Tag Archive for The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club

Cover for Hellfire and Damnation

Hellfire and Damnation - High Resolution

This is the cover for my upcoming book, Hellfire and Damnation: the August Micholson Chronicles, Book 2, coming out from MonstraCity Press in August, 2014. And here is the “teaser” for that book:

The second book in the thrilling Civil War steampunk supernatural suspense series begun with Fire on Iron. In this installment in the series, August Micholson must clear his name — he is accused of being a traitor to the Union and a sabateur and faces a court martial. He escapes his prison in an observation balloon, but then he is faced with monumental twin challenges — restoring the mental health of his “madness plague”-striken wife Elizabeth, and figuring out a way to halt General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania!

Here’s a gallery of the work that James of the Humble Nations: the Book Covers, Musings, & Fiction of ‘Cheap Literature’ Smith’ has done for me thus far:

James has hundreds and hundreds of pre-made covers available for writers to purchase for $35 apiece, and he often offers specials on them. If none of his pre-made covers work for you, he also does what he calls “Commission Rapide,” which is where you pick out a few images from ShutterStock and give him your title and instructions, and “Full Commission,” where you let him do all the work and he presents you with three different alternatives. He is very easy to work with and very friendly, and his prices are some of the best out there. As you can see from the gallery above, the quality of his work is quite high (the book covers are all “Commissions Rapide,” and the logo was a complete original that he put together for Dara and me for MonstraCity Press). He does ebook covers and for a small additional charge turns an ebook cover into a full, wrap-around cover for a CreateSpace or Lightning Source/IngramSpark trade paperback. I highly recommend him!

New MonstraCity Press Website Debuts!

Monstracity Press Logo

I’m very proud to announce the debut of the new MonstraCity Press website! The website includes all of MonstraCity Press’ publishing plans through August of 2016, including the continuations of the Fat White Vampire series and the August Micholson Chronicles (the series that begins with Fire on Iron).

Here are the upcoming Fat White Vampire titles:
Fat White Vampire Otaku, (Jules Duchon #3), May, 2014
Hunt the Fat White Vampire, (Jules Duchon #4), February, 2015
Ghost of the Fat White Vampire, (Jules Duchon #5), November, 2015
Fat White Vampire Rehab, (Jules Duchon #6), May, 2016

Here’s a tie-in book that takes place in Jules Duchon’s New Orleans contemporaneously with the catastrophic events of Fat White Vampire Otaku and which explains the origin of Hurricane Antonia (the fictional counterpart of Hurricane Katrina):
The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club, November, 2014

Here are the upcoming August Micholson Chronicles titles:
Hellfire and Damnation, (August Micholson #2), August, 2014
Fire on the Waters, (August Micholson #3), May, 2015
Home Fires, (August Micholson #4), February, 2016

Here are a pair of stand-alone novels:
No Direction Home, (near-future science fiction), August, 2015
The End of Daze, (satirical eschatological fantasy), August, 2016

Dara Fox, my lovely wife, is serving as Managing Editor and Co-Publisher, and I have granted myself the title of Co-Publisher, too.

Please visit the website of MonstraCity Press often!

Juggling Projects: Books in the Air!

Here’s an update of where my various projects stand (I’m putting this to pixel as much as an aid to me, a roadmap of where the heck I am at this point, as I am to provide you guys with info nuggets).

The Monster Trucks of Mount MonstraCity: This is the second book in my planned middle grades adventure/horror series. I’ve completed my plot outline and have this one waiting on the starting line. I’ll probably start working on the first draft in about three weeks, after I’m done with my current round of revisions on No Direction Home.

The Runaways of Mount MonstraCity: The first book in my planned middle grades adventure/horror series. I turned this in to Peter, my agent, a few weeks back and am waiting for his initial response, then expect to do some revisions before he begins submitting it around.

The Velveteen Ebook: This is a short, novella-length children’s novel that should appeal to adults nostalgic for technologically simpler times. It’s being considered at a handful of houses that specialize in gift books.

No Direction Home: I had turned this adult SF novel in to Peter for his review around the beginning of the year. I got it back from him a couple of weeks ago and am working on revisions prior to him beginning the submissions process.

