the original. I love this new story’s title as well; because of course I don’t have enough work in progress already (eye roll).

My back is still sore–I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to myself, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s a muscle strain issue. I mean, it easily could be, but I am still going to the gym regularly, and it doesn’t affect the exercises I’m doing, nor does it make any of the exercises impossible. In fact, usually after I work out it doesn’t hurt at all, and it takes a while–usually overnight–for it to come back with full force. Yesterday I was aware of it, wincing periodically, with it getting worse the later in the day it got; this morning it is really miserable. Today I am going to use some heat on it with the heating pad; slather it with Icy Hot, and am going to use the yoga roller on it to try to loosen it up.

And of course, periodically I have those “creative mind” moments like, what if it’s something serious, or you had a mini-stroke or something and don’t know it?

A creative mind is truly a curse sometimes.

We watched a delightful film with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Helen Mirren yesterday, The Good Liar, which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; for some reason I had gotten it into my head that it was a comedy, and it was anything but a comedy. It was a very dark story about the sins of the past and swindling–very well written, with some terrific surprises in it and some truly terrific acting; Russell Tovey also was good in a supporting role as Dame Helen’s suspicious grandson–and I am surprised this film didn’t get more attention, particularly from fans of crime fiction. Very twisty, very interesting, and very well done. We then moved on to a French limited series, Le Manti (The Mantis) in which a present day serial killer is copying the crimes of a confessed serial killer who has been in jail for twenty-five years–and the serial killer is a woman. Played creepily by former Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only), the Mantis offers to help the police catch the killer, a la The Silence of the Lambs, with only one stipulation: her liaison with the police has to be her son, who is now also a cop. Very twisty, very creepy, very well plotted, we tore through three episodes of it last night. I do recommend it, even if there are some plausibility questions. And how nice to see Carole Bouquet so many years after her Bond girl days, still strikingly beautiful as an older woman, and with much stronger acting chops than in her days scuba diving with Roger Moore in the Greek islands.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in on you again tomorrow morning.

Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

Ballerina Girl

And now it’s Sunday. Just like that!

And LSU are the SEC champions in football, for the first time since 2011, and just like in 2011, the game was against Georgia. Also like in 2011, the game wasn’t even close. LSU won the title decisively, defeating the 4th team in the country (and 2nd in defense nationally) 37-10. No one had scored more than 20 points on Georgia all season; LSU had 17 by half-time. Joe Burrow played like an experienced NFL quarterback in the play-offs. Derek Stingley Jr. made two phenomenal interceptions–Georgia had only been intercepted three times all season; make that five now.

This entire season has been a dream, you know? In 2003, LSU was expected to be good–but not national champion good; and they had to fight their way into the national championship game (including a blowout of Georgia in the SEC title game) before beating Number One ranked Oklahoma in the title game. In 2007, they started the season ranked second and expected to be national champions; despite two losses, somehow they fought their way back into the national title game and blew out Ohio State. In 2011, they were supposed to be good and were–going 12-0, winning the SEC title game with a blowout of Georgia, before losing in the title game to Alabama. This year, we expected the Tigers to be good…but I don’t think I ever dreamed they would be this good. I hoped, of course, but…wow. Just wow.

There was much joy in Louisiana last night–and there was SO MUCH JOY in the Lost Apartment, I can’t even begin to tell you. In fact, I’m still floating on cloud nine this morning as I type this. GEAUX TIGERS!

And if the Saints beat the 49ers today in the Superdome…madness.

As I have said before, I’ve been writing an appreciation post of the LSU season since the Alabama game, and maybe at some point (today? this week? Who knows?) I’ll put the finishing touches on it and share it. I wanted to post it originally after the Alabama game, but then thought, but what if they don’t win out? And so I decided to wait until after the regular season ended–but after the A&M win last Sunday, as I added more to the post, I thought, what if they win the SEC title next week? And so I waited again; and even now, I’m not sure if I should go ahead and finish it; the season isn’t over yet, after all, and LSU is going to the national play-offs for the first time ever.

I did get some things done yesterday–I made groceries, and we had our last “tailgate”–but I turned on the television to the Oklahoma-Baylor Big 12 title game and got sucked in almost immediately–and then the rest of the day was pretty much a loss. This morning, I need to get the kitchen cleaned–the Saints make me so tense I usually clean during their games–because sitting still makes me too tense–and I did manage to print out a story I need to edit yesterday, so there’s that. I’m also going to try to find some time to spend with Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, which opens fantastically and I’ve yet to have the time to spend on it that I would like. I also need to get back to work on the book–the work I did last week felt amazing, and I should ride that momentum as long as I can–and there’s a lot of mess and filing and sorting to be done in my office area here in the kitchen.

But I can’t help but bask in the glow of LSU being SEC champions yet again. GEAUX TIGERS!

