Shadows in the Moonlight

When Anne Rice died back in the winter, I posted a memoriam to her here in which I talked about a very generous thing she did for me and Paul back in the days after he was attacked. It was something deep and personal–one of the reasons why I won’t abide criticism of Mrs. Rice in my presence–and while I did tell some people about it, I kept it quiet for the most part. It was an odd little personal connection I had with one of the most successful writers of my lifetime, and as it had to do with Paul and what happened to him, I also thought it was kind of untoward to write or talk about it publicly. But when she passed, I wanted to let people know a human side of a public figure who could be divisive; I never listened to criticisms of her after the spring of 2004 or could be bothered to read them. There was little, if anything, she could have ever done to change my opinion of her or to forget the grace and kindness she showed to me when I was in a very low place in my life, so I wasn’t interested in listening to or reading anything negative about her. The Witching Hour was also one of the reasons I was drawn to New Orleans in the first place; so overall I would say she had a very positive influence on me and my life, and I will always be grateful to her for that.

Last year, an editor reached out to me (maybe it was two years ago; I really have no concept or sense of time anymore) to write a story an anthology called Unburied; the editor was Rebecca Rowland. I gave her one of the stories I’d written but never found a home for–“Night Follows Night”–which she liked and used and that was very cool. In the wake of Mrs. Rice’s death, she contacted me again to see if I would write a story for a tribute anthology to Mrs. Rice that would also be a fundraiser for a charity she supported.

It was, I thought, the least I could do, so I pulled out “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and finished the first draft before revising umpteen times and turning in.

“Someone was murdered in this house.” Susan Norris said.

Her tone was idle and matter of fact, like she was making small talk at a cocktail party with women she didn’t know and what she was saying didn’t matter in the long run. She was already redecorating the place in her head, picking out color combinations to paint the walls and trim, what furniture she already had could be used or discarded and where it would go. For this front upstairs bedroom, for example, she pictured long curtains of shimmering bright colors in gauze, which would look dramatic billowing out into the room when the windows were open. This would be the room, she decided, where she would have readings or hold seances for her clientele. Those long billowing curtains on nights when thunderstorms raged would be the perfect setting to make even the most cynical skeptic into a true believer. She ran a hand along the beige wall slightly yellowed from nicotine. She could feel layers of paint under her fingertips. The walls hadn’t been stripped in years, which she would need to rectify. It would be a crime to slake another layer on top of what was already there.

The realtor—whatever her name was, Collette or Colleen or Doreen or something like that—paused in her sales patter when Susan’s words finally penetrated her professional façade, a frown furrowing creases into her forehead as she stumbled over a few words and finally stopped speaking. She was a beautiful woman in her late forties, maybe early fifties; one benefit of the Botox she clearly used was a blurring of her actual age. Her long red hair cascaded down over the shoulder pads inside her blouse, which also showed a lot of decolletage. A golden cross with a diamond set in the center glittered against her white bosom. An expensive watch decorated her wrist, her freckled hands were bare other than a wedding band and a diamond engagement ring. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” the realtor asked, surprise giving way to concern that what she hoped would be an easy sale—this place was exactly what Susan had described as wanting to her, when they first spoke—might actually be turning into something else.

Inwardly, Susan cursed at herself. She’d done it again, said something to a stranger that she should have not said aloud. She didn’t want to explain herself to Collette/Colleen/Doreen any more than she wanted to stick a fork into an outlet, so she turned back to the redheaded realtor with a charming smile and said, “I said someone was murdered in this house.” She exhaled. “I did some research on-line when you gave me the addresses of the places you suggested I look at. It was a long time ago, and I shouldn’t have said it out loud, my apologies. I do think this house is perfect for me.”

I was originally using this title for a different story (which has since been renamed “Solace in a Dying Hour”), and so when I started writing this story it was called “The Oracle of Orange Street” (the house she is buying is on Orange Street, one of those mysterious hidden streets in New Orleans whose blocks have slowly vanished over the years until all that is left is a single block between Coliseum and Prytania; it’s very near where I live so I see the Orange Street sign all the time…I think there may be a continuation of it on the other side of Magazine Street; a quick look at a map indicates that it does, indeed, continue on the other side of Magazine to Tchoupitoulas–but if you asked most New Orleanians were Orange Street is, they’d give you a blank look); I’d even already started another story with the character of Susan Norris in it (“Parlor Tricks,” which I tried to finish again recently for yet another last minute submission and wasn’t able to). I like the character of Susan Norris, psychic detective; her mother is actually Madame Xena, who Scotty aficionados might recognize as the woman who originally told Scotty’s family that he “has the Gift!”

So yes, all of my work is connected in some way besides just being by me.