The End of Daze: My friends at Tachyon Publications decided this eschatological satire didn’t fit in with their line. Another friend, David Myers of Commentary Magazine, suggested an editor at a small house who has a fondness for Jewish-themed fiction. Peter submitted it there, and it is also being looked at by an editor at one of the big SF imprints. If neither of these possibilities pan out, Dara and I will put out the book ourselves.

Ghostlands: This adult SF novel is still being looked at by a number of genre editors. Peter began submitting it around about a year and a half ago.

The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club: I did a major editing job on this urban fantasy novel the second half of last year (after having been working on it, on and off, since 2006, in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina). The latest version is being considered at Tachyon and at one of the big SF imprints.

Fire on Iron: My Civil War-set steampunk horror-adventure novel has nearly reached the end of its submissions journey. It is being considered at one final SF/fantasy imprint. Should they give it a pass, it will become Dara’s and my first independent publishing project. The roots of this book go all the way back to 1994, just before I joined George Alec Effinger’s writing critique group in New Orleans.

So, my friends, that is where things stand at the moment. Like any writer, I wish matters could move along more quickly. But it appears that, no matter how things break with the professional editors, Dara and I will be working on one of my projects this fall, after our youngest son, Judah, begins attending kindergarten. So I should have something “new” to peddle by the beginning of 2013.

Pruning Back the Mega-Novel

images of Krampus, bad luck spirit

Friday the Thirteenth feels like a very appropriate date on which to write a blog post about a book called The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club. It also happens to be the day on which I’ve finished my fourth rewrite of my most ambitious, troublesome, labor-intensive, and longest-worked-on manuscript of any I’ve ever started.

Way back around the time I first started participating in George Alec Effinger’s writing workshop in New Orleans, sometime in 1995, mystery novelist Laura Joh Rowland, who had just published Shinju, the first novel in what is now a long-running series, talked some about the virtues of rigorously outlining a novel prior to starting it versus writing it as it goes, or “winging it.” She said the most difficult and tedious work she had ever had to do on a book was restructuring a failed novel, one which had not been successfully plotted out prior to its composition. All of the rework and the insertion of new scenes and the subtraction of unhelpful scenes, the deletion and/or addition of characters, and the spreading around of exposition were far more laborious and time-consuming, she said, than taking the time to carefully plot the book beforehand and then sticking mostly to the plan.

My first published novel, Fat White Vampire Blues, actually grew out of a novelette (which I later broke out into the first three chapters of the book). When I decided to expand it to novel length, I knew what my ending would be, but I pretty much filled in the middle parts as I went along. I got lucky; the book didn’t turn out overly long, and it didn’t crash and burn. Its sequel, Bride of the Fat White Vampire, has thus far been the only novel I’ve written under contract – meaning I had a firm deadline from my editor. Since I intended to structure it as a mystery novel, with lots of intricate turns of plot, I changed my methods and utilized a very detailed outline. The outline also allowed me to write the book, which turned out to be 20,000 words longer than the first one, in about half the time, eighteen months versus nearly three years. The method I used when writing my next book, The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501, was somewhere between those I had used for the first two books. I thoroughly outlined the first half of the book, then winged it with the last half, expanding my outline as new ideas occurred to me.

Then came Hurricane Katrina, which turned more than a million persons’ lives upside down, mine included. My family and I ended up far luckier than many of our Gulf Coast neighbors. We didn’t lose our home (which “only” suffered about $18,000 worth of damage), and we didn’t end up trapped in the bureaucratic hell of the Road Home program. But we were stranded away from our house for two months, only finding housing and other necessities through the extraordinary kindness of friends and some relatives, and my wife Dara ended up losing her job when her agency was forced by the collapse of the New Orleans health care network to relocate to north Alabama. Plus, we had two babies (later three) to raise in a city where the future of most basic services, including health care, education, infrastructure maintenance, and public safety, was very much up in the air.