I’m still also reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is absolutely fascinating. I have to write a Sherlock Holmes story set in New Orleans, if you will recall, and reading all this French Quarter/New Orleans history is proving to be enormously helpful, quite frankly. I’m only disappointed in myself for taking so long to get around to start studying the endlessly fascinating history of this city I love so much.

I really need to make a to-do list.

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

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Cross My Broken Heart

I slept well again last night, so here’s hoping that Monday night’s shitty night of sleep was an aberration. I feel very rested and well this morning, which is a lovely change from yesterday morning’s horror.

Paul was home late last evening, so I was able to finish watching Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, which I highly recommend. It’s incredibly well done, and powerfully moving. The final two episodes, “Liberation of Buchenwald” and “Hiroshima”, are the perfect pair to end the series with; in my last post I talked about how the “Dresden Firestorm” episode brought up questions of morality, both national and that of war; how absolutely fitting that “Liberation of Buchenwald” was the very next episode; so that any sympathy one might have felt for the German citizens killed during bombing raids and so forth, evaporates almost immediately. The documentary is also one of the first times I’ve ever seen anything about World War II and the Holocaust that absolutely puts the lie to the German everyday citizen’s claim, afterwards, that they didn’t know anything about the death camps. They knew, and at best, just didn’t care. At worst, cheered the mass slaughter of “undesirables”. Thank God Eisenhower brought in the press to document the horrors of the camps.

Even more horrifying is knowing that the threat of Soviet Communism was deemed so terrible that the Western nations chose not to pursue a lot of war crimes trials against horrible Nazis, and instead helped rehabilitate them into German society, deciding it was simply better to move on–the past was the past, the Nazis were defeated, and Communism was apparently worse–to our everlasting shame.

“Hiroshima” naturally deals with the development of atomic weapons and the lead-up to the decision to use them on the Japanese. The reason given at the time was that Japan would never surrender, and the conquest of the home islands would have cost many American lives; so President Truman–also wanting to finish off Japan as quickly as possible, before the Soviet juggernaut could turn east–made the decision to wipe two cities off the map–and the xenophobic racism that allowed the Americans to be more brutal with the Japanese then they ever were with the Germans; had the Germans won the Battle of the Bulge and taken Belgium back, would the Americans have dropped atomic bombs on say, Frankfurt and Munich? Highly unlikely.

I highly recommend this series. World War II changed the face of the world, and politics, forever; and almost everything that has gone on in the world ever since the war ended has been affected and colored by the war. It was the war that made minorities in the United States–who fought, bled and died for this country in a brutal and bloody war–no longer willing to accept second class status. For many closeted queers, it gave them the opportunity to meet others like themselves, and planted the seeds for the gay neighborhoods in places like San Francisco and New Orleans and New York–gay men and lesbians no longer felt isolated and alone, knew there were others like them, and tried to make community, eventually leading to the queer rights movement. Women participated in the war and stepped up to replace the fighting men in their jobs, and soon realized they could be more than wives and mothers, chafing against their once-again restricted roles after the end of the war–which of course led to the Women’s Movement…and that’s not even taking into consideration the changes wrought in the world in geopolitical terms.

Even if you aren’t interested in watching all ten episodes, I strongly encourage everyone to watch “The Liberation of Buchenwald.” The Holocaust was real, it happened, the Western nations allowed it to happen, and it must never happen again. And if you have the capacity to even consider, for one moment, the notion that it was a hoax–fuck all the way off, and I hope your death is slow, painful, and horrific.

I kind of want to revisit Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War/War and Remembrance series; such a well done fictionalization of the war, as seen through the eyes of the Henrys, a naval family. Of course the two volumes total something like three thousand pages–I’ll never in a million years ever have the time for a deep reread–but they were amazing, and I read them as a teenager.

Yesterday I taped Susan Larson’s “My Reading Life” with Jean (J. M.) Redmann, which is always a delight. Susan is smart and fun, as is Jean, and it’s all I can do to keep up with them and not come across as a drooling idiot. But it’s always lovely to talk to Susan and Jean about books and writing, and even more delightful, Susan told me she’d enjoyed Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, which was of course the crowning jewel of my month. As you know, Constant Reader, I have constant doubts about my short story writing ability, and so getting Susan’s stamp of approval meant a lot. I’ll post a link for the show when it airs.

Today is a half-day, and after tomorrow my vacation for Thanksgiving begins. I’m hoping to get a lot done–like always–and maybe I won’t; but at least I feel confident I can get a lot of reading done. I also have my blog entries about The Hunter by Richard Stark and The Ferguson Affair by Ross MacDonald to write. I also would like to catch up on all the things–little things, nothing major–that I always seem to let slide since I don’t have much time.

