My Bouchercon 2016 schedule

Are you going to Bouchercon in New Orleans this year? I sure am. It’ll be my sixth, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Run by fans for the fans, they are well run and everyone is friendly. I’ll be at panels, signings, events, and at the bar of course. Firecracker is coming as well, and as a Louisiana native, will be keeping us away from the tourist traps. It’s kind of a big con for me, and my Jay Desmarteaux novel, Bad Boy Boogie, isn’t even out yet!

But you can get a shot of JD in the Bouchercon 2016 anthology edited by Greg Herren, Blood on the Bayou. I’m in there along with David Morrell and many others. We’ll be signing the print copies at the con on Saturday at 2pm. You can also pre-order the paperback directly from Down & Out here There are two options: Pick up at Bouchercon (no shipping charge) and Ship to Buyer ($4.95 shipping charge). The ebook versions of the book are  available for pre-order on Amazon, B&N, and Kobo at a special discounted price.

On Friday, I will be at two panels: moderating the 11:00am Leather & Lace: Hardboiled vs. Cozy panel, with Clea Simon, David Putnam, Linda Rodriguez, Chris Knopf, and Linda Joffe Hull. Yes, the Clea Simon who said talking cats are an abomination. The fur’s gonna fly! Meet us at LaGalleries 1. It’ll be great fun.

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I’ll be back at Friday 3:30pm in LaGalleries 1 for The Boxer, the Writing Violence panel, moderated by Zoe Sharp. Me and Sheila Redling, Melinda Leigh, E.A. Aymar, and Taylor Stevens will be talking ’bout Shaft, writing fighting, using your opponent’s intestines as a garrotte, and other fun subjects.

The Anthony Awards are held Friday night this year at the Orpheum theater, and y’all will enjoy the second line they’re having from the hotel to it. Just roll with it and have fun. Protectors 2: Heroes is up for best anthology, and Holly West’s story “Don’t Fear the Ripper” from it is up for best story. One of the other anthology contenders is ThugLit Presents Cruel Yule: A Holiday Anthology, in which my story “Letters to Santa” appears.  Vote with your conscience. And if you don’t have one, vote for us!

Protectors 2 Cover

If you arrive early, I’ll be reading at the Noir at the “Bar” panel at 4:30pm on Wednesday, hosted by Eric Beetner in LaGalleries 4&5, and definitely attending the “After Dark” reading at the Voodoo Lounge.

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I will be signing books after all these events. There will be copies of Blade of Dishonor on the giveaway tables, and copies of it and the Protectors anthologies at the Scene of the Crime Books table in the dealer’s room. I will donate all my book sales of Blade of Dishonor to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation for Flood relief to help Louisianans like my in-laws who were hit hard by the region’s catastrophic flooding last month.

It will be difficult to stay in the hotel when the French Quarter beckons. At least one trip to World of Beers will be had, maybe to Barcadia as well. There’s so much more to do and see there. I usually make a pilgrimage to Octavia Books and Faulkner House, grab dinner and brews at St. Lawrence on Decatur, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had a Muffuletta, maybe Central Grocery. I usually skip Bourbon Street except for Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, an old dive with a piano and character. Skip the tourist traps and head to Frenchman Street for live music. And if you want to hang out, you can always tweet me @thomaspluck.

 

