Louisiana Bayou

The traditional mystery, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect.”

I’m not sure why that is, to be perfectly honest. I do have my suspicions and opinions, most of which inevitably circle back to the root of so many societal ills: misogyny. Traditional mysteries, often called (both respectfully and derisively) cozies, are, as a general rule, primarily written by women, tell women’s stories, and theoretically, the primary market for them is women. So naturally, much like the entirety of the romance genre, it is subject to derision, not being taken as seriously as darker works, and often is shut out during awards seasons (the primary exception being the Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, which is primarily focused on the traditional mystery). They generally also don’t get a lot of review coverage, because women mystery writers also traditionally don’t get their fair share of print reviews in major publications, either–and the ones who usually do trend to the darker side.

I will also admit that I, too, am guilty of being more drawn to the darker, harsher, more noir side of crime fiction in my reading–which is kind of ironic, as one of my favorite series writers of all time is Elizabeth Peters, who didn’t write dark but rather light-hearted and funny; the Amelia Peabody series is one of the all-time greats. I also love Ellen Hart’s and Donna Andrews’ and and Miranda James’ and Elaine Viets’ series; but a few years ago I realized I wasn’t giving the subgenre enough love and attention, so focused on consciously reading more traditional mysteries. I have since discovered other terrific traditional mystery writers by expanding my scope and not just reaching for the next thing that sounds interesting. I discovered Kellye Garrett’s terrific Detective by Day series, Leslie Budewitz, Sherry Harris, Julia Henry, Hannah Dennison, and far too many others to name. (Also, shout outs to Raquel V. Reyes and Mia P. Manansala for outstanding new series over the last year or so.)

And then of course there’s Ellen Byron.

In some cities, a middle-aged woman dancing down the street dressed as a cross between a 1970’s disco queen and Wilma Flintsone would be unusual. But this was New Orleans, where the unusual was the everyday.

The woman dancing past Ricki James-Diaz, dodging the broken concrete in the Irish Channel’s worn sidewalks, happened to be her landlady, Kitty Kat Rousseau, who lived on the other side of Ricki’s double-shotgun cottage on Odile Street. “On your way to rehearsal?” Ricki called to Kitty from the porch. Kitty belonged to the ABBA Dabbo Do’s, one of the Crescent City’s many synchronized dance and marching troupes that entertained at parades and special events.

“You know it, chère.” Kitty did the hustle, then paused. “Whew, spinning made me dizzy.” She leaned against a lamppost, trying to regain her equilibrium. “I’m glad you caught me. I wanted to wish you good luck today.”

Ricki used the back of her hand to wipe a drop of perspiration from her forehead, the result of nervrs, not the mid-August heat. “Thank you so much.”

I’ve been meaning to read Ellen Byron for quite some time now; I’m not really sure why I haven’t. Ellen and I met electronically, but I am not exactly sure I remember precisely how; a Facebook group, or something. I don’t know, but Ellen–who graduated from Tulane University and whose daughter was attending Loyola–wanted to meet for dinner on a trip here to get her daughter settled into an apartment and the rest was history. She has written two series already–the Cajun Country series (which I need to read) and the Catering Hall mysteries as Maria DiRico. She’s doing a prelaunch party for the first in her new series, the Vintage Cookbook series, the first of which is called Bayou Book Thief. She graciously asked me to do the event with her, and as such I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book…which is absolutely charming.

The premise of the book is the Ricki (full name: Miracle Fleur de Lis James-Diaz, thank you very much) has returned to New Orleans to escape two awful experiences: the freak accident death of her husband, a viral Youtube video-maker (think Jackass) who choked to death doing one of his stunts, and of course the video of his death–he filmed it live–has gone viral. If that isn’t bad enough, her employer (she curated his collection of rare first editions) was convicted of a massive Bernie Madoff-like fraud scheme. Having been born in New Orleans and lived there her first seven years of life till her adoptive (yes, she was abandoned at Charity Hospital as an infant) parents moved to Los Angeles, she has decided to return to the city of her birth, maybe find her birth mother, and start a new business–selling vintage cookbooks and vintage serving ware in a shop in the Bon Vee museum, which used to be the home of one of the city’s legendary restauranteurs, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet. The board president approves her idea, and the story is off to the races as Ricki gets to know her co-workers, the Bon Vee family, from administration to the tour guides to the docents, as well as those who work in the little café on the grounds.

Soon, one of the more irritating tour guides (let’s face it, he’s a dick) turns up dead in a trunk and dropped off at the mansion with some boxes of donated books for the shop. Ricki herself has had a few run-ins with the victim, and she’s also the one who finds the body. Worried about whether or not she herself is a suspect, as well as what damage the murder might do to her new business, Ricki starts looking into the murder herself–while also developing a weird relationship/friendship with the female police detective looking into the case. But this murder is just one of several mysteries surrounding Ricki and her life at the mansion, and many complications that arise from her working there and her amateur sleuthing.

Bayou Book Thief is a lot of fun, and is filled with endearing, likable characters along with some marvelous observations and truths about New Orleans–watching out for tree roots as you walk along the sidewalks; the horror of your air conditioning going out while it’s still hot; being in a bar during a Saints game; and above all else, that the city is really a very small town at heart. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series, Wined and Died in New Orleans.

Join us tonight at five pm at Blue Cypress Books. It’ll be a fun time.

New Year’s Day

Ah, the annual setting of goals.

1. Getting in better shape. Self-care is important, and there are fewer, easier ways to take care of one’s self than taking regular exercise. But self-care isn’t just the physical; it’s also the mental. So, I need to focus on taking care of myself mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I want to try to get a massage at least every other month, to help with that; and I also think I’m going to start practicing meditation and yoga. I’ve always liked doing yoga, and I need to stretch more regularly. The yoga-toes have already helped with my feet and leg-joint issues, and I need to use techniques to keep myself from feeling pressured. One of the reasons I stopped signing book contracts without having written the book already is because of the pressure deadlines put me under; I still don’t deal with those too well and I simply need to work on my own patience.