I’ve always loved the idea of a psychic detective (and yes, I watched Psych for years before tiring of it), which is part of the reason why I made Scotty one, but my inspiration for this kind of character goes back to my teens, when I was enjoying Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series so much that one day at the bookstore I picked up two of her non-Pollifax books, A Nun in the Closet and The Clairvoyant Countess…the latter of whom was, indeed, a psychic and an amateur detective. The book was really a series of connected short stories, each detailing a case that the Countess became involved in helping to solve; gradually the police detective began actually consulting her. I don’t remember how limited her powers were, but to work in a crime story the psychic cannot be all-knowing and all-seeing, obviously; otherwise there would be no mystery to solve. But I enjoyed the book and reread it many times, and always wanted to write about a psychic detective. Scotty’s powers have always been incredibly vague; he usually can channel it through reading tarot cards (which doesn’t always work) and sometimes he goes into a fugue state while he actually talks to the Divine Feminine (She comes in many forms to him) and she gives him hints and clues to the future and what is going on–but he has to figure it out for himself.

One day when I was walking home from the gym I took a different route home than I usually do–I do this to mix things up a bit when I have the time to leisurely stroll, and it’s been helping me reconnect with my neighborhood as well as find many secrets and hidden treasures–and one day the different route took me up Felicity Street from Camp. One of the houses I passed–a lovely old Victorian–actually had an orange tree in the front yard and oranges were littering the ground and sidewalk; some of them rotting (there’s nothing quite like the smell of oranges rotting in the sun) and it reminded me that, oh, yes, indeed, Orange Street was originally named that because there was an orange grove here–whether it was indigenous and imported I cannot say, but I suspect imported–and then I thought, oh, that story you’re writing about the psychic (at that time, it was “Parlor Tricks”) could easily be titled “The Oracle of Orange Street” and I quite liked that title…so when I couldn’t get that story to work for this anthology, I decided to write another story about Susan Norris, reluctant psychic detective, and the opening line just kind of jumped out at me the day I picked the house on Orange Street which would be hers–and it also just happened to be for sale when I picked it; and as I stood there snapping pictures of the house with my phone I thought, yes, what would it be like for a psychic to buy a home in New Orleans? And I quite liked the idea of her just absent-mindedly blurting out to the realtor, “Someone was murdered in this house” and then I was off and running.

You can preorder the ebook here!

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

I woke up this morning to the news that Anne Rice died last night.

She was an enormous influence on me and my life, for any number of reasons. It was her book The Witching Hour that made me realize that I needed to come to New Orleans, that awakened my connection to the city that was maybe always there in my head yet was dormant; I cannot precisely place what it was about that book that opened the connection necessary in my head to know that New Orleans was where I belonged. There was just something about that book, the way she wrote about the city and its magic, that drew me here. The weekend of my thirty-third birthday I came to New Orleans, and it was the first time I ever felt connected to a place, that I had finally found the place where I belonged, where–if and when I were to move there–all of my dreams would come true. Her love of the city where she was born and grew up comes through so powerfully in The Witching Hour, and the book remains one of my favorites to this day. The friend I stayed with that weekend–knowing how much I loved the book–took me on a drive around the city and through the Garden District, and pulled up the house at the corner of First and Chestnut. “This,” he said with a big smile, “is where she lives. Do you recognize the house?”

I got out of the car, dumbfounded. The home of the Mayfair witches was real. It was on the corner of First and Chestnut, just as she wrote in the book. There was the massive live oak in the front yard. There was Dierdre’s porch, just off to the side of the front gallery of the house. There was the pool in the side yard. There was the window from which Antha fell to her death.

I did what any number of fans and tourists did, of course; posed for a picture by the front gate. That picture–all of the pictures from that weekend–were lost over the years and many moves, from apartment to apartment in Tampa, from Tampa to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis to New Orleans, when I finally, at long last, was able to move home to the city I loved…where, as I suspected when I read The Witching Hour, all of my dreams came true.

Eight years after we moved here, I lived through a horrible nightmare. One night on Memorial Day weekend, Paul and I had gone to the Quarter for a book launch party and then went out for a few drinks. We ran into another friend at one bar but I wanted to go dancing. Paul stayed behind with the friend, said he’d catch a cab home, and off I went. I came home and he wasn’t there. I went to bed…and woke up later that morning to a phone call that no one ever wants to get. Paul had been attacked by a group of homophobic thugs and beaten, badly. Had it not happened directly across the street from the Verti Marte, the two college students who had stopped there to get something to eat on their way home from work wouldn’t have seen it happen, and run out screaming at them. The monsters escaped, but had those girls not taken action, he most likely would have beaten far worse, perhaps (probably)killed.

I don’t remember much, really, of that day or the next few weeks. I do remember how kind people were, and how much support I received.

But what I really remember is how the crime was mishandled by the homophobic cops who were called to the scene–the girls told me all about when they called (and to this day, I regret never getting their names)–and as a result, the possibility that the attackers would be caught and punished evaporated. It didn’t make the Times-Picayune for several days–the timing is very unclear to me to this day; those days are jumbled and unclear in my mind–but I will never forget that Mrs. Rice made a public statement about what happened, and she also went on all the news channels in New Orleans to talk about what happened, and offered a reward.