I haven’t posted in a while…

But I’m looking forward to Bouchercon

Trouble the Water

In 1927 there was a great flood in Louisiana; the National Guard came to rescue the white landowners, but left the black sharecroppers to tend to the crops. Immortalized in Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” some fleeing landowners sang “Bye, Bye Blackbird” to the doomed farmers. In the end, the “blackbirds” won; nearly 700,000 people were homeless, and they left for the cities, mainly Chicago. This gave birth to the Chicago blues, and the influx of new voters dumped Republican Hoover and his empty promises. The Party of Lincoln was abandoned for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. History repeating. It’s a bit more complicated, as Hoover got both elected and rejected due to how he handled the refugee camps for the displaced. The Wikipedia article makes for interesting reading.
Trouble the Water is the record of a family weathering Katrina, video camera in tow. 24-year old Kimberly Roberts and her husband Scott don’t have gas money to evacuate, so they hole up in their 9th Ward home as the storm hits. We get to see the terror of opening your front door to see a raging ocean where your yard once was. They survive, and we see them survey the wreckage of their neighborhood, the remains of those less fortunate, and the utter lack of any government response. The Indonesian tsunami a few years earlier- we had people on the ground faster for that.
They reenact their survival tales, and interview their neighbors. Kimberly reports on the scene like guerrilla news anchor, signing off with her rapper name, Black Kold Madina. It’s easy to roll your eyes, but this is what we didn’t see. Instead of pointing at a man in water up to his neck, holding a single loaf of bread and crying “looter,” like our talking heads did, this is embedded reporting from inside the hell hole. Jean Valjean would get torched these days, wouldn’t he? Their footage is interspersed with news bites, 911 calls, and factoids. But the real meat of the film is just following Kimberly and Scott through the wreckage of what was once their lives.
What’s most distressing is the interview with the soldiers who guarded empty base housing. They talk of protecting “government interests,” and how “civilians don’t know how to survive.” Quotes were cherry-picked I’m sure, but they are damning enough. When even a few soldiers are more concerned with protecting the government than saving fellow Americans, the leadership of their superiors is morally bankrupt. Maybe the best of our men were too busy overseas. On the other hand, the neighborhoods pulled together. “My enemies helped me,” one man says. They help each other navigate the bureaucratic mess FEMA imposed.
Trouble the Waters was nominated for Best Documentary last year, and lost to the cheerful Man on Wire; personally I thought Errol Morris’s excellent Standard Operating Procedure should have won, but it didn’t even get nominated. Trouble may not be a great movie, but it is worth seeing to see what our news media missed and ignored about the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the second disaster of our government’s inept response. I think it might have been better as an episode of Frontline, but it got more exposure this way. If you’re interested in seeing one couple’s story of surviving Katrina, it should not be missed.

Rating: Worthy

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80’s Trash of the Week: Cat People

Having recently become a cat owner, I decided to revisit this psychosexual spankfest by Paul Schrader, better known for writing Taxi Driver and directing arthouse faves like Affliction and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. What compelled him to remake the creepy Val Lewton horror classic Cat People as a bizarre mythical tale of kitties and titties is beyond me, but IMDb trivia says he admits that one day he was so high he refused to get out of his trailer and direct. By the end of the movie, you’ll believe it.


The original was delightfully creepy and dreamlike, where a young girl’s fears become a frightening reality. This one just seems tawdry and serious, because it’s about people who fuck leopards. Schrader and his production designer, Ferdinando Scarfiotti, craft a beautiful mythical past that seems to exist in a timeless corner of our brains, peopled with Jungian archetypes. Rather like another psychosexual fairy tale of the ’80s, The Company of Wolves, this is much darker and erotic, and while it is sometimes silly and overlong, it is unique and engaging. Unlike another “animal people” movie of the period, Wolfen, it manages to draw us in, and is probably best compared to another stylish, sexy horror film- The Hunger.

The dreamlike quality of the mythical scenes


It begins in a desert village at the dawn of human history, where an animist tribe appeases the hungry leopards by sacrificing a virgin to them; we see a beautiful young woman tied to a enormous tree, and at night the leopard comes. He doesn’t eat her, so she is brought to his cave, which is curiously marked with a drawing of a cat with human hands. From here we move to modern-day New Orleans, that most lurid of American cities, always a hotbed of sexual violence, whether it be from vampires, voodoo queens, or cat people. Paul Gallier (the always creepy Malcolm McDowell) picks up his sister Irene (Nastassja Kinski) at the airport, after a long time apart. Kinski plays the virginal naif perfectly, and her sensuous body belies her behavior.

Malcolm McMeowell

Her brother is quite the opposite, and immediately gets caught in panther form when he frequents a brothel. They coop him up in the zoo, where Irene goes to visit and meets Oliver, the friendly zookeeper (John Heard). Yeah, really… see where this is going? Ed Begley, Jr. plays a rather careless curator, and Panther-Paul yanks his arm off for his troubles… and then he somehow escapes. As Irene finds herself falling for Oliver, her brother makes his own advances on her- since she is the only sexual partner who won’t be torn to shreds in the climax. She rebuffs him and he goes back to hunting hookers, which eventually leads police to his basement.


