Fingers & Thumbs

Here we are on a Tuesday morning with the time change coming and the weather shifting into big-time fall. Yesterday was simply beautiful outside; the sky that magnificent shade of cerulean I’ve never seen anywhere else (Italy has the most beautiful skies) and you can go for a walk without getting drenched in sweat. It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is right around the corner, with Christmas and New Year’s hot on its tail; and whatever Carnival is going to be is right behind.

Yes, it is that time of year again. HOLIDAYS.

Sigh.

I loved the holidays when I was a kid. Christmas meant presents and a tree and turkey and dressing and decorations and candy and no school for at least two weeks. Thanksgiving didn’t mean presents, but I always always loved that meal (we always had turkey and dressing for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and got to eat the leftovers for days after). As I got older the thrill of the holidays slowly began to wane. By the time I moved in with Paul I was almost completely over them. Almost six years with an airline–which meant working on the holidays if they fell on your scheduled day to work; the airport never closes and neither do the airlines–had kind of robbed the joy from them for me; I could only see family sometime around the holidays, depending on open seats on flights, which were scarce, and spending them with friends wasn’t quite the same thing. We stopped putting up Christmas decorations when we got Scooter–Skittle wasn’t an issue; he’d go knock a ball off the tree, lose interest and go away; Scooter saw Christmas tree and decorations and thought amusement park! And since he loves nothing more than chewing plastic–the first time I caught him trying to chew on a string of lights, that was it for the Christmas decorations. And every time I go up into the attic, I see the box of decorations and think, should I throw them away? We don’t use them, and even–God forbid, knock on wood–when the day comes that we no longer have Scooter with us, will we use them again?

Given our history, it’s very unlikely. And while the Lost Apartment isn’t as festive around the holidays as it could be, as we’ve gotten older it’s just not as important to either of us as it once was. Sure, we enjoy buying each other gifts, and sharing them–Paul always wins Christmas, no matter how hard I try to get him something absolutely perfect, he always gets me something that is so incredibly thoughtful I get teary-eyed–and we enjoy the new traditions that we have come up with together.

And really, the true gift of the holiday is spending it together, unplugging from the world, and just enjoying each other’s company.

But it’s after Halloween now, so the Christmas stuff is coming out in the stores, and the music will start playing everywhere (thank God I don’t listen to the radio anymore). The Christmas specials and movies will start airing again, every television series will have a Christmas episode of some kind (thank you, Ted Lasso, for doing it in the summer time), and advertising will have a distinctive green and red flavor to it. I will inevitably start grumping about the serious overkill–and I am also not looking forward to this year’s noxious and untrue revisitation of the right-wing “war on Christmas” narrative.

My latest Scotty book, Royal Street Reveillon, was an actual Christmas book, set in New Orleans during the Christmas season. One part of Christmas I never get tired of is the way New Orleans dresses herself up for the holiday–and seriously, if you are in town and can get a chance to go look at the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, it’s breathtakingly beautiful; which is why I had the book start with Scotty getting Taylor his first sazerac in the Sazerac Bar of the Roosevelt Hotel. I wanted to talk about how beautifully the hotel is decorated, how gorgeous the city is in its Christmas finery, and of course–I got to talk about a particularly New Orleans Christmas tradition–reveillon dinner. It’s funny, because I have tried to write about Christmas before–I do, at heart, love Christmas and everything it is supposed to stand for, even if I get Scrooge-like about the overkill in mid-December–but I’ve never really had much success with writing an actual Christmas story. I tried writing Christmas short stories before, but coming up with something original that is also sweet and about love and kindness is incredibly difficult; it’s like every possible idea has already had every bit of juice squeezed out of it already (how many versions of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life do we really need, anyway?). I wrote three first drafts of Christmas stories–“Silver Bells,” “Silent Night,” and “Reindeer on the Rooftop”–but the first two turned out incredibly sad and depressing and the latter so saccharine sweet it made my teeth ache. I’d always thought of doing a Scotty Christmas book, once I decided to keep the series going past the original three; the original idea of the first trilogy was the gay holidays–Decadence, Halloween, Carnival–and then I thought I would tie all future Scottys around holidays; when I revived the series with Book 4, Vieux Carré Voodoo, opened on Easter Sunday and the end of Lent–which seemed appropriate since the previous book was set during Carnival (I’d actually forgotten about that). Of course, I moved away from that with Who Dat Whodunnit (which was around the Saints Super Bowl win, but also included a Christmas scene with the other side of Scotty’s family, the Bradleys, now that I think about it) and Baton Rouge Bingo…so maybe actually doing a Halloween Scotty book might be in order (I have mentioned this before, of course) since Jackson Square Jazz was set the week before Halloween.

