I Hope You Dance

New Orleans is almost completely shut down.

Yesterday I ventured forth to the office, to do my data entry and to clean my desk area. We had several meetings via the Internet, and several trainings–including one in which we were taught how to do work from home–and I wound up bringing my work home with me. We also had a department meeting on-line, to explain things we could be doing while self-quarantined and to make up hours lost by the shutting down of our testing programs. After my enormous freak-out on Monday (yes, it wasn’t a pretty thing when I got home from the office Monday afternoon), I feel a bit better about my job. It’s so weird, because I am used to being out there on the front lines doing testing and getting people treated…and to be instead isolated at home is a strange thing. What was even weirder was driving home. Under normal circumstances I would never leave the office at six; if I did, I wouldn’t take the highway home because I have to take the big off ramp from I-10 West to I-90 to the Westbank, and the bridge traffic usually has the highway backed up to Claiborne, where I get on the highway. Yesterday I didn’t even have to brake, that’s how light the traffic was–at six pm on a Tuesday. There were cars on the highway; I could see cars on the streets below (the highway is elevated as it passes through downtown)–and there were some peoples strolling on St. Charles…but other than that, nothing.

We finished watching Toy Boy last night, which was terrific and a lot of fun, and ending its first season with a terrific cliff-hanger to set up the second season. It’s great for bingeing, y’all; good trashy escapist fun to make you forget that we are trying to survive and live through a terrifying pandemic and the even more terrifying economic fall out from said pandemic. I also have to remember that I cannot stay inside the entire time; I need to get out of the Lost Apartment and take walks, enjoy the sunshine and the weather, and to take my phone or camera with me. No matter how introverted you are, you need to get out of the house sometimes–unless, of course, your introversion has turned into agoraphobia, which naturally means going outside would be the absolute worst thing for you to try to do.

I still have three stories to try to get written by the end of the month, and I am definitely going to give it the old college try. My mind has clearly been somewhere else over the last week or so–it’s hard to believe it’s only fucking Wednesday; this past weekend seems like it was years ago, last week a different life entirely and Mardi Gras? A different reality completely.

I haven’t even been able to focus enough to try to read–which is weird, as reading is always where I go for escape.

But the nice thing about working from home is that I can clean while taking a break from my data entry; I can also have trainings or webinars on my computer to listen to while I clean and organize the kitchen–and I can even broadcast said trainings and webinars to my television while cleaning the living room. This is a strange new work reality–it’s been years since I worked at home primarily–and one I am going to have to adapt to. I saw someone posting on social media yesterday a poll over whether people thought once this has passed, if things will go back the way they were or will be different. It’s a silly question, because this is a big cultural and societal change; it can never be the way it was before again–just like New Orleans isn’t the same city it was before Katrina, and it will never be that city ever again. Things never go back the way they were; just like the United States will never be the same country it was before 9/11 again.

We don’t know what our new reality is going to look like once we get past this crisis, so trying to speculate is kind of an exercise in pointlessness.

But one of the things, the mantras, that helped me get through the aftermath of Katrina was to focus on the things I could control. One of those things was my body; post-Katrina was probably the most dedicated periods I’ve ever had to my health and fitness and my physical appearance. Since the gyms are closed that’s not really a possibility this time around; although I can still stretch every day and go for nice walks, it’s not the same thing as hitting the weights three times a week. I also focused on my writing and editing; I didn’t write as much as I did before the interregnum–there were times I thought I’d never write again–but that didn’t stop me from my editorial duties, and I did eventually start writing again; this was the period that produced Murder in the Rue Chartres and “Annunciation Shotgun” and Love Bourbon Street. I also think writing–particularly since I’d be writing about a non-virus non-pandemic world–will provide a nice escape for me.

