Bohemian Rhapsody

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Tuesday and my second long day of the week; just like last week, Mondays and Tuesdays coming in as long days. When we move into our new building in October (I am still in denial about that) my schedule will probably be long days on Monday and Tuesday every week, so I am trying to get used to it ahead of time. I wasn’t tired at all yesterday; but remember, Sunday I was drained and worn out from the game Saturday night and went to bed relatively early that night. I’m not necessarily tired today, but more a little on the drained side. Hopefully, I won’t be too tired to finish editing/revising two Scotty chapters tonight when I get home from work.

If so, I’ll try to read some more of Circe. I hate that it’s taking me this long to read it! Not an indication of its quality, people! Buy it! Read it! Savor it!

I’ve always loved Greek mythology, ever since I was a kid and I read a library book, when I was about eight or nine, called The Windy Walls of Troy. I’ve also always wanted to write about the Trojan War; it’s a tale I’ve always loved, and one I have always wanted to try my hand at telling. (Which is why the Troy: Fall of a City series on Netflix was so disappointing; as was the Brad Pitt film Troy.)  I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a y/a set during the last year of the war; the part that the Iliad primarily focuses on, from the point of view of one of Priam’s bastard sons, promised to the priesthood of Apollo and raised in the temple, but still a part of the royal family. (I’ve also tried tracking down a copy of The Windy Walls of Troy, to no avail.) Madeline Miller also covered the Trojan War with The Song of Achilles, one of my favorite novels of this century; it made me weep, and I kind of want to read it again, now that I am enjoying her Circe. She did a really interesting job of weaving the gods and demigods into her narrative; how does one write about the Trojan War without including the gods? My thought, of course, was to try to do it as real, without the gods actually appearing in the story, but rather things that happen being seen as their work. But how do you do the Judgment of Paris without the golden apple and the three vindictive, spiteful, jealous goddesses?

Something to think about, at any rate.

I’m also having a lot of fun doing some slight research into the history of both New Orleans and Louisiana; I had another book idea the other night as a result of a Twitter conversation with Clair Lamb and Rebecca Chance (so it’s THEIR fault), but I think it actually applies and will fit into a paranormal series I want to write set in rural Louisiana in the parish I invented, Redemption Parish–doesn’t that just sound like a perfect name for a parish where supernatural stuff happens? It’s a matter of tying in all the stories and things I’ve already written set there…it also occurred to me the other night that even the novels and stories I write that aren’t connected to others actually are–I realized that my character Jerry Channing, who appears in the Scotty series AND appeared in The Orion Mask, also writes for Street Talk magazine and that awful editor who Mouse worked for originally in Timothy, which ties Timothy to the Scotty series as well. I always thought Timothy was the one book that stood on its own…not so much, as it turns out.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

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Freedom

Thursday. I don’t have to go in until later today, which is nice; it gives me the morning to slowly wake up and get going. I didn’t sleep well last night for some reason so I am going to be really tired this evening; which is fine, I suppose. Maybe I’ll sleep well tonight, who knows? Paul came home just as I was getting ready to go to bed, which was nice. Normality, such as it is, has returned to the Lost Apartment. I started reading William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood. It won the Edgar several years ago for Best Fact Crime, and I’ve been wanting to read it for years. I’ve know Bill for years–I was also there at the Edgars the night he won–and have always enjoyed his work.

I started writing that short story “Burning Crosses” yesterday, and am trying really hard to not allow fear to stop me from working on it. I think it could be a really good story, but…it’s also potentially a dangerous one to try to tell. but I can’t let fear of reaction stop me from working on something. That’s just not a good thing, you know?

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“Everyone in Venice is acting,” Count Girolamo Marcello told me. “Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythim–the rhythm of the lagoon, the rhythm of the water, the tides, the waves…”

I had been walking along Calle della Mandola when I ran into Count Marcello. He was a member of an old Venetian family and was considered an authority on the history, the social structure, and especially the subtleties of Venice. As we were both heading in the same direction, I joined him.

“The rhythm in Venice is like breathing,” he said. “High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all attuned to the rhythm of the wheel. That is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide, and the tide changes every six hours.”

Count Marcello inhaled deeply. “How do you see a bridge?”