As a dreamlike story of myth, the movie works great. The opening scene, with Giorgio Moroder’s haunting synth theme, is great at drawing us in. Once Irene gets entangled with Paul, she behaves like a jealous kitten and takes a swipe at his colleague Alice (Annette O’Toole) while she bathes topless in the swimming pool. This mirrors the original film, which I think was much better. In Jacques Tourneur’s original, Irene is young Serbian woman who thinks she is one of the cat people of her village- Satanic cultists who take the form of a black cat. That film plays it off as a psychological issue, and keeps the cat in shadows, so we’re not sure if she turns into one or just thinks she does.


Unfortunately we are pretty sure people turn into cats in this one; our first introduction is a leopard under the bed in a whorehouse, where the prostitute has just left her john. It doesn’t take a genius, and it’s a mistake to remove any suspense about the nature of the creatures. The film does work very well as an erotic dream piece, partly through generous application of breasts, including the bountiful Annette O’Toole, and the lithe Nastassja Kinski. Malcolm McDowell’s Paul is not a remorseless sociopath, but a slave to his urges; while he cuddles with a woman he knows he will tear apart, he says he feesl bad because he likes her. It doesn’t stop him from nibbling a bit of her skin left on his belly when he wakes back up in human form, though.

The brother and sister have a feline grace to their movements, but occasionally it gets a bit silly, such as when Irene washes her cheeks like a cat; it happens after a formative, primal moment, after she sleeps with Oliver and loses her virginity, and I suppose it is meant to signify her transformation. It doesn’t work; something more subtle was in order. The screenplay is a bit of a mess, and breaks its own rules a few times. The new ending is terrific, and bookends the story perfectly, but the way there is long and meandering. While it was certainly enjoyable seeing Ms. Kinski cavort in the nude, as stories go I prefer the original version.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? Underworld 3: Lycan Sex Party
Quotability Rating: Zero
Cheese Factor: Mild
High Points: Dreamy visuals and a litter boxful of nudity
Low Point: Script written on cocaine binge
Gratuitous Boobies: More titty than kitty

Holy Schmidt! The New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra

I met New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra band leader and singer George Schmidt at his art gallery in New Orleans during my trip. We dropped in at his Julia Street warehouse, not knowing if he was in, because he wasn’t answering the phone. It’s a little art gallery showcasing his varied styles, from landscapes to historical murals.
Well it’s rather obvious from the first photo that I met the man. He is a bubbly and ebullient fellow, a lively talker full of humor. I introduced myself as a fan of the orchestra and he told me of their history, and some of their future concerts. It seems they’ll be in Princeton New Jersey for an alumni celebration in April. I’m going to try to go see them, so hopefully their show will be open to the general public. Princeton’s a lovely little college town with a great record shop, The Princeton Record Exchange. The New Leviathan is a revival band that plays ragtime music and earlier, really delightful stuff. I also love their motto:

Art fails where concept outstrips performance.

George Schmidt talks about giclee posters.

They always play at JazzFest, but it’s tough to get into town then. It’s not quite as big as Mardi Gras but brings in a more affluent crowd who fill up all the hotels. My co-worker Debbie is having a crawfish boil on May 3rd during the festival and invited me down, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it. I’m going to try, though.

This site has some of Mr. Schmidt’s paintings. I told him my friend Emma from Texas was a big fan but couldn’t make it out to meet him, so he gave me a signed poster and some pamphlets to give her. He also gave me booklet of an exhibition honoring his 60th birthday where a bunch of friends did caricatures of him. I’ll scan them in tomorrow and post them here.

George playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on his banjo.

He’s quite a friendly guy and told me that the band rehearses next door to his gallery on Wednesdays at 7pm. I’d like to stop by and see them someday. Maybe on my next trip down to the Crescent City, which has fast become one of my favorite places.

The orchestra plays “Old King Tut” in a private performance.

Here’s another clip of them playing at Jazz Fest last year.