While Dara, Levi, Asher and I were stranded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we’d gone to attend the Bubonicon science fiction convention the weekend Katrina roared out of the Gulf, we had little to do aside from obsessively follow the news from New Orleans on CNN and the website of The Times-Picayune. One aspect of the coverage that simply floored me was how the news from my home town got worse and worse each day I watched. Just when I thought matters had gotten as dire as they possibly could, some new catastrophe would occur – snipers would fire rifles at helicopters attempting to rescue critically ill patients from the roof of the flooded Baptist Memorial Hospital, say, driving the helicopters off (a story which later came into dispute, but which was repeated endlessly on CNN and had an enormously demoralizing effect on those of us watching). The thought occurred to me that the evolving carnival of misery, destruction, death, and pervasive ineptness was simply beyond the scope of human foul-ups – so many things were going so incredibly wrong at so many levels that there simply had to be more to it than poor planning, poor execution, and political rivalries flaring at the most importune time.

That was how things looked in late August, September, and October of 2005. It wasn’t until a good bit later that I learned that a few agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, had worked a succession of miracles rescuing people trapped by the floods, keeping the death toll far lower than that which had been forecast, and the disaster relief and rebuilding efforts provided by the non-profit sector and thousands of volunteers were models of efficaciousness and compassion. These were not the stories the major media outlets chose to cover during those early months.

It took a long time for a more balanced picture of the nation’s and the city’s response to Katrina to come into focus. In the meantime, living through the disaster’s aftermath, seeking to put our lives in New Orleans back together as best we could, I remained haunted by the intimation that something “extra” had been at work during the disaster. I certainly wasn’t alone in this. Conspiracy theories were rife in New Orleans and the various communities of storm exiles during the fall and winter of 2005, stories that shadowy forces had dynamited the flood control levees in the Lower Ninth Ward to prevent other, wealthier and whiter neighborhoods from flooding (didn’t work too well, considering the fate of Lakeview, one of the whitest neighborhoods in the city), or that President Bush had purposefully kneecapped the response efforts due to an animus against black people and/or the heavily Democratic city of New Orleans.

Being a fantasy/horror/science fiction writer, it was natural that my intimations should’ve led to an idea for a novel. The notion behind The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club was fairly simple – the Katrina disaster had been made magnitudes worse by a conspiracy of supernatural bad luck entities who had worked diligently over many decades to hobble the health and resiliency of New Orleans and to drive its mortal residents away. My first literary reaction to the disaster and its aftermath had been to start a nonfiction book called The Janus-Faced City, an impressionistic history of the various political, economic , social, educational, and flood protection missteps which had accumulated in the decades leading to Katrina and had helped to ensure that the hurricane’s glancing blow would be horribly amplified. My hopes for obtaining a contract for that book sank when my agent, Dan Hooker, died of cancer on Thanksgiving of 2005.

Rather than continuing to crawl down what I feared would be a rabbit hole (I had never published a nonfiction book before, and I was suddenly without active representation), I redirected the fruits of my research into what I intended to be an epic contemporary fantasy novel. I wanted to write a fantastical secret history of the Katrina disaster, dramatizing the actual events of the catastrophe and also drawing away the curtain to show the various hobgoblins and tricksters and Evil Eye spirits pulling the strings of the mortal leaders and decision-makers. In January, 2006, I began writing notes and assembling an outline for a novel bigger and more ambitious than any I’d previously attempted.

In hindsight, I made several decisions at the outset that doomed me to write a very, very long book. Secret histories, by their very nature, tend to be lengthy enterprises. This is because the author has taken it upon himself to tell two narratives at once – a procession of actual, historical events, with their cast of real-life actors, and a shadow narrative of previously “unknown” occurrences which happen off-stage or hidden behind the scenery and which determine or significantly influence the “public” events of common knowledge. Tim Powers did a magnificent job of telling the secret history of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union in Declare. Declare, however, in its dual tellings of actual twentieth century European history and the secret efforts of the British and Russian secret services to acquire the services of djinns, was a very long book. Not that this was a bad thing – I had thoroughly enjoyed Declare and its amazing cleverness several years prior to starting work on Bad Luck Spirits, and the novel had been a best seller for Tim Powers.