“Pardon me?” I asked. “A bridge?”

“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle–as just another set of steps tp climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over a bridge. We cross from one reality…to another reality. From one street….to another street. From one setting…to another setting.”

I love Venice. We spent a mere twenty-four hours there on our trip to Italy several years ago, taking the train from the magnificent station in Florence through the Italian countryside north and then across the lagoon to the Venetian station. I walked ahead of Paul through that Italian station, unable to wait to catch my first glimpse of the city from the top of the stairs rising from the piazza and vaporetto station on the Grand Canal.

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I was enchanted from that first glimpse.

I’d always wanted to visit Venice–ever since reading Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant story “Don’t Look Now” and seeing the film version, which is incredible–and also Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven. Seeing Venice, even if was only for twenty-four hours, was wonderful. We were also incredibly lucky because Venice wasn’t crowded; apparently that’s become a huge problem (goo.gl/ePMQjT). It was even a problem when Berendt was writing The City of Falling Angels.

The title comes from a sign Berendt saw one day while strolling around Venice, near an old church that was crumbling and in need of restoration: BEWARE OF FALLING ANGELS. Apparently, the statues of angels on the sides of the church and along the rooftop had become loose with the rotting of the masonry, and one had fallen, almost hitting a pedestrian. The book reminded me so much of Venice, and why the city had enchanted me during my all-too-brief visit. I want to write about Venice; I’ve been toying with a story for years, and as I am just now starting to write my Panzano story, maybe I will soon write the Venice story.

Anyway, Berendt is best-known, of course, for his book about Savannah: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I read decades ago when it was new. I enjoyed it; it was an examination of the quirks and curiosities of the city, built around the lens of a murder committed by a member of Savannah society. The City of Falling Angels is the same type of book, only viewed around the lens, not of a murder, but the burning of the Fenice Opera House. It did turn out to be a crime; two men were convicted of arson, but Berendt uses the fire, the investigations, and the subsequent trial, to view Venice; and along the way he takes a look at the quirks, eccentricities, and curiosities of a place that, like Savannah, is quaint and historic and beautiful–yet also very small. A lot of the things he talks about in the book–the concerns of locals that Venice is no longer for the Venetians, that the city is losing its neighborhoods to tourism; that poorer and middle class Venetians are being pushed out in the name of tourism–are concerns that we locals now have about New Orleans, so that made the book even more interesting to me. When we were there, we stayed overnight at a wonderful little family run hotel just off the Rialto Bridge and on one of the side canals; the Hotel San Salvador. We, too, had a lengthy conversation with two of the young women working there–members of the ownership family–who told us the same thing: Venice is no longer for the Venetians. Their family can no longer afford to live in the city, despite owning a hotel there; they live on the mainland and commute into the city. Most of the city’s apartments are being bought up by foreigners who then rent them out to visitors, so it is also affecting business for establishments like the Hotel San Salvador. I loved the hotel, it was charming and quaint and cozy; I loved the second floor lounge overlooking the canal below, and the family who owned and operated it were so nice, friendly, and charming. If and when we return, we will undoubtedly stay there again.

I’ve met John Berendt exactly once; he was very nice, and I liked him. I like his books, too. My character, Jerry Channing, who appears in both The Orion Mask and Garden District Gothic, and whom I’ve considered spinning off into his own series, is based on him only in that he writes the same kinds of books and articles Berendt does; kind of a cross between Berendt and Dominick Dunne. (I still might spin Jerry off; a lot of my short stories, which have first-person narrators who are never identified, are told in what I imagine Jerry’s voice to be) In fact, Jerry’s biggest success is a book called Garden District Gothic (very meta of me), which is about the quirks and curiosities and eccentricities of New Orleans, viewed through the lens of a society murder in the Garden District. The Scotty novel that bears the same title is an investigation into that case twenty-five years later, in fact (again, very meta of me).