And one night, after I got home from the hospital, I decided to tackle the monumental task of thanking people, who had reached out, who’d offered help, who were holding fundraisers, etc. etc. etc. I knew Mrs. Rice’s address, but figured she would probably never see a thank you card given the amount of mail she probably received; I had always heard stories that she actually had a phone number listed in the phone book (yes, I am “look it up in the phone book” years old) and sure enough, there was a number listed. I also figured, as I dialed, that it was probably just a message line, but I had also heard that she listened to all the messages, so I thought when the recorder picked up, I would talk really fast to get everything out that I wanted to say before the beep cut me off.

But a human being answered the phone, a woman.

“Hi, I was wondering if I could leave a message for Mrs. Rice?” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking.

“Yes, of course.”

The words started tumbling out of me. I said who I was and who Paul was, and that I wanted to say thank you to her for offering a reward, for her public statement, and how much it meant to me, to both of us, that probably the most famous person in New Orleans would do that for total strangers. My voice broke a couple of times, my eyes filled with tears a couple of times, and I had to stop to take a breath every once in a while. When I finally finished, the woman on the other end of the line said, very kindly, “Well, of course. It was the least I could do.”

I was stunned. I was talking to Anne Rice herself. I had read all the books. She was one of the reasons I had finally found home; the place where I felt I belonged–and was now, of course, questioning that; I had read all the books and enjoyed them all; she lived and wrote about one of the most beautiful houses I had ever seen and was kind of a personal touchstone for me in the city; and now, she was reminding me why New Orleans was home.

We talked for a while, actually; I know she asked about me, she asked about how he was doing, she wanted to be certain I was okay–this total stranger who had looked up her phone number and reached out just to say thank you. I don’t know how long we were on the phone, but I do know, when I finally apologized for bothering her and taking up so much of her time, she replied, “You didn’t waste my time. I’m so glad you called because I was so worried about you. And if you need anything–anything at all, please don’t hesitate to call. Hospitals and medical expenses can add up very quickly. You just let me know what hospital and I’ll take care of everything. Please take care of yourself. And please, call at any time.”

I never called again. But I’ve never forgotten that Mrs. Rice, one of the bestselling authors of the last fifty years, one of the biggest celebrities to live in New Orleans, took a personal interest in two total strangers, and did whatever she could to try to bring attention to what happened as well as try to catch the perpetrators, and how incredibly kind and gracious and caring she was to someone she’d never met, and would never meet.

I had always wanted to attend one of her signings, to thank her in person not only for everything she did in that aftermath of what happened to Paul, but for how incredibly kind and generous she was to a shaky, barely holding it together total stranger who called her out of the blue one weeknight. But it never worked out for me to do so, and now she’s gone.

RIP, Mrs. Rice, and thank you again. You were truly a great lady.

He’s The Greatest Dancer

Saturday and there’s a lot to get done for me today. What else is new? I slept very well last night, which was as marvelous as I could have hoped; I feel rested and relaxed this morning, despite everything I have to get finished today; it just seems more tiresome than it actually is, if I am going to be completely honest. Time-consuming, more than anything else. Paul has his trainer and then is going to the office for the afternoon, so the coast will be clear around here for me to get as much done as I would like. I replaced my bluetooth speaker system yesterday–it wasn’t playing nice with my new phone for some reason (for that matter, neither is the car’s stereo, but I’ve managed to work around it somehow) and so I can once again listen to music while cleaning the house, which is also very necessary this morning. We also made a Costco trip yesterday after work, and I spent a good portion of my evening rearranging thing so I could get everything put away at long last. I have to run get the mail later, and pick up a few things– a very few things–at the grocery store, so here’s hoping venturing out into the heat won’t strip me of any and all desire to get things done, the way it usually does.

We watched the latest episode of American Horrror Stories–this past week’s episode was a little lower in quality that the preceding ones, but over all, we are enjoying the show. Since each episode is self-contained, they don’t really have the time or opportunity or space to go off the rails the way every episode of American Horror Story inevitably does (not every season, but most of them), and the ones thus far have been pretty enjoyable. Like I said, last night’s didn’t do much for me, but it was an interesting concept and I’ll give them props for it. This series digs into the underlying morality that most horror stories buy into; the moralistic trope that bad people will inevitably punished for their crimes, even if it takes a supernatural force to do it. The show is a throwback to The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents–all of which had a far greater influence on my short story writing than I probably recognize (also, the old horror comics like House of Mystery and The Witching Hour).

I also would like to finish reading The Other Black Girl this weekend, especially now that I have The Turnout by Megan Abbott in my TBR Pile. I am literally itching to get to it; it feels like I’ve been waiting for a new Megan Abbott novel forever–of course, the weird pandemic time thing hasn’t helped in that regard in the least–and there are so many other books I need to get to….*sobs in despair at ever finishing everything*.