Also, the way I structured the Miasma Club, the bad luck spirits of the book’s title, had a major impact on the manuscript’s length. I wanted all of the major ethnic communities which had populated New Orleans to have a “representative” in the Miasma Club. An organization of bad luck spirits should have thirteen members, I figured. So I did my research and found thirteen (actually fourteen, counting both Na Ba and Na Ong, who are spouses and function as a team) trickster or Evil Eye spirits from the folklores of twelve ethnic or national groups which had populated New Orleans, starting with the Houma Indians and extending to the Vietnamese immigrants who had arrived in the wake of the end of the Vietnam War; I threw in Glenn the Gremlin as well, who didn’t represent an ethnic community but rather the community of engineers and scientists who had moved to New Orleans to work on the Apollo and space shuttle programs.

My bad luck spirits needed opponents, and the Muses of Greek mythology have a long history in New Orleans, their names adorning streets and Carnival krewes, so I included the Muses in my cast of characters. There are nine Muses. So, even before including a single mortal character, I found myself with a cast of twenty-three supernatural folks. One problem of assembling such a large cast is that you find yourself wanting, if not needing, to give each one something significant to do. My ambition was to reveal the entire post-Civil War history of New Orleans as a result of the ongoing conflict between the Miasma Club and the Muses, as well as the Miasma Club’s various schemes to bedevil the mortal citizenry. I decided to have my bad luck spirits specialize, each concentrating on causing maximum havoc and disruption among members of their own ethnic communities; and since members of those ethnic communities tended to favor certain occupations (the Irish going into law enforcement, for example), I also had the bad luck spirits specializing in degrading particular sectors of the local economy or political/social system. Not a bad choice on my part, certainly defensible given my ambitions for the book. But, again, this was a driver of complexity and thus of length.

Yet another decision I made contributed to expanding my manuscripts’ length well beyond the optimal. I wanted to focus on two main protagonists: Kay Rosenblatt, the Ashkenazic Jewish bad luck spirit, and Roy Rio, the black mayor of New Orleans, whom I intended to pattern upon the real mayor, Ray Nagin. That way, I could show both sides of the story, the mortal/”real life” side and the supernatural side. I decided to choose Kay as my supernatural protagonist because the story of Katrina’s Jewish survivors was very interesting to me and hadn’t received much attention. With two protagonists, I knew I had to entwine their stories at some point. But doing so was less than straightforward, since, not being an African-American bad luck spirit, Kay could not directly influence or bedevil Mayor Rio. So I found myself needing to connect them through relationships they would have in common, which meant introducing still more characters, the Weintraub family, whose ranks included love interests for both Kay and Mayor Rio. Again, by itself, nothing wrong with that choice. But added in with the other choices I had already made, I was cooking up a very, very big narrative.

I worked on my first draft from January, 2006 to November, 2008, nearly three years. The initial length? A modest, tidy 238,000 words.

A number of external players had changed during the nearly three years I’d spent writing my first draft. The publishing industry was one of them. The industry had lost a good bit of its self-confidence in that span. When my first two books had come out, in 2003 and 2004, long novels had been in vogue. Fat White Vampire Blues had been 135,000 words. Bride of the Fat White Vampire had been 155,000 words, and my editor at Random House hadn’t batted an eye regarding length. But by the end of 2008, with the start of the recession and following several years of hard economic times for publishers, most editors were now demanding novels closer to 100,000 words, books which would be cheaper to ship to stores and which stores could fit more copies of on their shelves and end-caps and display tables. Clearly, in that environment, 238,000 words was a non-starter.

Also, the man I’d patterned one of my two protagonists on, Mayor Ray Nagin, had changed. Mayor Nagin had come into office in 2002 as a reformer, a former businessman who promised to run city government efficiently and honestly. He became a local folk hero and somewhat of a national celebrity when, in the immediate aftermath of the levees bursting, eighty percent of the city flooding, and FEMA nowhere to be seen, he engaged in a profanity-laced meltdown on a national radio program and demanded the federal government to step up to the plate. However, in following months, perhaps worn down by the seemingly insuperable demands of the reconstruction, his political persona changed. He engaged in racially charged, divisive rhetoric, especially during the run-up to his reelection campaign, when he ran against a white candidate, Mitch Landrieu (who eventually replaced Nagin as mayor in 2010). His once sterling reputation for integrity was besmirched as one after another of his cronies and relatives were discovered to have benefitted from reconstruction projects. Civic-minded New Orleanians began yearning for the day he would leave office.

