You Don’t Love Me Anymore

Sunday morning, and with no Saints game today I have no excuse not to get a lot done today. It’s chilly this morning and gray outside; we still have rain in the forecast but it’s calm and quiet out there right now; perhaps the calm before the storm? Ugh, such a tired cliche–but it’s fine with me.

Yesterday I got a lot of chores done–very little writing, but the chores were necessary and of course, being the Master Procrastinator that I am; I have to have a clean apartment–or at least one that’s been straightened up some–in order to have a clear conscience enough to get work done. I now have no excuses to not get everything done that I need to get done today–but we’ll see how that goes; there’s always something.

I read another Holmes story yesterday–“The Musgrave Ritual”–which I couldn’t remember the plot of, other than remembering that it was one of my favorite Holmes stories. Like “The Gloria Scott“, it’s a “let me tell you a story” story; I really don’t remember the Holmes stories being like this, of course, but it’s something to think about as I prepare to write my own pastiche. It’s a style of writing/story-telling I’m not so certain I want to try, but then again–the entire point of me writing a Holmes story is to push myself as a writer and get better overall, so perhaps…perhaps I should try it that way and see how it goes. Anyway, as I reread it, I remembered why I liked it so much; it’s a treasure hunt story, and I absolutely love treasure hunts. At least two Scotty books–Jackson Square Jazz and Vieux Carre Voodoo, are treasure hunts.

I also rewatched the original film version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, 1963’s The Haunting, directed by multiple Oscar winner Robert Wise, and starring Julie Harris as Nell. I saw this movie long before I even knew there was a book, let alone read it; my grandmother loved old black and white movies, and she especially loved crime and horror–probably where I get it from, and she also introduced me to the novels of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Ellery Queen, and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was very young and the film absolutely terrified me–to this day, even remembering the scene with the door expanding and contracting unsettles me. I was, of course, quite delighted as a teenager to discover it was actually a novel (I had read Richard Matheson’s Hell House, with it’s similarities to The Haunting, year earlier and wondered if he’d gotten the idea for the book from the movie), and it quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time; in fact, I believe it was Stephen King who introduced me to the novel, because the opening paragraph was an epigram to ‘salem’s Lot. But I hadn’t watched the film in years; I’d watched the horrible 1999 remake, and of course the Netflix series loosely based on the book (I do recommend the series, it’s fantastic, once you get back the fact that it’s not a faithful adaptation but kind of fan-fiction; it didn’t even have to be Hill House for the story to work, but that’s a subject for a different blog. I do recommend it, though). Julie Harris is perfectly cast as Nell, and Claire Bloom does an excellent job as Theo. There are differences between the book and the film; why they changed Dr. Montague’s name to Dr. Markway is a mystery, and the later third of the film, after his wife arrives, is vastly different from the later third of the novel, and her character is completely changed; the young man who escorts her to Hill House is also excised from the movie. But the way the film is shot–the use of light and shadow, the up angles of the camera, and the ever-so creepy claustrophobia of the enclosed house–is absolutely terrifying, and you never see what is actually haunting the house. That was the singular brilliance of the book, and Wise kept that for his film (the execrable 1999 remake went completely over the top with CGI effects and so forth; ruining the necessary intimacy of the story). I still think of it as one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, and on a rewatch–the way you hear Nell’s thoughts, whispered, while Julie Harris’ eyes dart around–adds to the intimacy. I think that interior intimacy is a large factor in why the book is so fantastic, and why both book and original film work so well. The Netflix series does show the ghosts of Hill House, but it’s also done in a very subtle, unsettling way, which is why I think I liked it so much.

I also was thinking about rewatching Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, but decided to hold off until I finish the reread of the book–which I am still in the midst of–I want to finish it before my trip this week, because I want to take two different books with me to read.