And of course, the kitchen and the area around my work-space are a complete disaster area. So I think this morning after I finish this and as I continue to swill coffee, I am going to do some busy work around the kitchen/work space area; and who knows–I may even get organized. PERISH THE THOUGHT. #madness. But I want to get a lot accomplished today so I can get to the gym tomorrow as well as finish writing Chapter Four of Chlorine, and maybe even start writing Chapter Five. I know, crazy, right? I haven’t written hardly anything this past week, which is gnawing at my conscience–but so much was going on this past week I literally felt completely drained when writing time rolled around every day–and I was even too worn down to get to the gym again last week. (So it will be one full week tomorrow when I roll into the gym since the last time I was there–or am I just remembering wrong? My memory is something that simply cannot be trusted anymore…so I am going to say no, I haven’t been to the gym since last Sunday and feel confident that it’s factually true) Shameful. I am going to be doing something new this week; two days of upper body and one day of lower body. Tomorrow will be upper; Tuesday or Wednesday will be lower, and then Thursday or Friday will be upper again. The next step, after a few months of this, is to divide my workouts into even more concentrated body parts: chest and back; arms and shoulders; legs. And if I stick to it–eventually adding the great joy of cardio to it, I should get back into fairly decent shape sooner rather than later.

We shall see, I suppose.

The Olympics conclude this weekend…but I’ve not really been paying much attention to them these last few days; the sports I enjoy watching are already over, and while I enjoy watching track somewhat, at the same time I’m not as vested in it as I am in its water version, swimming. As such, we also watched the Vince Vaughn horror-comedy reboot of Freaky Friday, Freaky, which, while fun, wasn’t as fun as it could have been. I appreciated that Millie’s best friends included an out gay boy–diversity; you can rarely go wrong by including it, and I also am looking forward to the rapidly approaching day where diversity in film and television is so commonplace it doesn’t merit mentioning anymore–and Vince Vaughn was hilarious once their souls had switched bodies (I don’t much care for his politics, but Vaughn is a great comedic actor), but they didn’t lean into it as much as I would have thought–it was one of the movie’s strengths, and there’s a great scene between Vaughn-as-Millie and the boy she has a crush on–but it inevitably ended up being a trifle disappointing and with me thinking about wasted opportunities.

It’s almost like, with all the blockbusters and super-hero movies, Hollywood has forgotten how to make other kinds of pictures.

As I’ve mentioned on social media lately, I am really enjoying writing Chlorine, which is yet another reason having things to do that aren’t writing annoys me so much. I really feel like I’ve found Logan’s voice, and it came to me organically; I wrote my way into his voice rather than trying to determine what it was and trying to write it that way, which of course was a big concern for me. Voice is, to me at any rate, very crucial when it comes to writing; the reader has to feel some connection with the character, and that comes from Voice, really; the reader connects with the character and that starts rooting for him. It’s very important for me to not have Logan bemoan any of the situations he’s in–gay man in a homophobic society, culture, and industry–but rather cynically accept them as his reality, but that reality he accepts is why he doesn’t behave in what could be considered a “moral” way; his life is immoral, so he doesn’t feel bound by the same societal and cultural norms about behavior that others might–as he says in chapter two, “Everything in Hollywood is a lie.” (In fact, just talking and thinking about the book makes me want to finish this and work on it a bit; yes, I actually want to write, can you believe it? That has to be some kind of miracle, and also says something about how committed I am to this book.)

And on that note–if I want to get back to Chlorine, I have all this other stuff I need to get done first, so it’s best that I head into those spice mines and get started. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

I Think about You

Friday finally, and so much to do, as always.

Yesterday was an interesting day on social media. I was working at home and so not paying nearly as much attention as I would ordinarily–just checking in here and there when I was bleary-eyed from working, plus tired from the insomnia the night before–and was more than a little amused to see some weird stuff going on around that short story for The New Yorker that went viral a while back–“Cat Person”, which didn’t impress me much–but apparently the author had based the story on her own experience with some guy, after which someone had told her about another woman’s experience with the same guy so she based the female main character on THAT woman, and THAT woman wrote an essay about having her life appropriated for someone else’s fiction?

It’s been my experience that people will see themselves in characters you create that they like and identify with, even if there’s nothing further from that truth. People I know have always seen themselves in characters that I’ve written about–and I can only think of one instance where I actually DID base someone on a friend–Scotty’s best friend David, who disappeared from the series after the first three books (mainly because I could never figure out a way to bring him into the stories; although I do think about bringing him back every now and then because I really liked the character). David was based on my friend and workout partner Mark, who always wanted to be killed off in a really brutal fashion. I never obliged, of course, but as I said, when I picked up the series again after several years away from it, I could never figure out a way to involve him in the story so he kind of became an absent character.