So I discovered the danger of writing a novel based on events which were still in play. My hero was based on Mayor Nagin, who was no longer acting in an admirable fashion; in fact, I found him to be increasingly contemptible as the months passed. Either I could stick with the Nagin portrayal and make my character, Roy Rio, a scoundrel, rather than a flawed but essentially admirable man, or I could sever the direct connection between Roy Rio and Ray Nagin and preserve the former as a sympathetic character.

I opted for the latter option. I also spent several months cutting 49,000 words from the manuscript, bringing it down to 189,000 words. My second agent had been attempting to market the novel as a partial (first three chapters and a synopsis). Finally I was able to give her the full manuscript to read. She balked at even the reduced length, saying we’d do much better in the marketplace if I could get the book down closer to 150,000 words. I said I was game to do another editing pass, but I was fresh out of ideas of what to cut. I asked for her advice. She began reading the manuscript, but I don’t believe she ever read it all the way through; she got hung up on one character she absolutely hated, a secondary character, Mayor Rio’s ex-wife, Councilwoman Cynthia Belvedere Hotchkiss. No matter how often I begged for her to read the entire book so she could give me educated feedback on what best to cut, I could not convince her to finish it. I never did receive any usable feedback on editing the book from her, and this ended up being a factor in my decision to seek different representation.

I mentioned my frustrations to my friend, the prolific and award-winning writer, Barry Malzberg. Barry, being both a prince and an incredibly quick reader, offered to read over my manuscript and give me his suggestions. Amazingly, he got back to me in less than a week after receiving the manuscript. He thought it needed to be shortened by at least another 40,000 words, that I should reduce a lot of the clutter and side-action, and that Mayor Rio’s character and motivations needed to be strengthened. He said I didn’t need to do anything different with Kay, as she already came through as a well-drawn, strongly motivated heroine.

I knew the only way I could cut another 40,000 words and strengthen Mayor Rio’s motivations at the same time would be to abandon in large part my ambition to make the novel a secret history of the Katrina disaster. I would need to have my disaster diverge from the disaster which had actually taken place. I had already done this to a minor extent, giving my storm a different name than Katrina and having it strike the Gulf Coast earlier in the season than Katrina did, figuring I would differentiate my plot just enough that I wouldn’t be held strictly accountable by readers to follow the exact timeline and events of the historical disaster. Now I saw myself pushing much farther away from my original intention, retaining only Katrina’s “greatest hits” in my plot.

By January of 2010, I had succeeded in cutting the book by another 38,000 words, down to 151,000 words. I had also moved on to other projects and was seeking new representation for them. When I signed with my current agent in the fall of 2010, my first order of business was to have him review and suggest improvements to Ghostlands, and later to The End of Daze. A year later, I asked if he would take a look at the most recent version of Bad Luck Spirits. I asked him for advice regarding whether I should self-publish the novel, perhaps broken into two e-books, or whether he would want to try marketing the shortened, improved version to a traditional publisher.

He told me he thought it was a good book and would be willing to put some effort into marketing it, should I be willing to implement his suggestions. He wanted me to ditch both prologues, each of dealt with the involvement of the miasmatic field with the early explorers and builders of the New Orleans region. He wanted me to squeeze as much as I could out of the first third of the book, the portion which takes place prior to the hurricane’s arrival. He told me that Kay is a stronger character than Roy Rio, and that I should refocus the book more on her story, less on his. He also wanted me to get rid of as much of the secondary viewpoints as I could, those chapters or portions of chapters told from the vantage points of bad luck spirits other than Kay.

Although I initially balked at getting rid of both prologues, I came to see the wisdom of his suggestions and followed them as best I could, without removing materials which are necessary to set up plot developments in the second half of the book and at its climax. The version I completed earlier today is 134,000 words, down an additional 17,000 words from the prior version.