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Anyway,  I highly recommend The City of Falling Angels. I think I enjoyed it a lot more because I’d been to Venice, but it definitely made me want to go back. It’s very well-written, and a lot of fun to read.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

I Want to Know What Love Is

It’s been raining pretty much most of the weekend, which is fine. I went to get groceries, pick up a prescription, and get the mail before getting home and starting to work on the mess that is my home; I also finished writing a chapter of one manuscript and started writing another–which was my writing goal for yesterday. Today’s is to do second drafts of two short stories to prepare them for submission. I also have to go to the gym and finish the cleaning of the apartment and organizing my office. I started reading the big y/a best seller One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus yesterday; I can see why it’s a bestseller and I can also see why it’s being developed into a television series a la Thirteen Reasons Why; it’s a deceptively simple yet surprisingly complex story, and likewise–well, I’ll talk some more about it once I’ve finished.

I’m enjoying writing again for the first time in years, which is a good thing, and I am actually putting a lot of thought and planning into what I’m writing, which is a really good thing. What I’ve written over the last six or seven years has been a lot more organic, coming to me as I wrote it from a basic premise and perhaps knowing what the end was; without putting near as much thought into theme and what I am trying to say, what I am trying to explore with the story, than I used to–I mean, it worked, but it also made the work a lot harder than it needed to be. I think this is particularly true of short stories; I think that’s primarily what I’ve been doing wrong in writing them–my entire approach to short stories has been wrong, and I’ve been, as I said, making it a lot harder on myself than it necessarily needs to be.

Which is, sadly, what I always tend to do for myself: make things harder than they need to be.

Heavy heaving sigh.

In addition to cleaning and everything else I did yesterday, I also managed to start watching Season 2 of Black Sails, which continues to enthrall. I am still liking the idea of finally writing my pirate novel (Cutlass), but not as much as before; it remains one of those dreams that I hold on to for when I am making a living as a writer again and able to not have a day job any longer. (There are several of those; they also require not only making a living but making enough money to travel and do research.)

Some day. I never give up on the dream.

The Short Story Project also continues; yesterday I read a story by Ross MacDonald from The Archer Files and one by Karl Edward Wagner from the gorgeous two volume collection The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, produced by Centipede Press maybe seven or eight years ago.

MacDonald’s story, “The Bearded Lady,” was quite good, as everything written by MacDonald is.

The unlatched door swung inward when I knocked. I walked into the studio, which was high and dim as a hayloft. The big north window in the opposite wall was hung with monkscloth draperies that shut out the morning light. I found the switch beside the door and snapped it on. Several fluorescent tubes suspended from the naked rafters flickered and burned blue-white.

A strange woman faced me under the cruel light. She was only a  charcoal sketch on an easel, but she gave me a chill. Her nude body, posed casually on a chair, was slim and round and pleasant to look at. Her face wasn’t pleasant at all. Bushy black eyebrows almost hid her eyes. A walrus mustache bracketed her mouth, and a thick beard fanned down over her torso.

The door creaked behind me. The girl who appeared in the doorway wore a starched white uniform. Her face had a little starch in it, too, though not enough to spoil her good looks entirely. Her black hair was drawn back severely from her forehead.

Lew Archer, on his way from Los Angeles to San Francisco, decided to stop in the small town of San Marcos and look up an old army buddy, inadvertently stumbling into a murder case. The story is interesting, the writing whipcrack smart, with MacDonald’s trademark, cynical short paragraphs immediately getting to the essence of a character. Don’t we, as readers, already have a strong impression of who that young woman is as a person after those three sentences? I’ve often wondered how one solves a murder in a short story–or writes a detective short story. I’ve tried and failed often enough. But the great thing about the Short Story Project is I am starting to understand how to write them, how they work, and how to make them work; which is a lovely thing. I have several ideas for Chanse short stories that I’ve never written because I didn’t know how; now I rather do, or at least have an idea, thanks to The Archer Files and Kinsey and Me (Sue Grafton). Both books are great learning tools for people who want to write detective stories, and MacDonald’s influence on Grafton is clear. (Although I’d still love to see someone do an essay, or book of criticism, comparing and contrasting MacDonald’s work with that of his wife: The Murderous Millars would be a great title.) MacDonald’s stories usually have to do with damaged and dysfunctional families; “The Bearded Lady” is another one of those, and is very well done. I highly recommend it.

The Wagner story I read was from the second volume of he Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, which was titled Walk on the Wild Side, and was titled “The Last Wolf.”

The last writer sat alone in his study.

There was a knock at his door.

