June 20th, 2013


"It happens now or else it won't." (Part One)

It's sort of hard to process the news of James Gandolfini's death. Hard to make it real. He was such a brilliant actor, and I adored him in many roles, but my favorite will always be that of Vincenzo Coccoti's psycho hit man, Virgil, in True Romance.


I just wasted about half an hour going through New Orleans photos, trying to find stuff for a New Orleans entry. It was stupid. We took 495 photos over nine days, and I love a lot of them, and hate a lot of them, and some are actually – objectively – crappy photos. The photos of me, those are especially difficult to sort through. I am a vain woman. I will fixate on, say, a tiny blemish on an earlobe...and reject an otherwise fine photograph. So, fuck it. Here's today's HWA/Stoker/New Orleans photo, to be followed by an entry. This was taken during the mass signing on Friday night, during which time I am entirely convinced I signed ~30k books over two hours. Also, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Ace Picayune Reporter from a parallel universe 1930s (behind the cut).

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The days between us and the trip grow, and the work I need to get back to is yapping at me, and I've not tried to make any accounting of the whole affair. I'll be sorry if I don't. But, at this point, the blow-by-blow is out of the question. At best, I can manage a sort of highlights, and that'll likely take me hours. And maybe two entries. And probably no one will ever read it, but it'll be here for me. How about this: Significant Moments. Yes, I think that may work. A two-part annotated list of "Shit I Liked And/Or That Mattered." There will be no "Shit I Didn't Like" companion. Please comment. So...

1. The night before we left Kingston, Monday night, we stayed with Spooky's mom down in Saunderstown. It was raining. Hard. Spooky's dad was in the Philippines, doing anthropological stuff. We holed up in a back room with Spider the Huge Cat, and I finished reading Adrienne Mayor's The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. In the woods, with the storm, it was a peaceful beginning.

2. The long train ride down was, for the most part, unremarkable. Which is a good thing. There were two difficult points. Or three. On Wednesday, passing through Alabama, through Leeds and Birmingham. How can I miss a place so badly when I spent so much time, energy, and money trying to escape? For years, my life's goal was escaping Birmingham. My childhood fantasies, many of them involved fleeing Leeds. But there was almost a physical pain rushing past Leeds. The train had an eighteen-minute stop in Birmingham, and I got off for about seven of those (oddly specific numbers preserved by my unpredictable memory). I just wanted to say, "I went 'home' after five years." How can Birmingham be home, when it only wanted to reject me like an incompatible organ transplant? But there in the post-industrial ruins so near the Liberty House lofts, where I lived for so many years (August 1997-December 2002) – and where Spooky first lived with me – I felt like I'd come home, if only for a few minutes. The air was wonderfully hot and heavy. A mockingbird flitted about the depot. Everything shimmered beneath the sun. There are photos, for later.

3. As the train raced through Alabama's "Black Belt" (so named for its rich soil), over the old, familiar Upper Cretaceous strata where I spent so much time sweltering and freezing and drenched as I collected mosasaurs, turtles, dinosaurs (non-avian and avian), plesiosaurs, fish and sharks, and innumerable invertebrates, that was hard, too. I only got a couple of glimpses of the chalk. We crossed the Tombigbee River at the Greene County/Sumter County line, over the rusty old trestle near Epes, at the site of Fort de Tombecbé (32°41'47.56"N, 88° 6'59.73"W). There are beautiful chalk bluffs here, exposing the Demopolis Chalk; I collected here last in April 2002. I tried to get a photo, but it came out blurry. So much of my heart is in those grey-white rocks.

4. On the way down and back, we read Iain Banks The Wasp Factory, because, following his death, I had to go back to him, and this is on my short list of favorite novels from the past thirty years.

5. We crossed the vast brackish estuary of Lake Pontchartrain at sunset on Wednesday. Indescribably beautiful, the sky and water seeming to burn, the white light too much for our eyes to endure for very long. There are photos, for later. It was like flying above a greenish-brown sea. I hadn't crossed Pontchartrain since 1999 and never had I crossed it by train.

6. Wednesday night, despite our exhaustion, Spooky and I took a walk through the Quarter. Just after we stepped out of the Monteleone, there was a man playing guitar on the corner of Royal and Iberville, "Wish You Were Here," and it struck me – unexpectedly – hard. The song stayed on my heard all weekend. Indeed, our last night there, on our last walk down Royal, in an odd moment of coincidence, we passed him just as he began playing it again. Anyway, unfortunately, we turned down Bienville and ended up on Bourbon Street, though surely we both knew better. Fortunately, we both managed to blend in as locals. Indeed, I think, in my seersucker suit, top hat, cane, chucks, and silk necklace of bones and peculiar beads and skeleton key, I suspect I'd unintentionally affected a sort of voodoo-esque look. Indeed, someone on Facebook said I struck them, in that outfit, as a sort of gender-bent Papa Ghede. The buskers, burlesque barkers, and noisy, swaying tourists left us alone and got out of our way (in the past, I'd always been hassled on Bourbon Street). There was one especially delectable and virtually nude stripper outside one of the clubs, and if I'd had a hundred or so dollars in my pockets – letch that I am – I'd have been lured into the murky shadows behind her. The air smelled of garbage and vomit, sour beer, pot and cigarette smoke. The air smelled of sin and wickedness and debauchery, and annoying drunks or no, those are scents it's difficult for me not to relish. It's just that too few people – and especially New Orleans tourists – are incapable of getting sin right.

7. Thursday night, though the convention had, technically, begun, Spooky and I deserted the hotel for another stroll through the Quarter. Thursday night we steered clear of the Rue du Bourbon. We had a very excellent dinner at the Royal House on Royal Street: alligator, crawfish étouffée, fried oysters, and what is very probably the best bread pudding I have ever, ever tasted (it had bits of peach in it).

We returned to Royal House for lunch on Friday, with Billy Martin, Grey-Cross, and Ellen Datlow (ellen_datlow). Spooky and I had the seafood gumbo. Ellen had the goddamn largest raw oysters I've probably ever seen. Spooky and I had to have another serving of the bread pudding. I had my first Pimm's cup ever, and Jesus God yum; that's going to become a regular summer drink hereabouts.

8. On Thursday afternoon, Billy (docbrite) visited us in the hotel. I'd not seen him since 2003, when he was touring for Liquor and we ate together at a quasi-shi-shi restaurant in Atlanta. It was so wonderful seeing him again. We talked about...shit, everything. I can't remember all of it, even though the visit was short, only an hour. This was one of the most precious parts of the trip.

Gonna have to clip this here. It's getting long. I'll get to part two late tonight or, more likely, tomorrow. I might get to actual con-related shit! I know this would be ever so much more interesting with photos but...495 to sort through. Many will be posted later, promise.

Aunt Beast

Postscript: You may "love" your Kindle, Nook, Schnook, what the hell ever, but you know what? Ebooks can't be autographed.