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.