LSU has also managed to maintain its number one ranking, despite the abysmal showing of the defense last Saturday against Mississippi. I saw an interview with Joe Burrow after the game in which he simply shrugged and said, “You know things have changed at LSU when we score 58 points and get over 700 yards of total offense and the locker room mood is disappointment at how badly we played.” YIKES. But I tend to agree–I was enormously disappointed by the defense in both the Vanderbilt and Mississippi games; but the offense was spectacular in both games and ordinarily I’d be aglow by those high-scoring offensive performances. Maybe it’s true; maybe we do get spoiled quickly–God knows I get annoyed when the Saints don’t play well and they’ve consistently been one of the best teams in the NFL since 2006. Sigh.

But the last two games of LSU’s season are at home, against Arkansas and Texas A&M, and if they win either of those games they clinch the West division and are going to Atlanta to play Georgia for a shot at LSU’s first SEC title since 2011. Woo-hoo!

I hope to start reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys today; today is my half-day and so I can get home earlier, possibly do some writing, and then curl up in my easy chair while I wait for Paul to get home. I still haven’t written a damned thing recently, and I really need to get back on that.

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

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When I Look Into Your Eyes

GEAUX SAINTS!

Friday, while running my errands, I decided to finally stop at the Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue and get my goddamned library card. Yes, I have lived in New Orleans for over twenty-two years and had never gotten my library card. I had tried once before but that was when you had to fill out an application. Mine was denied because I used my mailing address rather than my actual home address; I got the denial in the mail and was highly annoyed. Instead of being an adult and thinking, oh, I’ll just swing by another time I never did; even though I have actually been to the Latter Library a gazillion times in the meantime. So Friday I finally did it; and amazingly enough, it’s all automated now. She entered my information into the computer and activated my card and voila, I walked out of there the proud owner of a New Orleans Public Library card.

I am really pleased with myself, which is kind of interesting. As I’ve said before, I’m reading Empire of Sin, and am wanting to do even more research into New Orleans history–and of course, the library card is an important first step for me. Part of this is my desire to write a short story collection called Monsters of New Orleans, which would be my foray into horror; I have some things already written that would work for it, but the majority of the stories would be original and new, and I want to base them in actual New Orleans history. Empire of Sin has been a veritable treasure trove of ideas for me; I am also looking at writing a historical mystery novel set here sometime between 1900 and the 1920’s. Maybe it will end up just being my short story “The Blues Before Dawn,” or maybe it will be a novel called The Blues Before Dawn.

Maybe both. Who knows?

The Saints are playing the unbeaten Rams today; this has not been a good football weekend for me; kudos to Alabama. I don’t see anyone even staying close to them in a game this year; other than possibly Clemson. The lovely thing about LSU being out of contention now means that I don’t really have to commit so thoroughly to watching college football games all day on Saturdays anymore; I’ll only need to watch the Tigers so my Saturdays have suddenly become more free. Ultimately, not a bad thing.

So, GEAUX SAINTS indeed.

One of the funny things about being a football fan is how committed one can become to one’s own superstitions; there are certain LSU shirts I won’t wear during games anymore, and the same with a pair of sweatpants, pictures to use on Facebook, and so forth. I realized how silly this was yesterday–like anything could possibly do has any effect on the outcome of a game, as opposed to the other hundreds of thousands of fans–and wrote down some notes for an essay about how weird being a fan can be; more fodder for The Fictions of My Life.

And yet…I wouldn’t wear my yellow LSU sweatshirt yesterday. I just couldn’t make myself do it.

I realized yesterday as I watched the Georgia-Kentucky game that we are several days into November and I haven’t yet started my unofficial Nanowrimo project, Bury Me in Satin; I intend to rectify that this morning. That extra hour of sleep has me up before eight this morning and feeling rested and inspired; it only took three days to get to this point. I did manage to clean yesterday during football games; I wasn’t terribly committed to watching Georgia-Kentucky, and during the stretches when Auburn was stinking up the field against Texas A&M I also organized and vacuumed and washed clothes, etc. So this morning, the Lost Apartment is relatively–relatively being the operative word–clean and looks nice. But not feeling fatigued this morning is quite lovely, to be honest; I worried I’d have one of my patented lazy moods today, and that is most definitely not the case. I want to get the chapter headings put in for the Scotty so I can get it turned in at long last; I want to get those tweaks done to Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories done; and of course, I simply have to get started on Bury Me in Satin. I also spent a lot of time reading Empire of Sin yesterday; I am now up to the part about the Axeman, and it’s absolutely riveting, particularly since I want to write a Venus Casanova story called “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” which I’ve already started, honestly. I also made some notes in my journal yesterday. Progress comes in all shapes and sizes, and I will embrace any and all of them that I actually experience.

And now, on that note, it is back to the spice mines. I should take full advantage of being wide awake so early in the morning; if I can get all of this stuff finished and done and out of the way before the Saints game, well, more power to me indeed.

And I may even be able to finally finish reading Empire of Sin today at long last–something to help keep my mind off the Saints game.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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