Now that I’ve said that, I am determined to involve him in the next Scotty book. It might be kind of fun, actually.

I slept better last night than I did the night before, so I am better rested today. Yesterday I was so tired I actually felt unwell, which of course had me thinking about COVID variants and so forth, and made me also think I should be more diligent about wearing masks everywhere. I did make groceries last night after work, despite being tired, and i did wear a mask, and I think that’s going to be my standard practice going forward. Why risk getting sick, and I sure as hell don’t care what people I don’t know think about me. (I have gone into a few places unmasked over the past few weeks; like a very bad Gregalicious.) I also had a nightmare last night that when I got up and came downstairs this morning, there would be another pile of forms for me to enter into the CDC database–which was a most unpleasant dream, frankly.

I also got my copy of S. A. Cosby’s new book, Razorblade Tears, in the mail yesterday. I will move on to it once I finish reading Bath Haus, which should be this weekend. I’m very excited to read Shaun’s new book–I’ve heard such wonderful things about it already, and frankly, I am a huge fan. Blacktop Wasteland was one of my favorite books of last year. I am also excited that the next part of the Fear Street trilogy is dropping on Netflix today.

I also haven’t written in several days, which is not good–but the tired thing is for real. Since I am feeling rested today, I am hoping to tear through the next part of “Never Kiss a Stranger,” with an end goal of finishing the first draft this weekend. I am going to also start writing the next chapter of Chlorine this weekend, provided I stay rested and motivated. My phô restaurant is reopening today as well, so I am going to be able to get some phô at some point this weekend as well. Maybe tomorrow? And I will be going to the gym later today as well. On the walk home from the gym today I intend to swing by another street into the Garden District–First–and will be taking pictures of Anne Rice’s former home, which was the house she made the longtime home of the Mayfair witches, beginning with The Witching Hour, which is one of my favorite New Orleans novels. Despite the heat and the gallons of sweat these picture taking walks home creates, I am enjoying them because I feel like I am reconnecting with the city in some ways. I certainly don’t feel as disconnected as I have over the past year or so.

And on that note, it’s time to go make condom packs. Have a glorious Friday, COnstant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

I’ll Stay With You

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee preparatory to going to the gym and getting my workout on. I didn’t go at all this past week–the cold, the cold, the cold–but I am ready to get back into the swing of things. My goal/hope with my workouts is to get to the point by June that I am so used to the exercising that I can switch it up–move from a full body workout three times a week to one that focuses on different body parts every visit (chest/back, arms/shoulders, legs) even though that will mean the return of the hated and feared LEG DAY.

Christ, even typing the words leg day sent a cold chill down my spine.

It feels sort of temperate this morning in the Lost Apartment, though a quick weather check shows that it’s fifty-three degrees outside–but today’s high is going to be a tropical 64 degrees. Huzzah! The sun is also out, so it’s very bright this morning in my workspace, which also kind of feels rather nice. I am still wearing layers, of course–I am going to make some groceries in a moment before going to the gym–but I think the cold spell may have broken–or is in the process of being broken; the ten day forecast indicates lows in the forties but highs up to 70 over the next ten days, so that’s much more bearable. Thank you, baby Jesus.

I managed to work on the book yesterday–I got through the first five chapters, and it was really a struggle–and then last night while we watched Servant and Resident Alien I scribbled out one of the podcast entries I need to get done. I do think this is actually going to turn out to be something pretty decent, if awful at the same time (a good book about an awful subject is probably the best way of putting it) and I did some other writing work yesterday as well, which was pretty lovely. I did watch a lot of Youtube history videos–Paul was at the office yesterday; he’s going back in today as well–and I discovered an old show on HBO, Sons of Liberty, a one-season show with six episodes from 2015 that I’d never heard of before, which is odd; given my interest in history I am usually aware of such shows. (Interestingly enough, I looked it up just now–it aired originally on the History Channel, and was one of their rare instances of actually showing a program about history–but only in three episodes; HBO must have broken each down into two parts.) It’s entertaining enough, and of course, as I watched the episode (Ben Barnes is way too young and way too hot to play Samuel Adams, but hey, it’s entertainment) naturally I started thinking about, of all things, writing a. murder mystery set in occupied Boston before the revolution breaks out. Pre-revolution Boston is one of my favorite historical periods–blame Johnny Tremain for that (and I am still bitter that movie hasn’t shown up on Disney Plus yet….hello? Are you listening, Disney Plus? It does rather make me wonder if there’s some content in the film that wouldn’t play today, the way the blatant racism of Song of the South got it locked into the Disney vault forever, despite having an Oscar-winning song in it), although there’s an excerpt of it on their streaming service. It’s very preachy, as pro-Americana Disney from that period always was–but I’d still like to see it again sometime. I’m not even sure you can pay to watch it on any streaming service. Hmmm; maybe its on Prime, and since Paul won’t be home most of the day….I can work on the book and when I am finished I can see if I can stream it…ah, yes, there it is on Prime, and relatively cheap, at that. Well, that’s my post writing day sorted. Huzzah!