But it was only his agent. A tired, weathered old man like himself. It seemed not long ago that he had thought the man quite young.

“I phoned you I was coming,” explained his agent, as if to apologize for the writer’s surprised greeting.

Of course…he had forgotten. He concealed the vague annoyance he felt at being interrupted at his work.

Nervously the agent entered his study. He gripped his attache case firmly before him, thrusting it into the room as if it were a shield against the perilously stacked shelves and shelves of musty books. Clearing a drift of worn volumes from the cracked leather couch, he seated himself amidst a puff of dust from the ancient cushions.

I received both volumes of Wagner when I was judging the Bram Stoker Award for Best Single Author Collection, or whatever it is called; it was so long ago that I don’t even recall who the finalists were or who actually won. My memory is perforated like Swiss cheese nowadays, with holes and gaps; it also works like a sieve as new knowledge, and new books I’ve read, tend to pass through it without catching hold (I used to be able to name every book I’ve read, the plot, the main characters–and even some of the minor; over the years that ability has been sadly lost to time). I don’t, for example, remember the titles or the contents of the Wagner stories I read; but the books are beautiful volumes and I remember being impressed by his writing, so I kept them on my shelves. It was only a week or so ago that I realized, that I remembered, them; and that they might make a good addition to my year-long study of short fiction.

I’ve often said that writing about writers, about the business of writing and publishing, sometimes (often) feels masturbatory to me; only other writers would be interested in such a story. And yet writers pop up in my work all the time; Paige is a journalist and wannabe novelist in the Chanse series (and now that I’ve retired that series she’s migrated, apparently, over to the Scotty); another writer character I’ve created has appeared in several novels of mine–one Scotty, The Orion Mask, and one pseudonymous; he also appears to be the voice I used in several first-person short stories, including “An Arrow for Sebastian.” I have another such short story in process; I’ve not quite worked out how to make the story work, but there you have it. I was tempted to write an entire series about a writer, but as I started to develop my gay male writer character more I soon realized I had turned him into a hybrid of Scotty and Chanse; there was nothing new or original about him other than he was a writer and not a private eye. (I really do want to reread Azimov’s Murder at the ABA, though, and Elizabeth Peter’s brilliant Die for Love and Naked Once More.)

“The Last Wolf” is also about a writer, a writer who firmly believes in himself and his work, and that his work is art, and art should never be compromised for commerce. The world in which he lives is one where he is the last (apparently) person attempting to still write fiction; novels have fallen by the wayside and short stories are no longer published; the world has completely changed and his agent wants him to try to write for television shows–which, as described, sound horrifically awful. The writer refuses, the agent leaves, and he goes back to his typewriter. This story could easily be seen as angry, or even whiny; in the hands of a lesser author, the story would be precisely that. But Wagner paints a picture with his words, and maybe it resonated with me more because I am an author myself, but the sympathy rests entirely with the author. (Although I am one of those whose eyes roll so hard that  they almost unscrew when I hear another author speak of their ‘art’; but that’s a topic for another day.) I am looking forward to digging back into Wagner’s work again this year.

And now, I need to file and organize, perhaps vacuum, before I head to the gum. I want to get some things written today, and I need to revise those stories.

Hello, spice mines.

Sigh.

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Stay in My Corner

We binged the Netflix series Dear White People last night, and got so involved we couldn’t stop watching; it was one of those shows where you say “oh, just one more won’t hurt” and then it’s over and you’re saying it again and then “well, there’s only ONE left” and then it’s over and you just sit back and think, “wow.” Full realized characters, incredible acting, and the writing? Stellar. Again, it was told from almost everyone’s point of view, so you got to know everyone and their backstories, especially with each other. It was funny, provocative, timely, and diverse. Obviously, my favorite character was the young gay writer, coming to terms with his enormous crush on his hot but straight roommate, trying to figure out who he is while navigating the murky waters of a college campus and institutionalized racism–but no one had an issue with his sexuality. His also gay editor at the independent campus paper got off a line that has me still laughing–and it was repeated by another character in the same episode: “Labels are what keep people in Florida from drinking Windex.”