So, as things now stand, The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club is about the same length as Fat White Vampire Blues. I am a little stunned that I’ve been able to cut a total of 104,000 words between the initial version and this one, the fourth. Those 104,000 words exceed the lengths of my novels The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 and The End of Daze and nearly equal the length of my most recent book, No Direction Home. I must say that the effort of cutting those 104,000 words exceeded the effort of writing an equivalent number of words in either of the two latter books.

Contrary to what Laura Joh Rowland had warned against back in 1995, my error was not a failure to plan and outline my novel. I did plenty of planning and outlining before writing a single word of the manuscript. My errors were (1) adding too many characters; (2) trying to write the secret history of an event which was still unfolding at the time; (3) not properly gauging from my bloated outline how lengthy the book would initially be; and, perhaps most understandably, since few have correctly foretold the evolution of the publishing industry, (4) failing to predict that a much less welcoming market for long, complicated books would await me upon the manuscript’s completion.

Have I learned anything useful from this six-year-long experience? I certainly hope so. I spent longer working on this manuscript from beginning to end than I did on my bachelors and masters degrees combined.

And now, soon, it will be back out into the marketplace, whether I end up selling this book to a traditional publisher or going the do-it-yourself route. Please wish me luck. Just not bad luck… I’ve had enough of that with this manuscript already!

Seeing New Orleans After a Two Year Absence

Not everything is A-OK in New Orleans, but lots of things are slowly getting better

Yes, indeed, I know what it means to miss New Orleans…

Not that life in Northern Virginia has been bad. Far from it. In some key ways, life has improved for my family since our move. But no other place can fully replace New Orleans – its people, its neighborhoods, its music, its festivals, its profusion of places to hang out and simply be. I tell people that life is just bigger in New Orleans than it is in other places; the highs there are much loftier than average, and the lows there are very, very low. It is a very romantic place to live. Fabulously fun if you’re single and have few responsibilities; tough as hell if you’re trying to raise a family.

So what’s changed in the past two years?

Once the site of Royal Street News, where Jules bought his big girl porn

Everywhere I drove, the streets are getting torn up and remade. General de Gaulle in Algiers on the West Bank. Loyola Avenue and South Rampart Street downtown. South Carrollton Avenue in Uptown. The treacherous old Huey B. Long Bridge over the Mississippi, connecting Elmwood and Bridge City, built during the Depression, is at last being upgraded to the standards of the latter half of the twentieth century (always a terror to drive across due to its narrow lanes, built for the cars of 1935, maybe it’ll be less stomach-shriveling a couple of years from now). Several new library branches are finally replacing old libraries that got flooded out during the Katrina disaster. I saw one going up in my old neighborhood, at the edge of Village Aurora in Algiers, still a steel skeleton but at least progressing. All good news; the tail end of all that FEMA money is finally reaching the streets.

"Fangs station" at Boutique du Vampyre

Oak Street in Carrollton is bustling, busier and more full of shops and restaurants than I’ve ever seen it before; it reminds me of what the section of Magazine Street between Louisiana and Washington Avenues used to look like, funky and colorful (before it went a little too upscale). Boutique du Vampyre has moved from Orleans to Toulouse in the French Quarter, gaining a little space in the transition. My favorite “big girls” stripper bar in the Quarter is now a memory, the place where it was on Decatur in the Quarter empty and forlorn-looking. The Maple Street Children’s Books Shop is also gone, apparently done in by the Uptown Borders Books during its brief, two-year existence on St. Charles Avenue. There are now designated bicycle lanes on Carrollton Avenue and St. Charles Avenue.

Maureen Remoulade's house in the upper French Quarter

What hasn’t changed in the past two years?