To hear music clips, the Louisiana Music Factory has all their CD’s.
“Bo-la-bo,” from Burning Sands
“It Don’t Mean a Thing,” from Favorites
“The International Rag,” from Old King Tut
“Angry,” from I Didn’t Mean to Say Goodbye
The title track, from Here Comes the Hot Tamale Man

The band is insistent that the Factory has “From New Orleans to Constantinople on the S.S. Leviathan,” but the store is adamant that they do not have it in stock. It’s a remaster of an older album that I’d love to have, so I’m going to keep bugging George about it.

Ignatius J. Reilly gets some unwanted visitors

At last, we meet.

You might remember that when I came to town for Mardi Gras, I was disappointed when I found that the Chateau Sonesta Hotel had moved their statue of Ignatius J. Reilly to save him from the crowds. Well, as serendipity would have it, I’m back in town for work, and we had a little free time after doing some IBM upgrades. My co-worker Debbie and her husband Kenny are also fans of John Kennedy Toole‘s masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces, so after consuming a few dozen char-grilled and raw oysters at the Acme Oyster House, we decided to see Ignatius had returned to his perch beneath the clock at the former D.H. Homes department store, to wait for his mother.

Char-grilled oysters are similar to Rockefeller; breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic and butter are put on top and they are broiled. The oyster is left whole. I’ve had them char-broiled too, without any topping, and they taste good too. We tried to get into Drago’s, which is more famous for oysters cooked in this fashion, but they were closed.

Kenny grew up in the Irish Channel, where Ignatius lives in the book, and we talked all night about the book, the lovely Crescent City, and the time he caught a sack of oysters a fisherman tossed him and how it nearly tore him a new orifice, but built his character. He’s a real character and a great guy to hang out with. A real Yat, in the best way possible. Kenny’s part Sicilian and we actually talked about the lynching of the Sicilians at the turn of the century, that I blogged about earlier.

Ignatius was mortified.


I had a 6:30am flight and had to pick up Roxanne for her flight, so I staggered back to the hotel relatively early. I wanted to stay up all night, but I didn’t want to risk stranding Rox here. She might put a cigarette out in my eye. Danny was also wiped out from the upgrade stress and headed home early. Though what happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans, here’s us celebrating a successful upgrade with some mojitos.
St. Joe’s is a nice bar that makes a mean mojito, and keeps the demons at bay by being festooned with crosses, angels, cherubs and other churchy regalia.

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.

-A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole


“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” – Jonathan Swift, genius and Irishman

The French Quarter: They Lynch Italians, Don’t They?

I started reading this on the plane to Louisiana in preparation for Mardi Gras. By the same author who documented the early New York City underworld in The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, that Martin Scorsese based his weakest movie upon, it is an informal and lurid history of New Orleans from before it was named to the turn of the 20th century. It’s an entertaining read, though he does spend a lot of time on frivolous details such as how much money such and such died with, to show that crime does not pay. In the 30’s this was especially important, because the Temperance Twats rebelled against the decadent 20’s and plunged us into a decade of criminality via Prohibition. Asbury does a bit of typical 30’s-era finger-wagging, especially when it comes to the unique New Orleans tale of Storyville.

Storyville was the officially mandated Red Light District from 1897 through 1917. The town had always been known as a bordello haven because the Acadian and other settlers had a woman shortage in their population. From the early days, France actually shipped girls over to be married, but some of them turned to free enterprise. Afterwards its position as an important port kept an influx of sailors and traders who needed sexual relief, so the prostitution business was always lucrative. There would be waves of outrage that would force the government, even the corrupt Reconstruction-era one, to crack down on the whorehouses. They had tried before to create a mandated district for this activity, but only in 1897 did they have enough support.
A favorite quote from a man who ran a bar called the Buffalo Bill House. It was a bucket of blood dive popular with violent ruffians, and around 1869 the newspapers were clamoring for it to be shut down. The proprietor retorted by saying that was absurd, as he had purposefully built the tavern “in the only locality in the city where decent people do not live.”

I bet some yuppies moved in because it was an exciting part of town and then decided it was too wild to raise children in. An early example of gentrification.

