Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Naked Came the Creole Gumbo

She came tearing through the Lafayette cemetery, stark naked, covered in diamonds and blood, running for her very life, stumbling into a marble mausoleum, tripping over a tree root, falling, getting up, running on. He was behind her, gaining. She reached the unlocked cemetery gate, ran across the street in the darkness, ducked through the back door of the most notorious bawdy house in the city of New Orleans, and bumped into a large, well-dressed man.
"Hello, sugar," the man said. "You busy right now?"
It was Huey Long.

Thus began the infamous bodice-ripper I tried to write a few years ago with two other women I had met at a week-long workshop. What did we really call it? I've forgotten now.

It seemed like a wonderful idea when we started. I had credentials, having written eight published books. Rae had singular gifts, honed at one of those famous MFA programs in Iowa or wherever. Carol had actually completed a formal course on how to write erotica. How could we fail?

Rae had the idea to set the book in depression-era New Orleans to take people's minds off their present-day economic woes. That sounded good. And of course there must be sex scenes. The younger women were more than willing to write the sex scenes, since I was way too prudish, and I could provide the Crescent City ambiance, being the only one among us who had ever been within a thousand miles of New Orleans. And so we began as we meant to go on, with gusto. Or gumbo. The first chapter was a killer, as you can see from the above, which pretty much summarizes it. Once inside the house, of course, Magnolia or whatever it was we called her had to become one of the working girls, or risk being thrown to the mercy of Beauregarde, her murderous husband.

After setting up the situation we had to introduce a bunch of colorful characters, put them in scenes, and slide in some juicy back-story about Beauregarde, who murdered Magnolia's innocent maid (the sister of the blind whorehouse piano player) and maybe some political stuff about the run-up to Huey Long's assassination. I was very uneasy with the sex scenes. While Rae wanted to go upstairs and get handy professional tips from the other whores, I found myself wandering into the kitchen and pestering the kindly black cook for gumbo recipes. Carol tinkered with our dialogue and dressed the madam in inappropriate outfits.

It was starting to look as if it might not hang together. Our styles were too different. I seemed to be trying to turn it into a murder mystery, if not a cookbook. Then Rae wrote the sex scene.

It was too much for me. Not that it wasn't brilliantly written. It was. The situation was that Magnolia was forced by the madam to put out for one of her less attractive customers or leave the house. The encounter was not like yummy fantasy sex but like real sex one might have with a mildly unpleasant stranger, an encounter that leaves one feeling embarrassed, inadequate and judged. I know this is Art, I said to myself, but I can't stand it.

So Rae and I sort of let it lapse. I threw away the scene I had written of the voodoo orgy in Congo Square and the one where they killed the Huey Long character. Some months later Carol sent us a wistful email. What were we doing with the book? We said we had both become involved with other projects. Which was actually true. Rae is a hotshot on the internet now and I turned myself into Irene Fleming for a bit. I don't know what Carol is up to. It was fun working with them, but I won't be collaborating with another writer any time soon. It doesn't work for me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yesterday I Googled Myself

Not, you understand, because I'm a self-absorbed narcissist, although I can't persuasively deny it, but because writers who are trying to get themselves into the public eye are supposed to check from time to time to see whether their names are appearing online a lot. In order to do this we enter our names in a Google search, in quotes, and see what comes up.

So what did I find? 8400 hits. 100 pages of hits. I've been at this for quite a while, it seems.

Strange things appeared. And normal things as well. First of all I found stuff I put out there on purpose, like this blog, and The Crime Writers' Chronicle (my group blog), and my web site (www.kategallison.com). Then there were guest blog posts I'd done. An occasional interview. And a few reviews of my books, most of them kind. Many, many offers to sell books of mine, from Amazon and other online bookstores, from Ebay, and from Belgrave House, who reprinted the Mother Grey backlist for readers of ebooks. Google books. Somehow a number of my books got put up on Google Books.

One site claimed that I was 25 years old. That was piquant. Another claimed that I was 79 and my name was Galloway. That, too, was sort of intriguing, but once again false. One site offered a download of my first book, Unbalanced Accounts. Since they had no right to do this I was quite annoyed. There was no contact information on the site or I would have fired off a blistering letter. I put the case in the hands of the Authors Guild. If you want to read Unbalanced Accounts you can find it on Amazon Kindle, and I think you can 'borrow' it from Amazon for free. I, for one, never steal stuff if I can obtain it any other way.

But the things I brooded over longest were the reviews on Goodreads. Now, the Goodreads folks are generally lukewarm about my work. Why that should be, I'm not sure; probably their tastes don't run in the direction of the sort of stuff I write, light comedies of manners with dead bodies showing up from time to time. Perhaps they like stories of earth-shaking conflict with everyone's emotions endlessly described. I don't know, because I don't read anything that they read. Quite likely that's one of my problems.

I got a few complaints on Goodreads that I can sort of understand, for example that there isn't enough sex and violence in The Edge of Ruin for it to be considered a real murder mystery. Or car chases. No car chases. Of course, in 1909, you could outrun most of the existing cars on foot. Maybe they're right about there not being enough sex. I did have two of the movie actors getting it on in the hotel linen closet, but it happened off the page. I guess I should have been more explicit about that encounter. (The maid uttered a piercing shriek and dropped her armful of towels at the sight of Mr. Chalmers' wrinkled, heaving buttocks. Faye Winningly, moaning softly, was still wearing both her shoes. There was a hole in the sole of the left one.)

Perhaps, for the modern taste, I should have been more explicit about everything, not just the sex. Subtlety doesn't fly these days. To get subtlety you need an active imagination. To get subtlety you have to have a common culture with the person who is being subtle, so that when I raise one eyebrow you understand at once what I mean by that. We don't have that commonality anymore. Cultural diversity has its drawbacks.

I'm still trying to figure out what the fellow on Goodreads meant who accused my work of being amateurish. How could that be? Ten of my mystery novels have seen publication. For fifteen years I made excellent money writing software manuals, good ones, too, user documentation that you could actually follow. I know how to say exactly what I mean, and clearly. If I'm not a professional writer I'd like to know who is.

But enough of this, at least for another year. I promise I'll stop whining about my Goodreads reviews. In fact I promise never to go on their site again. The next time I post I'll tell you the story of how two other women and I tried to write a steamy bodice-ripper together. It's a very funny story.