And thinking of the kind of trouble Scotty could get into over Halloween puts a little smile on my face.

I need to buckle down and get to work on my book. It’s due in January and time is slipping into the future…so on that note, dear Constant Reader, I am going to finish this and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday!

I Can Feel Your Heartbeat

Well, this has turned into a rather interesting stay-cation, has it not?

This morning, as I swill coffee and read weather reports with bleary eyes, trying to decide what to do–we are still leaning towards not leaving; knowing at best we will probably be without power until Thursday at the earliest in a best case scenario–which is horribly unappealing, given how hot it’s been and the time of year it is–but…but…ugh. I’m not even certain, were we to go, where we would go–north, east, west–and from everything I am seeing this morning the highways out of the city are backed up, bumper to bumper and barely moving; that could be incorrect, of course (one never really knows unless one is out there). I don’t see the sense in going west or north, to be honest; the track will probably bring Ida ashore west of New Orleans, and the storm is going to go north from landfall. East would be the best choice, methinks, but…it’s not like everywhere east also isn’t a hotbed of COVID-19, either. I’m not really sure what to do, to be honest, and there’s definitely a part of me that thinks we’ve already missed the evacuation window period, anyway.

The good news is that the imminent loss of power/potential evacuation forced me to sit my ass down and get through the manuscript yesterday. I think I may have missed some spots, and I am not certain about a decision I made with something to bring it in line with things further back in the manuscript, but I am going to print it all out today (if I have enough ink) so I at least can look at it if we don’t have power for the next few days (if we evacuate, of course, it won’t matter because I can access it on my laptop). But that’s one more thing to cross off the list, which is very cool, but I suspect everything is going to come to a screeching halt by tomorrow at any rate, so I should probably get as much done as I can while I still have power.

Last night I had dinner with a friend from out of town–scheduled to come in for Bouchercon, she came to town anyway because her daughter goes to school here–at Red Gravy on Magazine Street (it was really good; I recommend the lasagna but don’t get the margarita with agave juice; it’s too sweet–at least for me; I like the tequila bite in a regular margarita myself) and she texted me this morning that she and her daughter are heading for Texas; which is kind of a bit of a relief. I was worried about them; the daughter is Not From Here and has already had some horrible experiences with losing power for days since she came to the city last year–I am, insanely, more concerned about the loss of power than anything else myself–and I hope they make it west safely. It was a lovely evening–there were hardly any people out and about; the only indication of anything was the lines at the gas stations–and then I came home. We watched this week’s Ted Lasso, which was marvelous as always, and then started watching the new season of American Horror Story: Red Tide, which was….interesting. It’s entertaining enough, but kind of, well, stupid. I kept thinking why would you stay there? It’s set in Provincetown in the off-season, as a writer brings his pregnant wife and daughter there so he can write, and they’ve got free rent as long as the wife, a decorator, redecorates the house. But crazy shit starts happening almost immediately–which begs the question, where does Provincetown hide all these crazy creatures during tourist season? A lot of it doesn’t really make sense (well, it is Ryan Murphy, after all) but we’ll keep watching because it’s entertaining.

And as always, the imminent arrival of a hurricane inevitably reminds me of the abandoned fourth Scotty novel, Hurricane Party Hustle, which I had planned in the wake of finishing and turning in Mardi Gras Mambo that August of 2005…that obviously had to be abandoned after Katrina came a-calling. I had always wanted to write a murder mystery set during that eerie time when the city empties out for an evacuation, with 80% of the people gone and the eerie silence and weird emptiness that comes with it. I used some of the stuff I’d already written for this book for Murder in the Garden District, which also has an evacuation in it–I used the memories of evacuating for Katrina for Murder in the Rue Chartres— and every once in a while, the thought crosses my mind that the Scotty version would be interesting to write and experience. I’ve never really dealt much with Katrina in the Scotty books–it was in the past and he basically waves it away as the past in the prologue to Vieux Carré Voodoo–and I’ve always thought about going back and writing the Scotty Katrina book–I can always keep the series going by filling in the times between books, if it comes to that or if writing Scotty in his sixties is unappealing–but I probably won’t do that. I don’t know–but I am also laughing at myself this morning; only a writer would view an approaching and imminent natural disaster as material and start thinking about ways to build a crime novel around it.

Take THAT, Imposter Syndrome!

And now, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and keep Louisiana in your thoughts!