P.J.’s Coffee on General de Gaulle still serves a great cup of joe, and the gals behind the counter there are still pretty and friendly. Airline Highway (yes, I know it’s been renamed Airline Drive, but I’ll always think of it as Airline Highway) still retains its beat up used cars lots and seedy motels. Octavia Books is still one of the country’s best independent bookstores. More Fun Comics is still more fun than your average comics shop. Kim Son Vietnamese Restaurant still has a menu it would take you a year to sample every item from if you ate one item per visit and went five times a week. The streets throughout New Aurora in Algiers are still in crappy shape and will bust out your transmission and your muffler if you drive over them faster than twenty miles per hour. It is still almost impossible to eat a bad meal in the French Quarter (you can if you try, but you have to really try). The derelict bowling alley on the West Bank Expressway across from the Quality Inn (formerly the Clarion Inn, formerly the Holiday Inn) is still derelict, but all the small businesses in the shabby shopping center surrounding it still seem to be doing a surprisingly darn good business, including Pho Tau Bay Restaurant and Barry Manufacturing (where I bought a terrific sports coat for my birthday). The fire station at the corner of Shirley Avenue and General de Gaulle in Algiers still doesn’t have a repaired roof, more than six years after Hurricane Katrina, despite being only blocks away from the site of the former FEMA Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office.

Birthday dinner at Kim Son: standing are Gwen Moore, Fritz Ziegler, me, and Rob Cerio; seated are Marian Moore and Cherie Cerio

Something else that hasn’t changed? The wonderful willingness of strangers to enter into conversations, and of friends to spend hours talking in any reasonably accommodating space. I reconnected with many old friends during my visit – Fritz Ziegler, Marian Moore, Marc McCandless, Diana Rowland, and Gwen Moore from my old writing workshop group, the one founded by George Alec Effinger back in 1988; and Gulf Coast and Southern fandom friends such as Maxy Pertuit, Frank Schiavo, Raymond Boudreau, Allan Gilbreath, Lee Martindale, and Rebecca Smith. I also made some wonderful new friends at CONtraflow – John Guidry, Michael Scott, Dean Sweatman, Rob and Cherie Cerio, Jennie Faries, and Kalila Smith.

The reliably nutty Clover Grill on Bourbon Street, where Mayor Roy Rio and Lily went to be naughty

But one of the most endearing and unique qualities of New Orleans and the surrounding region is that you are perfectly capable of meeting (and very likely to meet) new friends, or at least very friendly acquaintances, virtually anywhere you go. I stopped in for a quick lunch at a little French Quarter luncheonette on Dauphine Street where I used to go when I worked at FEMA downtown, only noticing that it had a new name and new ownership after I’d sat down and looked at the menu. I ended up enjoying one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth – a redfish slider with dill mayo – and a great conversation with the owner, Billy, who had opened the place, Nosh, only a year earlier. I wanted to buy myself a sport coat to replace one I’d torn a hole in and ended up at Barry Manufacturing at 95 West Bank Expressway, across from my convention hotel. I used to be in sales myself (I sold Saturn cars and trucks for a brief time), so I appreciate a sales job done right. Alphonse at Barry did me right; I saw one jacket I fell in love with, but it fit me like a glove, with no give whatsoever, and Alphonse was honest enough to tell me I’d have problems if I so much as gained a pound. He didn’t have the same jacket one size bigger, darn it, but I liked his stock, and I liked his prices, I liked him, so I looked until I found another jacket I liked almost as much, and that fit me much better. Sale!

Making the donuts at Marrero's Coffee &, a West Bank spot Jules Duchon wouldn't mind hanging out in

And then there was Coffee &, a little coffee and donut shop on Manhattan Boulevard in Marrero that I’d driven past hundreds of times when I lived on the West Bank. I’d never gotten around to stopping in there, even though I’m a big coffee drinker; I think their tinted windows sort of put me off, making me dubious of what I’d find if I opened their door. But Saturday morning I found myself in their strip center and hungry for breakfast and desperate for coffee, so I said, “What the hell?” And you know what? I loved the place! As soon as I walked in and saw the counter and the counter staff and the selection of donuts and the signs listing the breakfast specials, I said to myself, “Ooohh, nice, I like this joint…” I sat at the counter near the door into the kitchen, where I could watch the staff mix the batter for the donuts. I got scrambled eggs and hash browns and coffee (with endless refills, of course) for less than five bucks. Plus, I had a super time kibitzing with the staff. You know you’re in a good spot when one of the customers sitting next to you is an employee, there during her own time, who came in for coffee and breakfast because she likes the place and loves the people who work there. A neat bonus was that Coffee & sells coffee travel mugs exactly of the type I’ve been looking for – all plastic, so safe for the microwave, with a sturdy closable top that won’t leak on me. Liked ‘em so much I bought two to bring back to Virginia with me (the second one for Dara, who deserved a new coffee mug).