Also, we are really enjoying Resident Alien, which we are watching on Hulu and is a Syfy show. It’s very clever and interesting approach to the trope of the lovable alien (see E. T. and Starman), and is actually quite funny as well, set in the tiny town of Patience, Colorado. Servant continues to be deeply dark and disturbing, which of course is fun, and I think tonight we will probably start watching It’s a Sin, provided Paul gets home from the office early enough, since I am back to work at the crack of dawn again tomorrow morning.

I was also very pleased to read four short stories yesterday morning with my coffee; I suspect that once I am finished here I will gather up my coffee and my copy of Alabama Noir to read a few stories in it this morning. It feels good to be reading again, even if I am not reading novels, and as I have said, I am hoping that once this book is finished to have the bandwidth to start getting caught up on my reading some more. My desk area is also a horrific mess in need of some work–the endless filing becomes endlessly tiresome–but I think it’s at the point where I can move stuff into an actual file box, if that makes any sense at all. Probably not, but I know what I am talking about. I have gathered so much research about New Orleans and Louisiana history–seriously, I have so much stuff that I want to write about at some point that I know I shall never live long enough to get it all written, but even if I never write about Louisiana and New Orleans history–which I know I will–it’s at least an interesting hobby for an amateur historian like me. Our history is so interesting and colorful, if horrifically racist…I have to say how incredibly disappointed I am in James Michener for never doing one of his epic historical novels about Louisiana. I mean, he wrote about Texas and Hawaii and Colorado; why not Louisiana? Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the race stuff–after all, before the Civil War we had that caste system, in which the whites were the elites, the free people of color the second class, and of course, the enslaved the bottom of the pyramid. I should go back and finish reading Barbara Hambly’s marvelous Benjamin January series, as well as revisit Anne Rice’s The Feast of All Saints. Louisiana’s free people of color are often written out of history, as is the German Coast slave uprising of 1811 and the impact of the Haitian revolution on Louisiana and New Orleans, with the emigrés from Hispaniola/Ste. Domingue fleeing here (Anne Rice also touched on this briefly with The Witching Hour; the Mayfairs were Haitian refugees, I believe, which is how they came to New Orleans in the first place–but it’s been years and I could be wrong about this, but I think Suzanne Mayfair was the witch from Ste. Domingue who came to New Orleans to establish the dynasty here; another book I should revisit)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and hope everyone I know in Texas is doing well this morning.

All You Had to Do Was Stay

Ironically, yesterday when I was talking about vampires, I buried my own lede; I actually have done some vampire fiction myself. (Clearly, I am terrible at this self-promotion/marketing thing.)

When I first moved to New Orleans, the city was somehow synonymous in my mind with vampires, which was primarily due to Anne Rice’s novels. This doesn’t, on its face, make that much sense; the novels are, for the most part, set in various other places around the world more so than in New Orleans. Louis, the main character of Interview with the Vampire, is from Louisiana, and he encounters Lestat and is turned originally in New Orleans–and while there are passages in the book set here and in Louisiana, the story itself is being told to the reporter in San Francisco. The Vampire Chronicles themselves occasionally return to New Orleans; but for the most part the stories themselves rarely take place here. (It would actually make more sense for me to have had that association from Anne Rice’s work made between New Orleans and witches; as most of The Witching Hour takes place in New Orleans.) After moving here I also discovered local author Poppy Z. Brite; his novel Lost Souls might actually be the definitive New Orleans vampire story. Since that well–New Orleans vampires–had been drawn from so often, so well, and so memorably by other authors already, I never really thought about writing vampire stories set in New Orleans. How could I compete with either Rice (with her legions of adoring fans) or Brite (with his smaller but equally adoring fan base)?

I was writing the Scotty series for Kensington when my editor there suggested I write a vampire novella for a collection they were doing called Midnight Thirsts; they had already done one volume of gay-themed erotic vampire stories that did very well for them, and I was enormously flattered to be asked to write one. As is my wont, when I started writing “The Nightwatchers” I began to slowly create an entire universe of supernatural beings, with rules; it actually grew from an original story I had written several years earlier with a female main character that was set in a theater group; more talented than the woman who always got the lead roles, she and her other actors believed that the woman getting the leads was sleeping with the director; one night at rehearsal a mysterious man shows up in the back of the theater, later approaches the main character and somehow–I don’t remember this part–shows her that her suspicions are true, and promises her eternity; she accepts his gift and then uses her new power to kill the director and the lead actress. It wasn’t a very good story, frankly, and was poorly thought out and poorly written, but it contained a structure that I wanted to use for “The Nightwatchers.” Several thousand words into the rewrite/adaptation I realized it didn’t work, so I got rid of the theater company and turned my gay male lead into a hustler who lived in one of those wonderful old decaying buildings in the Quarter, where you used to be able to get cheap rent if you didn’t mind rotting and tilted floors, insects, poor insulation, cracks in the walls, gaps around the windows, and staircases on the verge of collapse. His best friend, Rachel, lived in the same building in the apartment across the landing from his; she worked at a coffee shop on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. One night while Rachel is working–one of those wonderful foggy winter nights in the city–an older man with a foreign accent is in the shop and she’s waiting for him to leave so she can close. Philip, meantime, is off to a regular client in Uptown New Orleans. Philip is, unbeknownst to him, being stalked by a vampire; the old man is a “Nightwatcher,” who is aware the vampire is after Philip and is enlisting Rachel’s help to save him.