Slow Hand

I slept very strangely last night–for the first time in a very long time I had what I call “stress dreams”; they’re really not quite nightmares, in that they aren’t scary, but rather me dreaming about something that causes me stress. It’s been years since I’ve had one of these–I guess you could say that the ‘test I didn’t study for’ or ‘went to class naked’ fall into that category; I’ve never had either of those–but this was one in which I was going to have to go on stage and perform for something to do with work; but for some reason I needed to have a cricket and as the time for me to go on stage drew nearer, the cricket I was given got away and I couldn’t find it; finally had to go outside and try to catch a new, untrained (it was a dream; of course none of it made the slightest bit of sense) and of course, for some reason my parents were in the audience and I couldn’t find a cricket. I woke up around six and thought, do I want to go back to sleep and into that dream again? But I closed my eyes again, figuring the dream was interrupted, but no–back into this weird dream where I had to have a cricket and go on stage and perform in something vaguely Dickensian.

At seven thirty I woke up again and thought, fuck it, I’d rather be tired than go back into that dream. So I got up and came downstairs to make coffee. And here I am.

I bit the bullet and bought a more expensive (and dependable) vacuum cleaner yesterday–the same model we bought like nine years ago that I didn’t really maintain properly but still managed to work well for nearly seven years; I am going to maintain this one properly–I read the manual, believe it or not–and so part of my day today will include working on the floors. I’m also going to make watermelon gazpacho–I may have to run to the grocery because I need both lemon and lime juice, and I also want to get a bag of ice so I can make a proper dirty martini this evening–still working on getting the taste right–and I also want to work on my writing some as well as get to the gym. I also recognize this is a rather ambitious program for the day; there’s reading I need to get done as well–I really want to finish Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow, which I was enjoying before I got distracted from it; a great debut by a trans author (which we need more of, by the way), and I’m not really sure what distracted me from it, to be honest…but I’ve not really been doing much reading for a while–but I am enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker.

I guess I should say I am not reading anything new to me, because that is more accurate. I think I mentioned yesterday that I got a lovely tweet from a reader about Mardi Gras Mambo the other night, and then I tried reading it again–I have the ebook on my iPad–but for some reason there was an issue I couldn’t resolve to get it open, and it kept freezing my Kindle app (don’t come for me, I also have iBooks and Kobo and generally try to buy ebooks through platforms that allow percentages to go to either non-profits or independent bookstores; and I also take advantage of deeply discounted sales and I especially love when the books are offered free); yesterday I deleted the app and redownloaded it and voila! Problem solved. I haven’t reread the book in a really long time–I’ve not reread any of the Scottys in a really long time–and as I was reading (skimming mostly) I was remembering things from the time I was writing the book: that the original idea was vastly different from the final iteration; I actually stopped writing it and then trashed everything I had written and started over; the second iteration was also significantly different from the final, and something else happened that kept me finishing; and when I finally went back to finish it I trashed the entire thing for yet a second time and started over completely. It took me–because of the stops and starts–much longer to write than anything else I’ve ever written (that was published); I remember often referring to the book as my own personal Vietnam (although now Afghanistan would be more indicative of endless quagmire) and–now that I think back on it–the inability to finish this book was why I started blogging in the first place. I needed to get back into the habit of writing every day, so I could kickstart my creativity and finish the damned book.

I digress.

But as I was rereading/reskimming, I was amazed at how fucking complicated the plot was, and how much juggling was required to not leave loose ends, to not contradict things that had happened, and I remember that last summer before Katrina (the book was turned in three weeks before that bitch came ashore) how much work I had to do on that manuscript; how I had to keep checking and double-checking to make sure it made sense and I had the right people in the right place and that it was possible for characters to move around the way they did; and how I wanted the pacing to be completely frenetic and crazy because it was taking place over that final weekend of Carnival, and how badly I didn’t want to the book to end the way it did. It was also during the writing that I discovered that the original way I’d planned the trilogy (once I knew it was going to be more than a standalone) couldn’t be completed in this volume and that the personal story–always intended to be resolved by book three–was going to have to roll over into a fourth book….which I eventually (thanks to Katrina) began to think would never happen. I hated leaving it as a trilogy…but how do you write a funny book set in New Orleans after Katrina? I couldn’t think of any way to do it, and when I finally did start Vieux Carré Voodoo, I just jumped ahead a few years. (Although now I am thinking I can go back and do that very thing; maybe I could do a couple of post-Katrina Scottys, to give me some breathing space away from the pandemic and go back to him being younger?) It also made me realize, again, that a lot of the post-Katrina Scotty books I’ve done didn’t have very complex or complicated plots; they were always very straightforward and simple until Royal Street Reveillon. I have several ideas of what to do next with Scotty, and rereading/reskimming Mardi Gras Mambo made me realize–instead of deciding which plot to do next, why not do them all in one? Why NOT write another complicated, complex, all over the map plot with subplots galore? It’ll be hard work, of course, but why am I shying away from hard work?