I finished reading a book yesterday, started a couple more and put them in the donation pile after a couple of chapters, and really was at a loss for what to read next; and finally settled on Victor Gischler’s The Pistol Poets. I did a panel with him years and years ago at the Louisiana Book Festival–really liked him, thought he was smart and funny and engaging–and then read his book Gun Monkeys, which I also enjoyed, and always meant to get more of his books. Sometime last year something reminded me of him, and I finally got some more of them. It has a great opening, and I am looking forward to spending some time with it today, as well as some cleaning, writing, and editing.

The other day, I wrote about the character of Jerry Manning, who appears in Garden District Gothic, and how much I liked the character. I also used him as a character in The Orion Mask–which I had somehow forgotten–and in fact, Jerry is the catalyst for that entire book. I had already created the character of Jerry for the Paige book I’d intended to write, and I liked him so much I actually introduced him to readers in The Orion Mask.

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I had the idea for that book a long time ago; I’d always loved the romantic suspense novels of Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart (although I would argue that she wasn’t a romantic suspense writer, simply marketed as one), and of course, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is one of my favorite novels of all time. One of the reasons I loved that style of book so much is because they were not only mysteries, but there was a Gothic feel to them, stylistically and mood-wise, and I always wanted to write one. (I had already published what is my personal favorite of all my novels, Timothy, and really wanted to go back to that well again.) I originally came up with the idea for The Orion Mask many years ago; when I came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras the first time in 1995, only in all my notes and so forth it was called The Orpheus Mask;  the driving idea was a murder that happened a long time ago, and rare, valuable Mardi Gras masks had something to do with the crime. After moving to New Orleans and becoming more knowledgeable about the city and its history, I realized the Krewe of Orpheus was actually too new–plus, I couldn’t really use an actual Mardi Gras krewe. I still wanted to do the book, though, just wasn’t sure how to make it all work. I also knew it had to take place outside of New Orleans; for the story to work, the majority of the action needed to occur at a mansion in the countryside.

Fortunately, there are plenty of those. I was already using one for Murder in the Arts District, that was based on a sort of hybrid of Houmas House and Oak Alley, and thought, oh, what the hell, I’ll just use the same place for this book, too. It is fiction, after all. I’d created a fictional parish as well–Redemption Parish–for that first book, and had based a small town near the plantation on Breaux Bridge, just off I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette that I’d visited with some friends from out of town years ago, but the town never really appeared in that story, so I could really use it for this book. But I still didn’t know how to connect the masks in…and then we went to Italy, and while we were there we went to Venice, and you cannot escape the Carnival masks or the Murano glass there. As we walked the cobbled alleys of that remarkably beautiful city (I so want to go back), it hit me in a flash: someone from Venice who worked with the glass came to America, to Louisiana, and the plantation not only was a farm but also produced glass, using the same techniques made famous by the Venetians, and they could have produced masks for the Kings of the major krewes of Mardi Gras made from the glass. I invented my own, now-defunct krewe–the Krewe of Orion–and everything fell into place.

My story, of course, which was about a young man whose mother died when he was very young, and who was raised by his father and stepmother, completely disconnected from his mother’s family and only comes to see them as an adult, which starts the story, didn’t really have the right hook I needed to get started. Why would he suddenly, after all these years, finally get in touch with his mother’s family?

And that’s where Jerry came in. Jerry, looking for another true crime to write another one of his books, has discovered the murder/suicide involving my character’s mother. I named the character Heath Brandon, after a friend of mine, by inverting his first and middle names (I’d actually given a character his actual name before we met; it was very odd because his name was so familiar to me when we met, but we’d never met before, and then one day I realized I had actually written a character with that name, but I digress.). I put Heath into another fictional city I’d created for another book, Bay City (based on Tampa), and had him work at the airport at an airline ticket counter (a job I’ve actually had), working for the fictitious airline I created for Murder in the Rue Dauphine and have always used ever since whenever I need an airline.

I sat up in a strange bed, wide awake, my heart pounding.