It’s actually not a bad story, really; (I was rereading it because I couldn’t remember many of the details, like character names and so forth) I had even considered writing an entire novel based on the premise, in which this would serve as the introduction..but I never got around to it. Life has a habit of interrupting my plans.

A few years later, when I was asked to write another novella, this time using the Todd Gregory name, for Midnight Hunger, I wrote “Blood on the Moon,” and used a lot of the same concepts I had originally used for “The Nightwatchers.” (I had originally planned on having Philip, who was turned in “The Nightwatchers,” be the vampire my main character encountered in the Quarter during Carnival; but since I was using a different name, didn’t see any point in trying to link them other than using that same universe.) And since I was writing the “fratboy” books as Todd Gregory, I made the guys down in New Orleans for Carnival fratboys from my fictional fraternity’s Ole Miss chapter. Cord Logan was the main character, and he falls in with a fraternity of vampires when he “gets separated” from his buddies and explores the gay end of Bourbon Street. He also winds up getting targeted by a male witch, having to be rescued, etc etc etc, and the story ended with Cord being completely turned, and joining his new brotherhood. I brought Cord and his best buddy from the actual fraternity back in the story, “Bloodletting,” which eventually became the first chapter of my one and only vampire novel, Need–which I’d hoped to be the first in a series of supernatural erotic gay novels; the next was going to be Desire, and I was going to get deeper into the mythology I had created with that one, as well as bring in the rest of the characters from “The Nightwatchers” (Rachel and the old man were a part of Need).

Cord was a special breed of vampire because he not only had become a vampire but had also drank the blood of the male witch–which to some of the other vampires made him an abomination; and he certainly was one to the witches, which meant the Council of Thirteen, which oversees all the supernatural creatures of the world, wanted him dead–as well as his fraternity brother, whom he’d had to turn. That was going to be the primary plot thread of Desire, which alas never came to be.

Here’s how “The Nightwatchers” opened:

Go home, old man, Rachel thought, tapping her black fingernails on the counter.

It was quarter till nine, fifteen minutes before she could lock the doors. Everything was clean, and the cash register was already counted down. All she really had left to do was dump the remains of the day’s coffee down the sink, lock the cash drawer in the safe, and turn everything off. She’d be gone by ten minutes after at the latest.

She glanced out the big windows fronting the coffee shop. The streetlight just outside cast a yellowish glow in the thick mist pressing against the glass. She shivered and looked back at the old man. He was sitting in one of the tables in the far corner, with the same cup of coffee he’d ordered when he came in around seven thirty. He hadn’t touched it. It was still as full as when she’d filled the cup, only no steam was coming off the black surface now. He didn’t seem to be watching for anyone, or waiting. He never glanced at his watch, which she’d spotted as a platinum Tag Heuer, nor did he ever look out the window. Every once in a while he would look up from his newspaper and catch her staring. He’d smile and nod, then go back to his reading.

Apparently, he was determined to read every word.

She stood up, bending backwards so her back cracked. The night had been really slow. The Jazz Café, even on weeknights, usually was good for at least thirty to forty dollars in tips. Tonight, when she’d counted out the tip jar, yielded less than seven dollars. Just enough to get her a pack of cigarettes and a twenty ounce diet Coke at Quartermaster Deli on her way back to her apartment. It wasn’t, she thought, wiping down the counter down yet again, even worth coming in for.

See what I mean? Not bad.

Although talking about this stuff has made me intrigued by it again; it really is amazing how many book ideas went nowhere for me. Maybe someday I will write Desire.

And now you see why I never get anything done. I call it creative ADHD.

And on that note..let me get back to work.

Rhinestone Cowboy

I do love witches. What would Halloween be without them? Of course, the caricature of witches that we see at Halloween–green skin, pointed hat, riding a broom, warts, huge crooked nose–was popularized into modern culture by The Wizard of Oz (if not, the Wicked Witch in that film was the personification of the popular culture’s conception of a witch); but, alas, my knowledge on the history of the perception of witches is not that terrific. I know that the concept of witchcraft has been around for a long time–witches are mentioned in the Bible–and have been around in the popular culture for quite some time; I watched Bewitched as a child; there’s Bell, Book, and Candle, and so much fiction about witches…and of course, I’ve read up on the Salem witch trials–and hasn’t everyone been forced to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in high school? I am hoping that Lisa Morton, who has already co-authored a graphic novel with the late lamented Rocky Wood and illustrated by Greg Chapman called The Burning Times as well as definitive histories/non-fictions studies on both Halloween and ghosts, will also tackle witches.