I’ve also been researching more about folk tales and legends of Louisiana; I saw that someone is doing a graphic novel built around one of them–the Grunch–and as I started digging around into that particular myth/legend, a Grunch story started forming in my mind, and I soon realized Monsters of Louisiana could happen very easily; again, it’s a matter of time to write and time to research.

I did manage, around groceries and getting the mail and trying to get organized and relaxed and everything, to put about another 1200 words into “Festival of the Redeemer.” I also remembered that I had made, years ago, a Pinterest board for Venice, and so I visited it yesterday to look at the pictures to help me with a dream sequence I am writing into the story–I needed to see Venetian Carnival costumes, and oh, did my Pinterest board ever have some fantastic images pinned to it! I had completely forgotten that I’d made a Pinterest board when I was writing Timothy to help out, with images of the house I was basing Spindrift on, and images of rooms to use for descriptions, and so forth…and as I scrolled through these amazing images on my Venice board, I kept thinking to myself, why the fuck don’t you use this website for images for works in progress? This would have come so in handy for the two you’ve just turned in, you fucking moron.

And seriously, it really is a wonder I have a career anymore. I have all these wonderful tools at my disposal to make it easier to write things and then never use them.

And on that note, this floor isn’t going to vacuum itself. Catch you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

1963

And now it’s Saturday. It’s still cold in New Orleans and we still don’t have any heat but it’s not as bad as Texas by any means, and we never lost either power or water pressure. So far we haven’t had a rolling blackout, either–although they were threatened. I spent most of yesterday unpacking and repacking condom packs, while watching history videos on Youtube, done by a local New Orleanian–someone I do not know–correcting revisionist history; it began with his lengthy video on the Confederate propaganda movie Gods and Generals–which I have never seen; I tend to avoid Civil War films because they are all-too frequently Lost Cause narratives at best or defenses of white supremacy at worst–even the ones that don’t center Confederate stories. I have no desire to see either. I was raised on the Lost Cause false-narrative, and I am still kind of bitter about being taught false narratives as truth as a child. I also resent having had to spend so much of my adult life correcting everything I learned that was wrong and/or incorrect; relearning American history without the rose-colored glasses of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny firmly placed on my nose and eyes.

Writing Bury Me in Shadows, methinks, is in some ways for me kind of a reckoning with that “heritage.”

The cold is going to continue through this weekend, but tomorrow is supposed to be relatively normal late winter weather for New Orleans. It will be nice to get back to normal. It’s currently forty degrees and sunny outside, and I’ll take it, thank you very much.

Today I am going to spend most of the day rereading and revising my manuscript. I want to be able to get through the entire thing in one sitting–this way I can catch most of the repetition, and I am going to also be starting to sprinkle the new stuff through the manuscript that needs to be added. I am hoping that on Sunday I can go to the gym and start inputting the changes; Monday I will assess as to whether I believe I can finish before the deadline or not. (I am a firm believer in not waiting until the last minute to let my publisher know the manuscript will be late.) I mean, I do have another full weekend to get it all done, but it’s not going to be super easy. I have to write an entire season of a podcast–or at least, significant excerpts from said podcast–and there’s at least one more chapter that needs to be written. (Depends on the inputted changes I am going to be making as I go; the goal is to make writing that last chapter really easy by making it a “now that everything is over and has been resolved” kind of chapter.)

It’s going to be lovely to be done with the book, to be honest. I started writing this version in the summer of 2015; I wrote the entire first draft in slightly less than one month–without the last chapter; I never did write the last chapter because I knew I was going to have to make changes to the story and why write something I might have to throw completely out? I have always tried to be efficient with my writing–not going off on tangents, not writing things that will have to be cut out later (it’s so painful cutting out entire scenes and chapters)–and knowing that I couldn’t really write the final chapter until I was absolutely certain about the story itself. I know the story now–this is like the eighth draft, seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that took this many drafts (novels, at any rate; I have short stories that have been through eight or more drafts, seriously). I am looking forward to moving on from it at long last; I want to start planning the writing of Chlorine next, while also finishing some short stories and putting together some proposals for other ideas I have. If all goes well, I will be able to write a first draft of Chlorine in April, a first draft of the next Scotty in May, and then spend the summer revising and rewriting both. I’d like to spend the fall finishing other odds and ends I have in my files–“Never Kiss a Stranger” has been crying to me from the files to be finished, for one, and there are a couple of other novellas and short stories I want get done. Granted, if any of the proposals sell I will have to change my writing schedule, but if none of them do sell…well, I have plenty on hand for me to write.