My only disappointments with my trip were that I wasn’t able to bring my family down with me – all three of my boys were born in New Orleans – and that I couldn’t squeeze in more time to visit with my mother-in-law and my cousins than I did. And there were old favorite bookstores and coffeehouses I didn’t get to. I’ll just have to find excuses for more trips, I guess. The place still feels like home, and I suspect it always will.

Country Flame, one of the best spots for cheap eats in the Quarter

Remembering Katrina, Six Years On

It’s Monday, August 29th.

Six years ago, on another Monday, August 29th, Hurricane Katrina, a Category Three storm pushing a Category Five storm surge, slammed into coastal Mississippi. For the first twelve hours after landfall, the city of New Orleans appeared to have avoided the worst. But then the levees designed to hold back Lake Pontchartrain began breaking — the Industrial Canal levee, the 17th Street Canal levee between Metairie and the western parts of New Orleans, the London Avenue Canal levee adjacent to the Gentilly neighborhood, and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet levees that had been meant to protect Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish. Within a day, eighty percent of the City of New Orleans had flooded, and nearly all of St. Bernard Parish was underwater. At least 1,836 people died along the Gulf Coast, most from the flooding, making Katrina the deadliest storm in U.S. history since the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane in South Florida, when approximately 2,500 people were killed.

Thank God Hurricane Irene wasn’t worse than it was. The worst effects of Irene appear to be the delayed effects, the post-storm swelling of rivers and streams. Vermont, where Irene swept through as a tropical storm, looks to be suffering the worst flooding. Seeing the photos of homes inundated with rushing water brought back a lot of memories. Those folks in Vermont and New Jersey and the flooded portions of Philadelphia are going to have many tough months ahead of them. Water is a terrible destroyer of homes, far worse than high winds. Winds may leave many beloved possessions behind, still salvageable. Water, and the mold growth it induces, rots one’s possessions and turns them to foul, stinking garbage. It’s an awful thing to witness.

My family and I were stranded in Albuquerque, New Mexico six years ago. We’d flown out with our two baby sons and four days’ worth of clothing and medicines to attend the Bubonicon science fiction convention and to visit my parents. We weren’t able to return to our home in New Orleans for almost two months. We had the great fortune that our house was located on the west bank of the Mississippi, in a different flood plain from the majority of New Orleans, and so was spared the flooding that devastated over a hundred thousand homes. But had the storm made landfall just fifteen miles more to the west, it would have been our levees that breached, and our neighborhood would have been inundated with up to nine feet of water.

My hopes go out to all those folks who will be rebuilding after a flood. It is heartbreaking, backbreaking, stinking work. But somehow, it gets done.

I’ve posted an article I wrote called “Crossing the River Styx,” which was about my return to New Orleans six weeks after the levees broke. It originally appeared in Moment Magazine in April, 2006. The congregations I describe in the article have all rebuilt and are once more thriving, six years on.

Curse of Vintage Laptop Madness

What did Hurricane Katrina have to do with my obsession for vintage laptops? Quite a bit, as things turned out. Yes, we’ve reached the end of Vintage Laptop Computer Madness Week here at Fantastical Andrew Fox.com. While Hurricane Katrina did not directly destroy or drown my vast collection of vintage machines, it set in motion a complex series of events in my family’s lives that ultimately led to the dissolution of the majority of my ponderous accumulation. Where most of my machines ended up, however, remains a mystery…

I present, for your reading pleasure, the final installment of “Lust for a Laptop, or the Madness of the Compulsive Collector.”

For the convenience of those of you just discovering this novella-length memoir of my writing life at the dawn of the Portable Computing Age, I’ve placed links to all six installments below.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

New Upcoming Project Pages Added

images of Krampus, bad luck spirit

I’ve updated my Upcoming Projects page, adding more information on three novels I hope will see print or pixel in the not so distant future — Fire on Iron, The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and Ghostlands. I found a gorgeous, haunting image of the Washington Monument partially obscured by snow to illustrate my capsule summary of Ghostlands. Take a look!

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