I did finish my reread of Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt, which was much better than I remembered, with it’s haunted monastery and ghostly monk haunting the big manor house. It’s also a terrific novel about paranoia and gaslighting; the ultimate evil scheme behind everything hinges on the heroine of the story being eventually committed to an insane asylum, and hopefully miscarrying her child, or it being born dead as a result of the confinement. Holt novels often hinged on the possibility of insanity being genetic–if the mother is insane, her child most likely will be as well–and this horror, which was probably very real in the nineteenth century, makes this book terribly unsettling. The main character, Catherine, is very strong-willed and intelligent, but she marries a man without meeting any of his family, moves into the family estate (Kirkland Revels), and then he dies in a fall from a balcony, and she returns to her father’s house; only to have to return to Kirkland Revels when she discovers she is pregnant. The combination of vulnerable and pregnant heroine being gaslit into believing she is insane was pretty unsettling to me when I originally read the novel; which is probably why it’s one of the few Holts I never took down from the shelf on a rainy afternoon and reread. Rereading it, thought, makes me appreciate the mastery apparent in Holt’s writing. She never again wrote another novel with a pregnant heroine–while some of her later novels did involve pregnancies and/or motherhood (On the Night of the Seventh Moon, The House of a Thousand Lanterns) the mystery, and the plot against the heroine, never occurred during the pregnancy. Romantic suspense, and its twin sister, domestic suspense, were a kind of “women’s noir,” in that the stories always focused on what were seen as the biggest fears for women–marrying the wrong man, danger to her child, not being able to trust your husband–were the recurring thread through all of them.

I also did manage to get some work done on the new project yesterday, which was lovely and my goal for the day. Not as much as I would like–I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t fail to achieve everything in a day that I wanted to–but enough to be satisfactory. I also came up with an idea for another Scotty, one that takes place down in the bayou–Cajun Country Cavaille–but whether I’ll write it or not remains to be seen. But I’d like to address the loss of the Louisiana wetlands at some point in print, and writing about a (probably fictional) version of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes is probably the best way to do that; I just don’t have a murder mystery to hang the story on. My interest in the Scotty (and possible resurrection of the Chanse) series is expanding outward from New Orleans to the rest of Louisiana; I’ve come to realize that not only do I love New Orleans but I also love Louisiana, frustrating and irritating as that love can be sometimes. Louisiana is so beautiful…I also want to write about the Atchafalaya basin sometime, too, and of course let’s not forget the infamous Bayou Corne sinkhole no one talks about anymore…and of course there’s Cancer Alley along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is also begging to be written about.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

warrior-2-678x381

Wishing on a Star

I prefer not to speak in anger, and always try not to do so. I am not always successful, to my great shame, and I am still tortured by memories of times when I let my anger get the best of me and yelled at a stranger. I will never have the opportunity to apologize to those people, and I know I ruined their day for them; they may also remember being made to feel anger of their own, or shame, or whatever bad emotion my anger caused them. I don’t like it when I lose my temper with Paul, or with friends, or with co-workers. Nothing positive ever comes of it, and I always, always feel bad afterwards; even if it was satisfying at the time.

But anger is also different from outrage, and I will speak out when I am outraged. Outrage and anger are similar but not the same; I will say things in anger I would never say when I am not angry, and will often try to contain those angry sentences to my brain. Outrage comes from a different place, a place that doesn’t burn hot, but is icy; the freezing coldness that comes from utter moral contempt. What I call my Julia Sugarbaker moments come from a place as cold as outer space; my words may be strong, my voice might even quiver with emotion, but make no mistake about it: there is no heat in my outrage.

Injustice outrages me more than anything else; the notion that fairness and decency should only be allowed to the select and denied the rest is one of my many triggers. Over the course of my life I’ve been cold in outrage far more times than I would like, far more times than I wish were necessary, far more times that I ever wanted. There were many points in my life that I thought, ah, this is it. This is the place where fairness and decency is going to kick in, and going forward things are going to be better.

Instead…on and on and on it goes, world without end, amen.

I’m tired from fighting. It seems like I’ve been fighting my entire life. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve paid for them, I’ve done stupid things and embarrassing things and things I wish I hadn’t.

But I never regret being wrong. I don’t like being wrong, but I never regret it completely.  You learn from being wrong. You grow and you change and you see life, the world, people, in a different way when you realize you’re wrong. I’ve grown and changed, I continue to grow and change, and I hope I never stop growing and changing.

But you have to want to grow and change, and one of the sadder things I’ve seen and had to grow accustomed to is seeing how many people have no desire to grow, to learn, to change. I don’t understand it. I try to wrap my mind around it but I can’t. I can’t imagine not questioning, not wondering, not researching, not learning.

I don’t ever want to stop growing and evolving. I can’t imagine wanting to stop, and resisting it stubbornly.

As a writer I tell stories. To tell stories I have to have characters, setting, place and plot  and dialogue. To write about them honestly I have to understand them, and writing sometimes is my way to try to come to understanding. I sometimes funnel my outrage and my anger into my writing as ways of divesting myself of that energy; writing is always where I go when I want to make sense of an insensible situation, a problem, something I can’t quite understand. In my stories I know my characters intimately, who they are and what they like and what they don’t like and whether they are ticklish or not and whether they know how to swim or not and why and if they can cook and if they have a clean house and do they enjoy grocery shopping. You can never know another human being as completely as you know the characters you write about.