I may even start a new series. I’ve been thinking that a gay cozy mystery might be fun to write. I love puzzles and lots of suspects and things; I’d love to do something along the lines of James Anderson’s The Case of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, which is probably my favorite cozy mystery of all time; a big mansion, secret passages, jewel thieves, international espionage–all taking place over a house party weekend at an English country home. I’ve always felt it was a shame that those wonderful old classic home house party/small village mysteries the British wrote that I loved to read really couldn’t be replicated in the US…and then later realized that is because those stories are completely rooted in the British class system and what would be comparable here and then…yeah, you see where this went, don’t you? Although some day I will figure out how to do one of those…

I WILL. And it will be marvelous.

I also need to reread The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy again. It’s really quite marvelous; I do hope it holds up.

I’ve also been sort of paging through/rereading the Three Investigators’ The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, which in some ways was a tribute to Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone–which I also did with my own Vieux Carré Voodoo–while not finishing the Dana Girls’ The Clue in the Cobweb. I also keep meaning to get back into reading short stories, since my mind is in that weird “I need to finish my book” place where I can’t focus on reading anything new (once the book is done, I am going to spend some serious time with Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things, which I had started reading before locking into “finish the book” mode), so it’s either short stories or rereads until I turn this manuscript in. Anyway, that’s one of my favorite Three Investigators books because it, too, involves a treasure hunt with vague clues (or rather, a riddle of sorts) the boys have to figure out in order to find their new young friend August’s inheritance, the Fiery Eye, a cursed jewel stolen from an idol in a fictional southern Asian nation (Constant Reader will note that Vieux Carré Voodoo also involved the need to solve a riddle to find a cursed jewel stolen from a temple in a fictional southeast Asian country). I also recently–and I don’t remember if I shared this here or not–had the epiphany that the Scotty series, in some ways, is in and of itself a tribute to The Three Investigators…if they were adults and gay and in a “throuple”, as such relationships are called nowadays (I first heard the term in a CDC training). It also occurred to me that many kids’ series involve the main character and two close friends–or if the main characters are a pair (the Hardys and the Danas) they’re inevitably given a close pal who shares their adventures (in fairness, the Dana sisters have several friends who fill that role; some of the books involve several of their friends, but the only one whose name I can recall now is Evelyn Starr–although I believe they also had a friend named Doris Garland, but I am not sure about that name). As I thought about this more, I had to wonder if this was an attempt to steer the books away from homoeroticism or the undercurrent of the main character and his/her best friend being more like a couple then as friends….but I also can’t imagine that being a concern when these books were first conceived? (Although Trixie Belden and her best friend Honey Wheeler certainly play out the butch/femme lesbian dynamic rather convincingly–which I think why in later books in the series they played down Trixie’s “tomboyishness” and tried to make her more of a girly-girl.) Nancy Drew’s first four books featured her and her dear friend Helen Corning; in book five Helen vanishes (she shows up in a couple of later books) and is replaced by cousins Bess and George (again, the butch/femme dynamic at play, even though they are made cousins to avoid such thinking…but George is so damned butch and Bess so femme people made the connection anyway). The Hardys have Chet Morton, who is relentlessly fat-shamed and mocked throughout the entire series (Frank and Joe sometimes aren’t the wonderful boys they are made out to be). I have certainly made note of the homoerotic undercurrent in the Ken Holt series (with his best pal Sandy) and the Rick Brant series (with his best pal Scotty) before; there is none of this in the Three Investigators series because there are three of them, and they are vaguely around thirteen; it is doubtful any of them have gone through complete puberty yet because they still think of girls as kind of alien creatures, which really plays strangely in the series where the male leads are in their later teens….the chasteness of the Hardys with their token girlfriends–like Nancy, Bess and George with their token boyfriends–never quite rings true to me. They don’t even kiss! That probably has more to do with their target audience (nine to thirteen year olds) than anything else, but even when I was a prepubescent kid it struck me as strange.

I still want to try writing my own middle-grade series for kids; I think I may take a month this summer and try to write one and see what happens. I’ve been planning such a series since I was a kid, after all, and my writing career lately has seemed to be all about writing the things I’ve been leaving on the back burner simmering for years.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. My book is calling to me, and I want to read some short stories with the rest of my morning caffeine. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–and friends in Texas, hope you’re doing okay. I’ve been thinking about all y’all this past week.