But today, I am going to talk about Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour.

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The doctor woke up afraid. He had been dreaming of the old house in New Orleans again. He had seen the woman in the rocker. He’d seen the man with the brown eyes.

And even now in this quiet hotel room above New York City, he felt the old alarming disorientation. He’d been talking again with the brown-eyes man. Yes, help her.  No, this is just a dream. I want to get out of it.

The doctor sat up in bed. No sound but the faint roar of the air conditioner. Why was he thinking about it tonight in a hotel room in the Parker Meridien? For a moment he couldn’t shake the feeling of the old house. He saw the woman again–her bent head, her vacant stare. He could almost hear the hum of the insects against the screens of the old porch. And the brown-eyed man was speaking without moving his lips. A waxen dummy infused with life–

No, stop it.

He got out of bed and padded silently across the carpeted floor until he stood in front of the sheer white curtains, peering out at black sooty rooftops and dim neon signs flickering against brick walls. The early morning light showed behind the clouds above the dull concrete facade opposite. No debilitating heat here. No drowsing scent of roses, of gardenias.

Gradually, his head cleared.

I had read Interview with the Vampire when it first came out, back in the 1970’s, and honestly didn’t care for it. I had just read ‘salem’s Lot, and the concept of the vampire as hero didn’t appeal to me; it was just too foreign for me to wrap my head around (which is ironic, given my love for Dark Shadows, but I didn’t make the connection then between Louis and Barnabas). I picked it up again in the mid-1980’s, and felt the same way about it. I didn’t read anything else Mrs. Rice published, either, simply because I didn’t care for  Interview; then a friend who was a fan had me read The Mummy, which I greatly enjoyed. I had a hardcover copy of The Witching Hour–I don’t know why, to be honest–but after reading The Mummy I wanted to read something else by Mrs. Rice and remembered that I had a copy of this other one…

And could not put it down.

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The Witching Hour ostensibly tells the story of Rowan Mayfair and Michael Curry. Rowan is the latest in a long line of witches going back to the seventeenth century (but doesn’t know it), and she saves Michael from drowning, bringing him back to life. He comes back to life with a strange power–the ability to see things when he touches them; he starts wearing gloves. He also had a vision while he was dead that is somehow connected to Rowan–so he tracks her down and they begin a relationship that eventually leads them back to New Orleans and the Mayfair house, a decayed, ancient mansion in the Garden District when her mother, Dierdre, dies. Dierdre has been in a vegetative state for years; every day she was placed on a side porch of the mansion with the great Mayfair jewel around her neck that always belongs to The Mayfair; the woman who, in each generation, has the power. The brown-eyed man the doctor sees in the opening is Lasher, a spirit whose relationship to The Mayfair is sometimes in question; is he the source of their power, or is he playing some other type of game that The Mayfair is unaware of? The narrative flashes back and forth in time, telling the history of the Mayfair witches along with the romance of Michael and Rowan as they, with the help of the secret order of the Talamasca, try to determine what the truth about the Mayfair witches–and Lasher–is.

I loved this book so much; I always recommend it to people who want to read books about New Orleans, and always include it on lists of the best books set in New Orleans. It was this book that made me want to come back to New Orleans again; and you can imagine the thrill I got when a friend who lived here drove me to the corner of First and Chestnut and showed me the Mayfair house, which was actually where Mrs. Rice and her family lived. And it was exactly as she described it in the book; Dierdre’s porch was even there.

I’ve read every Anne Rice novel since then, and she also became one of the authors I always buy in hardcover. She is one of those writers you either love or you hate; those who love her work can be very rabid. It was when I was reviewing one of her later Vampire Chronicles (Blood and Gold) that I realized–it’s different when you read for review than when you read for pleasure–that so many reviewers/critics actually got what she does in her books wrong. Mrs. Rice writes about supernatural creatures–vampires, witches, werewolves, etc.–but she isn’t writing horror; she is writing romances in the classic sense of the word. In modern literature romance has come to mean something greatly different than what it meant classically; a romance novel was not a love story, per se, but a big sweeping epic tackling huge themes like life and death, war, peace, humanity, faith, spirituality; what Mrs. Rice was doing was using supernatural characters to expand and explore those themes, and she was writing in the style of the great romance writers of the nineteenth century, like Dumas and Hugo.

I’ve always meant to go back and reread all of her work with this in mind–which is how I’ve read her novels since that realization–but again, time. I am actually several novels behind on her work now–I’ve not read The Wolves of Winter or Prince Lestat, and she has another coming out this year as well.

I will never catch up.

And now, back to the spice mines.