I have always thought that my Chanse series was the darker toned one and more political by nature. I’ve tackled hate crimes and murder and homophobia and self-loathing and politics in the Chanse series. I’ve always thought of the Scotty series as fluffy and fun and entertaining; the books enjoyable entertainments for an afternoon or two at the beach and nothing more. But as I address some issues in this current Scotty manuscript, I found myself wondering is this more of a Chanse book than a Scotty? Scotty books aren’t supposed to be dark and heavy.

And then…I start remembering the previous Scotty books. The neo-Nazis allied with the far right politician in Bourbon Street Blues, and what their plan for the Southern Decadence weekend in the French Quarter was. The difficulty of being a world class athlete who has to stay in the closet and having a homophobic mother in Jackson Square Jazz. The inhumanity of the Russian mob in Mardi Gras Mambo. Religious fanaticism and the corruption of the Vietnam War in Vieux Carre Voodoo. The homophobic hysteria of the religious right over same-sex marriage in Who Dat Whodunnit. The corruption of Louisiana state politics in Baton Rouge Bingo. The horror of being tried in the court of public opinion in Garden District Gothic.

I’ve been doing it all along.

Even now, I laugh at my naivete. The Scotty series is about a gay male ex-stripper in the French Quarter whose parents are far-left progressives and is in a three way relationship with a former FBI agent and an international gun-for-hire. They took in the ex-Fed’s gay college-aged nephew after he came out to his parents and they disowned him in Baton Rouge Bingo.

When you write gay characters, tell gay stories, focus on gay themes and ideas, when you show the world what it looks like through the prism of the gay gaze, it absolutely is an act of politics, of defiance, of seeing the society mainstream heterosexual has been building since Romulus and Remus founded Rome from an outside glance.

This makes the work political. It’s very existence is political.

My existence is political. People who don’t know me hate me for simply existing, for not fitting into the world the way they want it to be. My existence challenges core beliefs for some people: those who think we should all be drones living a cookie-cutter existence in the suburbs with 2.5 children, a dog, and a white picket fence.

But got some bad news for you folks: I ain’t going back in the closet. I’m not done fighting. I may be old and tired now, but I’m not finished.

I’ll still be fighting as they shove my body into the crematorium.

And now, back to the spice mines.

IMG_2454

Don’t Lose My Number

Easter! April Fool’s Day!

I ran my errands yesterday and got that over with, did some chores around the house and a little bit of writing–a very little bit, which means I must do a lot today–and then settled in to watch some movies: Office Christmas Party, Atomic Blonde, Five Dances, and Alien: Covenant, which was much better than I’d heard it was, although it didn’t make any sense compared to what I remembered of Prometheus, which it theoretically followed in the series. I also started brainstorming another short story, “Malevolence,” while sitting in my easy chair. I may start writing the story today; or I may not. It’ll depend on how I feel once I get home from the gym this morning, and how much progress I make on the disaster area also known as my kitchen.

I also read more of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which I am really enjoying. I also read some more short stories, but I am also about to start reading Bryan Camp’s debut novel, The City of Lost Fortune, so I can review it around its publication, which is rapidly coming up. I’ve also got ARC’s of Alex Segura’s new novel, and Lori Roy’s. So many riches…and that doesn’t even take into consideration everything else in my TBR pile. Sigh, I am such a lucky bastard.

But…I also need to get some writing done, I need to get some cleaning done, and I need to be productive today. I haven’t been the last two days, despite running errands and doing chores, and so  yes, I really have got to get my act together today. Next week is a normal, five day work-week, and then things will be normal again for a while, until Memorial Day weekend, at least. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as I head back into the spice mines, I am going to share with you the opening of Vieux Carre Voodoo, which was not only the fourth Scotty book, but the comeback Scotty book, after several years away in the wake of Katrina.

vieux carre voodoo 1

One of the rules of walking in the French Quarter when the weather’s warm is always look up when you walk underneath a balcony, or you’ll be sorry.