The tale of Storyville is an interesting one, and there are two reasons for the end to that Glorious Experiment. Legally, the Federal government demanded it be closed down because it had Navy and Army barracks near New Orleans, and there were laws against houses of prostitution in their proximity. Can’t have the soldiers spending their meager pay on mattress dancing. Asbury ends the book by suggesting another reason for the decline of Storyville, the change in attitudes about premarital relations. When gentlemen went a-courting the prim ladies, they needed to relieve the tensions of the sexual frustrations caused by such anticlimactic amorous rituals. The loose ladies of Basin Street were the release on this dangerous pressure valve, and we should all be thankful for it.
As the madam Countess Willie V. Piazza put it, “The country club girls are ruining my business!”

If forgotten history interests you, the book has even more to offer. Before the steamboat, men had to pole flatboats up the Mississippi River. Being as difficult as it sounds, it created a race of musclebound whiskey-drinking men who shouted such memorable phrases as “I am the child of the snappin’ turtle!” before plunging into booze-fueled battle. Tales of riverboat gamblers, runaway slaves, folk heroes and bayou boogeymen riddle the purple-prosed pages.

An amusing offshoot of the South’s “peculiar institution” mentioned in great detail is the Quadroon Balls. Quadroon girls were the child of a biracial “mulatto” parent and a white parent, and prior to the Spanish occupation of the French territories, they were the popular showy mistresses of the gentry. They held flashy dancing balls to hook up, and they were widely regarded as some of the most people women of the period It is not known whether they were the biggest balls of them all, but they apparently were for fancy dress rather than charity. The quadroon mistress would be put up in a nice house along the river for the fellow to visit long after he was married. The “goomatta” of a more (or less) civilized age.

What’s a goomatta, or goomar if you watch the Sopranos? The girl on the side. Italian-Americans aren’t the only ones with strange classifications; quadroon for example, was one of many definitions for biracial people of white and black ancestry used in the South, but more commonly in Louisiana. As Show Boat contended, much of the South went by the “single drop of black blood” theory, which meant any black blood meant you were black for all intents and purposes. Or intensive porpoises. Wouldn’t The Intensive Porpoises be a good name for a band? But enough of my cribbing off Dave Barry. In the old parlance, a mulatto was the child of a white and a black parent; a quadroon was the child of a mulatto and a white parent. They counted grandparents, you see. If you had one black grandparent out of four, you were a quadroon. If you were the child of a quadroon and a white parent, you became an octoroon, or 1/8th black. Some went further, but after that point if you have any more white in you, you’re a macaroon, you could pass for white, or at least be mistaken for Michael Jackson post-“Bad” album. If you didn’t know that those coconut-flavored treats were named after a term from slavery, you should chastise anyone who uses that term, and perhaps start an online petition. The preferred name for that cookie now is “coconut cluster.”

But enough about your racist confections, back to Italian-Americans, and the title of this blog entry. One of the first crimes attributed to the Sicilian Mafia in the U.S. happened in New Orleans, the murder of police chief Hennessy. It is now believed that he was in cahoots with the Mafia, and his murder was framed on them by other local members of the demi-monde, or underworld. Apparently a rumor was passed that his dying words were “Dagoes did it!” and this led to the lynching of two Italian-Americans and the murder of 9 others acquitted in the murder trial. The WikiPedia entry spells it as “dagos” but I think “Dagoes” looks funnier.
Wikipedia exonerates the paesanos, but Asbury’s book is quiet on the subject, merely saying that the lynching party killed those who were believed to be guilty without a doubt, and left three others “unmolested.” He got most of his info from newspaper archives, which claimed that rampaging Sicilians trampled an American flag and hoisted it upside down under an Italian one, everything short of making stromboli from Dixie-born babies.

His sources also had this little gem:

“The little jail was crowded with Sicilians, whose low, receding foreheads, repulsive countenances and slovenly attire proclaimed their brutal nature.”

Makes me wonder how I was viewed during my recent visit! I’ve never had any problems in Louisiana, but I remember meeting a girl in chatroom back in the 90’s who was from the South (Georgia, I think) who asked me if I considered myself white. Well, all I know is that all it takes is one drop of white, non-gay blood to make you dance like Goofy getting tasered in the taint, and that makes me whiter than most macaroons, or coconut clusters. Then again, I’m not Sicilian. Just check my brow.