I also signed the contract with Mystery Tribune yesterday for my story “The Carriage House”–remember how last week actually started out with good news in my world? That also seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? I’m always happy to sell a short story, and it’s always lovely to sell one to a mainstream market with a gay main character. (You can talk about how publishing needs to diversify all you want, but it’s still not easy to sell a story with a gay main character to a mainstream market.) It’s a terrific story, or at least I (and the people at Mystery Tribune) think it is, and it’s a concept that’s been lying around in my head ever since we first moved out of the carriage house and into the main house the first time, in June 2005, and came back to me when we moved back into the main house in December 2006. Many years ago–probably when I was far too young–I read a book by (I think) Gerold Frank, a true crime account of The Boston Strangler. There was a bit in the book about a woman who ran a boarding house, and began to suspect one of her tenants might be the Strangler; he was always agitated and acting strange the day of the murders, etc.; lots of circumstantial evidence but nothing ever definite. She remembered one day him staring at an advertisement in a magazine featuring an African-American woman for about ten minutes or so, rather obsessively; and she thought to herself, the next victim will be a black woman and sure enough, it was. You know, that sort of thing; the sort of thing that would be the basis for a Hitchcock movie (I’ve never seen The Lodger, which is a Hitchcock film–possibly based on a novel–about a woman who begins to believe one of her tenants is Jack the Ripper. I’ve always wanted to see it.) and it’s always been something that’s fascinated me. I used to joke that I never wanted to be one of those people interviewed on the news with a caption under my name (NEIGHBOR OF ACCUSED SUSPECTED NOTHING), but the concept of living in close quarters with a serial killer, or a thrill killer, or a killer of some sort–and beginning to suspect that you do, has always been an interesting thought and something I’ve always wanted to write about. “The Carriage House” is a culmination of all those thoughts and inspirations, and I am delighted you will finally get a chance to read it.

It’s also one of those stories that I originally thought would be a short novel, but it works much better as a short story.

More on that to come, of course, and now, back to the spice mines.

augenzo5

Masterpiece

Why, hello, Thursday, how are you?

Returning to work wasn’t bad, actually, if a little weird; I felt kind of disoriented most of the day, like I was dreaming that I was at work rather than actually at work, if that makes any sense to anyone? Probably not, since it doesn’t really make sense to me, either. I slept very well again last night–that’s two nights in a row!–even though I didn’t really want to get out of bed this morning. I would have quite happily stayed in bed for another few hours. But the weekend is just over the horizon, and next week will be the real reality; a full week of work climaxing with Southern Decadence and condom outreach on Friday before a three day weekend, which is lovely.

We finished season two of Mindhunter last night, which was good–no spoilers but the season finale felt like a bit of a letdown, but overall the show is so incredibly well-done and well-acted and the story so well told I suspect that’s why the finale felt a little let-downish. It was the right place to stop, I suppose, but the resolution of the Atlanta child-killings of the late 70’s/early 80’s didn’t really mark an end to the case as neatly as fiction/entertainment demands; that’s the problem of using real life in a fictional series, I suppose. It would have been dramatically unfair to the victims and their families to have resolved the case completely–but while Wayne Williams never confessed and was never officially tied to the killings of the children, it is curious that the killings stopped once he was taken into custody–although, as Paul pointed out, the killer also could have simply moved away or died around the same time Williams was charged.

The finale of the show did send me off into the ozone layer thinking about serial killers, and our fascination with them. I’ve never read a lot about serial killers or mass murders (Paul, on the other hand, is literally a walking encyclopedia on serial killers–he doesn’t read about them as much as he used to, but when we merged our book collections, I remember being a bit concerned about his interest in serial killers), besides the obvious Helter Skelter (who didn’t read that in the 1970’s? Manson was, for want of a better term, the rock star of serial killings/mass murderers), and a few others–I read The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank (I think that was his name) and some books on Jack the Ripper, but I never have been overly interested in them. I remember hearing about the Houston killings when I first moved there; so I did some reading up on Dean Corll, and I read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, too. I half-paid attention to the Jeffrey Dahmer case as it unfolded, and so on and so forth. And yes, watching Mindhunter has given me an idea for a particularly dark and nasty book–not sure that I’ll ever write it, but I do think it’s a remarkably good idea.

