Don’t Let Go

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

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

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

Huzzah! I think.

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

And now back to the spice mines.

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Dancing Machine

Thursday, and the weekend looms. The weather has remained cold, gray and damp here in New Orleans; it will stay cold through the weekend but next week the temperatures are going to go back up to something more normal for New Orleans in November; sixties and low seventies, with potential lows in the high fifties after dark.

Work on the book proceeds apace. Not well; I managed to crank out both chapters four and five over the last two nights, and reached, in Chapter Five, a final crucial point in the story, which is cool. I don’t know if that means writing the rest of the book is going to go any better than the beginning, but progress is fucking progress.

I also started–with one sentence, mind you–a new short story called “One Night at Brandy’s Lounge.” I’m not sure what the story is going to be about, but I’ve had the title and the story prompt–a picture my friend Erin posted on social media a few months ago–floating in my head for a while, and last night while I was eking out the last words of Chapter Five the first sentence of the story came to my head (I wouldn’t have even stopped at Brandy’s Lounge that night if I hadn’t gotten fired that afternoon) and I thought I should start a new document so I wouldn’t lose the sentence (which has happened before and is incredibly frustrating and infuriating on so many levels.

I really need to get back to “The Blues Before Dawn,” too. I need to get so much work done before I leave for the holidays on Monday….and the cold weather doesn’t help because my kitchen-office is the coldest place in the house. Those lovely windows that give me so much beautiful natural light most of the year? Well, they are COLD TRAPS when the temperature drops.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I paid all the bills yesterday, which was lovely; it’s nice to be all caught up and actually have some money left over–which is entirely because of how paydays fell this month and has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of magic spell I unleashed over my checking account and my bills–usually all my end of the month and first of the month bills, along with the car payment, have to be paid from the same paycheck, which is nightmarish. But this time, we get paid again on the 28th this month, so the end of the month bills and car payment fell due from this paycheck, and so I can pay the beginning of the month bills with the 28th paycheck.

Sweet.

Although whenever something happens like this and I have extra money…I always wonder what I’m forgetting to pay. But I kind of went through everything last night and I am relatively certain I’ve paid everything.

I also forgot to leave the water slightly running overnight during the hard freeze so you can imagine how terrified I was this morning when I got up and approached the sink to brush my teeth with some severe trepidation…but no worries; all was well. *Whew*.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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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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People Everyday

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

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

Sure enough, it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot recommend Empire of Sin highly enough.

Hazard

Thursday morning and I am still feeling unwell.

And winter has arrived in New Orleans; a cold front that of course would be considered spring or fall most everywhere else north of I-10 arrived overnight. It is amusing that our local weather people are talking about a cold front when it is seventy-four degrees outside. But that’s at least a ten degree difference from yesterday, and it is getting close to mid-October, so the colder weather is fairly overdue.

Colder, not cold.

I’m hoping that today is the last day of this lingering whatever-the-hell-it-is; that one more day of soup and vitamin C and juice and DayQuil will not only make today bearable but will also cure whatever it is that ails me. I really loathe being sick–not, of course, that anyone else really likes being sick. Although I suppose there are some who do.

Yesterday as I spent the day covered in blankets in my easy chair I finished reading Circe by Madeline Miller (already wrote about it, but buy it–it’s fantastic), and then fell into some New Orleans history worm-holes on the Internet on my iPad. The history of New Orleans is so rich and vibrant; bloody and filled with not only death but defiance. It started with me seeing a post from the Historic New Orleans Collection of an article about Prohibition in New Orleans–which was pretty much ignored and not really enforced as much as it should or could have been, perhaps–and I thought to myself, self, there’s probably a really good novel that could be set in this time period dealing with Prohibition and everything else going on in the city at the time. Was it James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series that was set in the past? Which reminds me, I need to revisit that series anyway.

I am kind of amazed, really, how little of New Orleans history I actually do know. I mean, I know who founded the city and when, when it became Spanish rather than French, when it was sold to the United States, the Battle of New Orleans…but there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I do know some about the uglier parts of the city’s history–the homophobia and racism, Delphine LaLaurie, how I-10 was deliberately routed to destroy prospering African-American neighborhoods and of course, the hideousness of the Upstairs Lounge fire and aftermath–but there are so many gaps, as I said before. I know about the murder of the police commissioner that led to the mob violence against the Italian immigrants, and the horror of the battle of Monument Place; I know about the Axeman murders and Storyville and Bellocq and his photos of Storyville prostitutes.

But there’s so much more, and so much I don’t know. This is why I always laugh when people call me a “New Orleans expert.” I am far from that. I know neighborhoods and streets, houses and the Quarter. But there are entire populations of the city I don’t know much about; the Greeks and the Islenos, the Vietnamese in New Orleans East, and the growing Latin/Hispanic populations. There are neighborhoods I don’t know, and the West Bank is, for the most part, completely unknown to me.

In other words, I need to explore. I need to read more New Orleans history, and I need to get out in my car on weekends and drive around, exploring and visiting and sight-seeing. I do feel that my next series will most likely be set in New Orleans’ past; it’s just that I don’t know when or where or what it will be. I’ve experimented with the past in short story form; “The Weight of a Feather” (included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories) may not be set in New Orleans, but the main character is from here. “The Blues Before Dawn”, an in-progress story, is also set in the past…and I think it’s an interesting time/subject to take up. (I don’t know how to end the story or even what the middle is, if I am to be completely honest; but it has a terrific opening and I am sure the story will come to me someday.)

