"And there it was again, the zen of elevator travel, those few moments when all that was required of her was simply to occupy the space without any thought, in the calm silence of a mind now desperate to reach its destination."
That’s right, something good came out of 2020 from the Team Torres camp, as while in the midst of the worldwide pumping of the brakes that was the COVID-19 quarantine lockdown, I was able to sit down and punch out my fourth book, a short-story collection entitled, The Zen of Elevator Travel.
Well, let’s back up a bit …
As some of you may recall, there was once a little gathering about four years ago that myself, Dickie English and George Ortolano organized here in New Orleans called The Artist’s Entrance. Designed as a place where artists in the three main areas of music, visual arts and creative writing could congregate and be heard, the event took off and had a great run, cementing the idea that something of that nature needed to exist at the time ... at least for Dickie, George and myself!
The structure of the event was simple: each month, we’d feature a visual artist, a writer and a musician, all three of which would show their work, so to speak, and then take questions from the audience regarding their process. Between featured artists, we’d reserve time for an open-mic portion designed primarily for other visiting writers and musicians to show off their stuff. As it turns out, I took this opportunity to showcase some of my writing, in particular, this new thing I was trying called short stories.
During this time, I had written and read publicly two short stories, one called "Timelines" and another, which would eventually become the title story of this new collection, "The Zen of Elevator Travel." The stories raised some eyebrows – short and sweet atmospheric jabs to that part of the psyche that basks in the sensual. I understood immediately that I wanted to explore this form, and even when The Artist's Entrance concluded its run (for now), I continued on with my new passion of "manufacturing" these short stories.
I'd learned during this time that short stories can be about anything, about settings and situations, about stream-of-consciousness thought and ideas, and as was the case in what would become the longest piece in the collection, "Stan the Man," a true narrative with a beginning, middle and end wedged between the other paint strokes of words and ideas. It was exhilarating, especially when I began to connect the stories much like skits from a Monty Python episode, with characters walking in and out of one story into the next. However, a further intended artistic decision was to make all of these stories mutually exclusive, meaning that they are able to be read in any order, or in the case of the framework of the book, on any "floor" that the reader should happen to visit. It had truly become my "novel" (new) collection of short stories.
I worked on these stories on and off for the next few years, especially during the height of the pandemic, culminating in a collection that evolved into something that I hadn't anticipated, and which would result in my fourth completed book. I'm extremely proud of this piece, a departure from my larger novels, but a format that I can guarantee I'll visit again. I've fallen in love with the format of the short story, and I hope that this piece inspires writers to create their own literary "paint strokes."
This book is dedicated to the manufactures of short stories everywhere, and to you, I hope that I've done you proud.
And to you, the faithful readers, thank you for your continued support and accompaniment as I continue on with this, my writer's journey.
I've been asked quite a bit lately what this second book -- the namesake of the Trilogy -- is actually about. I'd say that it's a multi-generational ghost story that spans the late 1930s to the late 1990s in New Orleans, one that carries the suspense right on through to the New Year's Eve drop atop the Jax Brewery at the dawn of the new millennium. It's a story of excess in a city that helped define excess, a reminder of the now antique phantoms that are still hiding in the shadows of the French Quarter, the ones that are always ready to raise a glass in toast to a good time …
"Watch out for the shadows, Judith,” the Funnyman said. “Don’t give yourself up to the night, not in this town, because it’ll sure as hell take you.”
I cannot tell you how happy and proud I am to write these words: the Trilogy is complete. As fate would have it, August 1st, 2019 became the release date for my long-awaited third novel, Darker Prometheus, my first new work in over a decade. This book marks a convergence of my two halves, as it is a novel about a band.
I've you've ever worked in the clubs on Bourbon Street, first off, you have my respect. But secondly, this book will bring back memories for the veterans and accentuate the memories for the ones who are still making them. This book is for all musicians really, a perfect read for those in the know when it comes to being in a band with all of its dynamics and politics and sacrifices.