I’ve had ideas for books about serial killers before–years ago I wanted to write a Venus Casanova novel about a serial killer in New Orleans; even now I have a partial short story centering Venus that is a serial killer story (that would be “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” which is a great title but I cannot figure out how to make it work as a short story; it may wind up as a novella but this is, I repeat, this is not the serial killer book idea I had for Venus.) I have another idea for a Venus novel I want to write, but then again, that brings up questions about authenticity and does a gay white man have the right to write a novel centering an African-American woman in New Orleans? I like the idea of doing the research necessary to write authentically about Venus, in all honesty; even if I never write the book the research would be interesting to do–and I was also reminded, in reading Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which has a chapter from the point of view of a real woman, the first African American female cop in the history of Baltimore, that it’s possible to do it if you’re willing to put the work into it.

And I think studying the complicated politics and history of race in New Orleans would be an interesting education. I’ve yet to read Lords of Misrule, which is about that in terms of Carnival and the integration of the krewes in the early 1990’s; perhaps I should move it up on my list, but then again, there’s no way I could write anything from Venus’ perspective, novel-wise, until 2021 at the earliest.

Anyway, I digress. We were talking about serial killers, weren’t we? I still think Val McDermid’s The Mermaids Singing is the best serial killer novel I’ve read, but I’ve never read Thomas Harris. I’ve seen The Silence of the Lambs, of course, and we watched the series Hannibal, but I’ve never really quite understood the American obsession with Hannibal Lector as a pop star–which I’ve always believed had more to do with Anthony Hopkins’ performance in the films than it did with the books–but perhaps I should read the first two books (I’ve heard too many bad things about the more recent ones, beginning with Hannibal.)

The funny thing is that the one thing that always bothered me the most about serial killers–whether in novels, movies, or television–was the presence of the profiler, who is always so smug and certain about their profiles, knowledge and expertise–that I remember thinking while watching something (probably an iteration of Law and Order, but which one I don’t remember) and thinking to myself if I ever write a serial killer novel it’s going to have an FBI profiler who is wrong about everything. From that germ I created an entire character; and then thought, an annoying, always wrong profiler would be the perfect foil for Venus–who would think he’s full of shit and be irritated that theories are given priority over evidence and facts. There was a serial killer operating in Baton Rouge around that same time; there had been a serial killer operating in Houston–I think, without checking, known as the I-45 Killer–and remember thinking, maybe it should be rethought of us the I-10 Killer; Houston and Baton Rouge are connected by I-10…and then of course started spinning out this tale in my head of a serial killer operating east and west along I-10 (which also runs through New Orleans) and so on. I’ve also thought about someone killing priests (another Venus idea) in a serial fashion…but I’ve always backed away from writing about serial killers because I don’t know enough about them and learning enough about them to write from an expert point of view seemed like a lot of work–time-consuming work, at that.

And one thing I know for sure, I don’t have much time, do I?

Heavy heaving sigh.

This is, as you can probably guess, yet another example of my creative ADD, and you can see how all over the place my mind will jump. Hopefully tonight when I get off work I’ll get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which is so close to having the first draft done…which I wanted to do before the end of the month, which is nigh–and seriously, I need to focus. Part of the problem I’ve been having this month is too many things, too many different things, that I’ve agreed to do hanging over my head, and one thing I need to remember going forward is to stop agreeing to do things; this is how I get in trouble. Even now, sitting here, thinking about finishing this book by the end of the month, I am realizing all the things I’ve got to get done in September that I’ve agreed to do–and then there’s of course October, when I’ve agreed to work on yet another project that will most likely be taking up most of my time.

Sigh. No rest for the wicked, or for the weary.

And that’s my cue to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

21842_100416739995625_100000818979511_9811_2586957_n