 You’d think having lived in the Quarter all of my life, looking up would be second nature for me by now. But I was lost in thought as I hurried up Governor Nicholls Street. I was really missing Frank and wishing he were here instead of in Ohio. I was on my way to ride on my parents’ float in the Gay Easter Parade, and it felt really strange to be doing it without Frank. I was debating myself as to whether my relationship had descended into an unhealthy level of co-dependency. I was paying absolutely no attention to my surroundings, other than making sure I wasn’t about to walk into a support post for a balcony. I had just decided here was nothing neurotic in missing your boyfriend, and that I should just relax and enjoy myself. It was a beautiful spring day, after all, and riding in a parade was always fun. I took a deep breath, cleared my head of all negativity, and started walking faster so I wouldn’t be late.

And that was when I was completely drenched by a cascade of cold water from above.

My reaction was reflexive and instinctive. “FUCK!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, which got me a really nasty look from the couple pushing a stroller across the street. I sighed, gave them an apologetic shrug, and their disapproving frowns turned into slight smiles at my expense.

I was soaked. Water was running down my back and chest, dripping out of my hair, and to my horror, I realized the white bikini my mother had so thoughtfully provided for me to wear in the parade apparently became see-through when wet. I immediately dropped my hands to cover my crotch as my eyes darted back and forth, looking for other pedestrians. The couple with the stroller shook their heads, gave each other a look, and started pushing the stroller a lot faster.

Obviously, they were tourists.

I shivered. The cool damp breeze coming from the river was much colder on wet skin. I knew I should’ve worn sweats over the costume.

Scotty? Is that you? Oh, dear, I’m so sorry!” a familiar voice said from above me. There was apologetic concern tempered by a slight bit of amusement in the tone.

I looked up and my initial irritation faded away to embarrassment. “Oh, it’s okay, Doc.” I called up to the bald older man peering down at me through gold-rimmed spectacles. “I wasn’t looking, like an idiot.” I sluiced water off my arms and shook my head from side to side. Droplets of water flew away from my hair.

“Well, come in and let me give you a towel.” He shook his head. “I’ll buzz you in.” His head vanished for a moment before reappearing almost instantly. “And you can explain to me what you’re doing in that ridiculous get-up.”  His face broke into a wide grin, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I dashed over to the metal gate at the side of the building in time to open it when the buzzer sounded.

Dr. Benjamin Garrett was a friend of my parents. He’d taught them both when they’d attended the University of New Orleans. He had been a full professor in both history and political science, and my mother frequently credited him for ‘opening her eyes to all the injustice in the world.’ We all called him Doc—well, when we were young we’d called him “Uncle Doc” until he asked us to drop the ‘uncle’ because he said it made him sound like a relative of the former dictators of Haiti. He loved to debate politics with my parents into the wee hours of the morning over bourbon; his eyes twinkling as he deliberately took an opposing viewpoint to wind my mother up.  I’d always liked Doc. He was fiercely intelligent, a bit of a curmudgeon, and one of the funniest people I knew.

No matter the situation, he always managed to have the absolutely perfect, droll thing to say on his lips. He was the epitome of the old-style Southern gentleman, and he was always dressed stylishly and appropriately. In the summer, he wore seersucker suits, bow ties and Panama hats. After Labor Day he switched to navy blue suits and dark red ties. He liked his bourbon and cigars, and he always seemed to have a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes. He walked with a cane now that he was older, and had been completely bald for as long as I could remember.

I paused long enough to take a look at myself in the plate glass window of the candle shop on the first floor of Doc’s building. I’d been working hard at the gym since Frank left. Now that I was in my thirties, my body seemed determined to develop love handles. Frank said he didn’t mind them, but I did. My goal was to be as lean as I’d been when we first met by the time he came home and I was making progress. The wet white bikini was unforgiving, but I didn’t see any pesky fat hanging over the sides. I winked at myself and dashed down the dark passageway alongside the building until I reached the back stairs. Another blast of wind brought up goose bumps on my skin as I climbed the stairs.  Doc was standing in the door to his apartment holding a huge fluffy white towel, which he handed to me. One of his gray eyebrows went up as he peered at me over his round gold spectacles.

 “It’s for the Gay Easter parade,” I explained as I toweled my hair and wrapped the towel around my waist. “I’m riding on the Devil’s Weed float.” The Devil’s Weed was the tobacco shop my parents ran on Royal Street.

 “And your mother decided you should dress up as a gay Easter Bunny,” he nodded as he stepped aside to let me in. “And to her, that means a white bikini with a cottontail and rabbit ears.” His eyes twinkled. “Now slip off that bikini—I’ll throw it in my dryer for a few minutes.”