I think one of the primary problems I’ve had over the past few years, that sense of feeling disconnected from the city that I’ve mentioned before, comes from, in all honesty, not reading the newspapers here. When the Times-Picayune became the Sometimes Picayune I stopped reading it; I will only visit their website to read write-ups on the Saints and LSU games. The New Orleans Advocate is doing a great job of picking up the slack, but I never think to pick it up and read it. I need to be better about that; I need to be better informed on what is going on in the city. There’s currently a scandal brewing–or it’s already brewed–about the Archdiocese and one of the Catholic boys’ schools in town; it’s what you would expect–sexual abuse and a cover-up; which has happened so many times now in other cities as to be almost a cliche. There’s a novel there as well, even though when I had the idea a long time ago–years before this scandal brewed up and made it onto the public radar–I was told it wasn’t an interesting topic and no one would want to read it.

I disagreed then, and I disagree now. I think it’s not only timely, but people would read it. It would have to not be a cliche, and it would have to be cleverly done, but I think it would work quite well.

And now, I feel the fever returning and I need to go lie down again for a moment.

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Good for Me

The LSU game on Saturday was not pleasant, alas; it’s never fun to lose, particularly when it’s to a hated rival. I was far too tense during the game, and realized that it was because of pent-up nervous energy. I correctly diagnosed that if I got out of my easy chair, turned both the upstairs and downstairs televisions to the game, and used the time to listen–occasionally watching–while cleaning and organizing, I could remain calm and cool and not get overwrought. I love football, but I don’t love the anxiety and stress that comes from total immersion in a game…so I think from now on I am primarily going to listen while cleaning the house.

And when the game was over and LSU had lost, I had a clean apartment and had done several loads of laundry and several loads of dishes. So that counts, at least for me, as a win. I also started another book purge; recognizing that some of my justification for hoarding some books (“someday I’ll write a non-fiction book about blah-blah-blah”) was just that: justification. Rather grimly, as I started pruning books off my shelves I told myself, you’d only ever have time to write that non-fiction book if you reached a place where you could support yourself solely by writing. And if that is the case, you can always buy another copy of the book.

The Saints didn’t play yesterday; rather they are on Monday Night Football playing the Washington Racist Stereotypes Redskins, which means getting home from the main office tonight will be a chore–which means I have to go the long way to avoid the Superdome and the Central Business District. Yay. It also means Paul will have to walk home from work, but I am sure he is already expecting that outcome.

Yesterday I didn’t feel well; a fever that kept coming and going, runny nose, congestion…very unpleasant. I couldn’t focus because I had sick head; my mind couldn’t focus. I tried writing for a while and finally had to give up on it. Instead, I curled up in my easy chair and finished reading Alice Bolin’s Dead Girls.

 

 

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The Best Things In Life Are Free

Hello, Thursday! I am front-loaded on hours this pay week (our week runs from Friday thru Thursday) so I don’t have to go into the office until way later today; just for testing hours, and so I can run some errands today so I won’t have to do them this weekend.

Huzzah!

My kitchen is also a mess this morning, and I have a load of dishes to put away and a load of laundry to fold and put away. I would also like to get some work done on Scotty this morning; I made it through to Chapter Four or so last night, and I think I can get some more significant progress done on it today. What’s interesting is now that I am diving into the Scotty revision, my creative ADD has seemed to have significantly slowed down and I am not thinking of other things I want to write anymore. Which on the one hand is kind of cool, on the other interesting. When I was working on the WIP, for example, I was constantly distracted, just as I was as I suffered through writing the first draft of the Scotty. But this revision is going so smoothly–I haven’t reached the snags yet, I suspect, but I’ve made it much further without reaching a snag than I would have thought–that I am actually kind of enjoying this revision.

Which is really weird. I’ve always hated revisions and rewrites, but this is going very smoothly, as I said before, and the only reason it isn’t going faster is because I am a lot lazier than I should be. Last night, for example, I could have kept going but decided I’d worked long enough for the day and called it quits earlier than I could have.  Which is always par for the course. But even if I only manage to get through a chapter a day, I’ll be done in less than a month. This is my longest Scotty since Jackson Square Jazz–twenty-five chapters, a prologue and the postscript–and it’s probably the most ambitious one I’ve ever written. But I am also enjoying writing it…I am enjoying the challenge, and I am enjoying doing it the way that I used to write books–slowly and carefully, and spread out over a long period of time. There’s nothing wrong with writing fast, either–but it’s so lovely not having a deadline.

So fucking lovely.

If I’m lucky, I can get this draft and the final polish done by November 1, which is my plan for the moment. I am going to wind up missing the deadline for the anthology I started writing “The Blues Before Dawn” for–it’s mid-October–but other than that I don’t mind putting all my short stories on hold for the time being. I am really getting excited about starting to do some research for a novel set in New Orleans’ past, and even more excited about the research itself. There are so many archives in New Orleans, and the city’s past is so rich and full. (Just looking over at the little two shelf bookcase next to my desk where I keep research books, I see the following books: Gumbo Ya-Ya, Bourbon Street, The French Quarter, Empire of Sin, Plantation Parade, The Civil War in Louisiana, Mr. New Orleans, Lost Plantations, Inventing New Orleans, The Capture of New Orleans 1862, Louisiana in the Confederacy, The Thibodaux Massacre, The Ghosts of New Orleans, Frenchmen Desire Goodchildren, Getting Off at Elysian Fields, Legendary Louisiana Outlaws, and Dixie Bohemia, which barely scratch the surface! On my desk is Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans as well.)

I need to get a library card. I can’t believe I’ve never had one in New Orleans.

All right, back to the spice mines.

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