 Disoriented, I looked around in the gloom, not sure where I was or what had woken me up from my already restless sleep. I shivered. A storm was raging outside as my mind began the process of clearing out the fog. Wind was whipping around the house, rattling the windows and the French doors.  The rain was coming down in a steady stream. As I sat up further in my bed, lightning lit up the room, and I recoiled in horror. The brief flash of illumination had exposed the shadow of someone against the curtains over the French doors. I bit back a scream as I wondered if there was anything within reach in this strange room that I could use as a weapon. My eyes were still seeing spots as thunder shook the house as I remembered there was a table lamp on the night stand next to the bed. As my vision cleared, I could see through the gloom that the doorknob on the French doors was turning. I reached my hand out to the table and fumbled for the switch on the lamp. I found it and clicked it on, filling the room with bright yellow light.

I thought I heard footsteps running away along the gallery.  I threw the covers aside and climbed out of the massive bed. I dashed over to the fireplace on the other side of the bed, grabbed one of the brass pokers, and carried it over to the French doors. I flipped the lock off, turned the knob , and the wind immediately grabbed them out of my hands. They slammed against the walls and swung back. The wind pushed me back a few steps. Curtains moved away from the walls, and the canopy over the bed rippled as I struggled to latch the doors against the walls. Once this was accomplished, I tried to step out onto the gallery. Lightning flashed again as I stepped out onto the wide gallery. I wrapped my arms around me and wished I’d put on at least a T-shirt. The wind was blowing the rain onto the gallery, and the heavy drops were splashing my legs with water as I looked through the gloom in each direction.

I didn’t see anyone.

My heart still pounding, I closed and locked the doors again before heading back to the bed, still holding the poker in my hand. I put the poker into the bed next to me and slid underneath the covers. Maybe it had been a dream, maybe there really hadn’t been someone out there on the gallery trying to get into my room, and it was just my imagination working overtime. There wasn’t anyone out there, you fool, I scolded myself, you’re just a little off balance—but it’s understandable. It isn’t every day you meet a family you didn’t know you had a month ago. I switched the lamp off and pulled the covers back up to my chin, and lay there, staring at the canopy over my head.

It was hard to believe it had only been a month since I first noticed the bald man sitting in the airport lobby, and my entire life changed.

The bald man was Jerry, of course, and he tracked Heath down as he investigated the long ago murder/suicide, and it was Jerry who set the stage for Heath to come back to the family estate, Chambord, and  find the truth about what had happened all those years ago, about his mother and the Orion mask.

Writing the book was a lot of fun, and I’d love to do another, similar style book at some point.

I had thought about giving Jerry his own series, or his own stand-alone book; and when I started making notes I realized something: he had been a personal trainer/stripper (so had Scotty) and he came from a repressive small town and a white trash family (Chanse), and thus was basically repeating myself, which is one of my biggest fears. So I shelved the idea…but it runs through my mind periodically because the idea is a good one. I may have to write it about a different character, though.

Heavy sigh.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

The Streak

Laura Lippman always says that one of the most worn-out, tired cliches/tropes of crime fiction is a beautiful woman dies, and a man feels bad.

On our panel at Bouchercon last week, the subject of cultural appropriation came up, and unfortunately, I didn’t get to answer it–which is unfortunate, because my response was going to be, “I appropriate from straight culture all the time. In fact, I used the trope of a beautiful woman dies and a man feels bad in my first novel, only switched it into a beautiful man dies and a man feels bad.

Because really, you can sum up the plot of Murder in the Rue Dauphine that way.

get-attachment-aspxThe funny thing is, I didn’t realize I was subverting, or appropriating, a trope at the time I wrote the book–but I was also trying to write a gay-themed mystery with a gay main character, and so I wound up using one of the tried-and-true crime tropes without even realizing I was doing it.

When I was a senior editor, one of the things I wanted to see was gay novels that flipped the script on straight tropes–where is the gay James Bond? Indiana Jones? Gay romantic suspense? I honestly believed–and still do–that if the books were well-written and the characters well developed,  a gay or lesbian writer could take a trope/cliche from mainstream publishing and breathe fresh life into it. I tried to do this very thing with both Timothy and The Orion Mask, and once I get through these next books I have to write, I am going to try subverting some more writing tropes–like a gay hard-boiled noir, for example; wouldn’t that be fun? I have an idea for two that have been simmering in my head on the back burner for a while: Muscles and Spontaneous Combustion. 

We shall see, I suppose.

And now, I need to get back to the spice mines, otherwise I will never get any of these things done.