2. Finding an agent. This is still incredibly important; I cannot move to the next level of being a professional writer without an agent negotiating for me. I should have done this long ago, and I need to take this all very seriously going forward. I’ve been collecting names of agents and agencies over the last couple of years, but I still don’t have anything to show them. I sent the first fifty pages of the Kansas book out to some agents last year, and got no interest. Which is fine, it was more of a if you don’t ever start doing this you never will thing. But now that I’ve taken the Kansas book back to the drawing board, I think it’s time to accept that trying to make the Kansas book work is like trying to make fetch happen; it’s probably not going to ever be a thing. Which, while sad, is okay. I can always reuse what I’ve done for something else. But it’s also kind of freeing to let it go and think, okay, what else have I got up my sleeve? It’s only failure if I choose to view it that way, and I’m choosing not to; I did some good work on that manuscript and it may work out in some other way.

3. The Diversity Project. I had a lot of success with the Short Story Project, so I’ve decided to add a new reading project to my 2019: reading diverse books by diverse writers. First off, it’s a shame that I am having to make this a project in the first place; I should already be reading diverse authors. I’ve been buying books by minority writers for quite some time now and adding them to the TBR pile…and yet somehow those books never seem to manage to make it up to the top of the pile. What is that about, I wonder? But it’s definitely a thing, and I need to do something about it. I live for the day when I don’t even have to think about my choices because diversity has become commonplace; but I can’t talk the talk if I don’t walk the walk. How can I expect non-gay people to read my gay books if I don’t make an effort to make diverse reading choices myself? And I have a lot of these books on hand already. So why buy more books (always the question) when I have so many to read, so many to choose from? I will blog about these books as well, and I am going to do my part to try to diversify the crime genre and my own reading.

4. The Short Story Project. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t have read nearly as many short stories in 2018 had I not made a point out of doing so, and I have not come anywhere near reading all the anthologies and single-author collections I have on hand, so I am going to renew this project for 2019. I think it’s made me a better short story writer, and I’ve certainly enjoyed all the stories I read (with a few exceptions, of course; there are always exceptions, aren’t there?). I am, however, going to try to loosen the pressure on myself and limit myself to reading at least three per month as a goal, which would be thirty-six stories for the year. I think that’s do-able without creating any added pressure for me….because everything creates pressure for me, even things I start out doing as fun, if I’m not careful.

5. Writing more short stories. This is part of the Short Story Project, of course, but it also (without adding more pressure) was part of the point of the entire project in the first place; reading more short stories was meant to be a master class in short story writing, and therefore teaching me how to be better about writing them. I’ve come to the conclusion that part of my issue with revisions and rewriting and editing my own short stories has everything to do with my own stubbornness and my own refusal to admit a story isn’t working while still trying to force it to work. I have several of those; great concepts that I simply can’t pull off the way they currently sit, and I need to figure out some way to make them work as stories. My goal is to finish two collections within the next two years (Once a Tiger and Other Stories and Monsters of New Orleans),  as well as continue trying to get stories published as the year pass. I am very excited for the release of Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories this coming April 1. I definitely also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger” finished and up as a Kindle single sometime this year.

6. Writing more personal essays. Yes, yes, I know the blog sort of counts as writing personal essays on a daily basis, but I’d like to start seeing them published in other places, and there are some blog entries that are more abstracts of what could be more in-depth, more introspective, and much longer. The goal is to ultimately come up with a collection of said essays called Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life, and again, this is a long-term goal; I’d like to have this collection ready in about three years.

7. More research on New Orleans history. This is also necessary for, of course, the writing of Monsters of New Orleans, which is a terrific project I am terribly excited about, plus I am kind of excited about reading up on New Orleans history, lore and legends, which will only make my writing about the city stronger and better. I am also looking forward on teaching myself how to do research, and making use of all the amazing local resources, such as the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Tennessee Williams Research Center, the public library resources, and of course, the Louisiana Historic Research Collection at Tulane University. (The Tulane library alone!) I am still reading Herbert Asbury’s The French Quarter whenever I get a minute, and there are so many others to read–currently in my research pile on my desk I have that and three Robert Tallant books (Voodoo in New Orleans, Ready to Hang, and The Voodoo Queen) along with Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon and the ever classic Gumbo Ya-Ya.

8. Clearing out the TBR pile. I wasn’t able to read as much for pleasure this past year as I have in other years; primarily because I was judging a book award again (I think this will be the last time I actively participate in judging a book award; it’s just too time-consuming, not to mention all the books piling up in the house), and of course, all the research. I’ve also decided that books I want to keep to reread no longer need to be kept; if I need to read again or use it for research for another project (I still want to write about the romantic suspense writers who dominated the bestseller lists from mid-century through the 1980’s) I can always simply get an ebook version of it, which I can access and make notes easily on with the iPad. I also want to declutter the Lost Apartment, and let’s face it, the books are the primary problem.

9. Keeping a positive attitude. This is the hardest of all goals; because my mind is already trained to default to the negative. But negativity derails everything; and keeping belief in myself, no matter whatever career disappointments might lie around the corner for me, is necessary in order for me to do the work I need to do, not only on my writing but on myself, to be the best Gregalicious I can be. And ultimately, that’s the bottom line of all the goals, isn’t it? To be the best me I can be?

And now, back to the spice mines. I am taking a self-imposed exile from the Internet for the rest of the day, to get things done around the house, to write some more, to do some reading, and just get ready for the return to work this week. Happy New Year, one and all!

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