This novel is the culmination of lots of hard work and dedication, and most of that was just trying to get it out to the public. If you've followed my blog over the years, you've more than likely read the "Operation: Agent" section, my chronicle of trying to score literary representation for some new project that I'd finished at the time. Well, this book was that project, and now the agents will just have to take a backseat again while I make this one happen independently, as has always been the case, and which in some ways is just a little more satisfying to me.
I sincerely hope that you enjoy this book, a departure in tone from my first two books, featuring Daniel Foster from The Petrified Christ and Blake Worthington from Scenes from the Blanket. The plan was always to have this third novel be a hit and spark interest about the backstories of these characters from the first and second books, so here's hoping that you decide to take that journey with me. I say this without exaggeration: this one is a real page turner, suspenseful and philosophical with a strong plot and strong characters, and with enough fast-paced action to keep all of the literary stunt doubles busy (unfortunately, Blake and Daniel refused to do their own stunts for this novel).
If you've read the book already, first let me say, damn! But also, who were your favorite characters? And to all of the musicians out there, let me know which parts hit just a little too close to home!
I can taste it. Expect the announcement of the release date soon, and trust me, the wait won't be long at all. The following is a passage from the novel The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma:
Not even the touch on the skin of the delicious breeze heralding the arrival of summer, nor caressing a woman's body, nor sipping Scotch whiskey in the bathtub until the water goes cold, in short, no other pleasure Wells could think of gave him a greater sense of well-being than when he added the final full stop to a novel. This culminating act always filled him with a sense of giddy satisfaction born of the certainty that nothing he could achieve in life could fulfill him more than writing a novel, no matter how tedious, difficult, and thankless he found the task, for Wells was one of those writers who detest writing but love "having written."
On this last day of April, 2019, I’ve revisited my characters at the scene of their finale, in a house that in a very sentimental way, I’ve modeled after my childhood home in St. Bernard Parish. It was from that house in Arabi where I’d first imagined these characters, where via a computer keyboard I created them all and released them into existence. Now they're all back, right back to the very place where they were born, a private place that I have now made public.
I have company, so, if you'll excuse me ...
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.
It's been a rewarding Easter weekend here in New Orleans with spectacular weather and much progress made on Book III. And anyone who knows me knows that I'm always looking for signs that I'm where I need to be with certain writing projects or anything else for that matter. A strong believer in the whims of the universe, I don't so much look for coincidental signs, but rather, a certain continuity in the signs themselves and the unmistakable recognition of reoccurring ones. For example, when I'd completed editing the third-to-last chapter of the novel this morning and felt accomplished in doing so, I just so happened to notice that where I'd stopped was on Page 333. Don't think this is a big deal for me? Go back and search all of my mentions of the number 3, or more importantly, the number 333 and all of the purpose and meaning that I've pumped into it. It's a really big deal to see this in my life, and as I mentioned, it's a recurring one.
And if that one wasn't enough, this past Friday night, rather late, I was working on that very third-to-last chapter, one which makes mention of the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788. Being that the first draft of this book was written a few years ago, I decided to go back and do a little research on the topic, just to make sure I'd gotten certain things correct. Keep in mind, today is Easter Sunday, and the night I was doing this research and editing this passage on this particular topic was the evening of Good Friday ...
... which just so happened to be the exact day 231 years ago that the devastating fire occurred, on the afternoon of Good Friday, 1788.
Yep, I'd say I'm right on schedule with this one.
But this changes the further along I get, like a hallway stretching further into infinity while in a running dream, where the end of the hall is just out of reach. The more pages pass beneath me it seems, the more get added. I'll have to mind this.
Gonna paint a picture here: I have a desk just outside of my living room that faces diagonally the living room and the TV, and I'm leaning back now and watching the news from behind this desk after declaring myself done with the book for the night. And damn, do we live in strange times. And I'm beginning to wonder if aesthetics will survive this shift in America, if the literal will now gradually consume the conceptual as the norm when it comes to "art."
Everything has become so ... simplified.
I hope that reading and writing will still be a thing after this version of America runs its course.
Said this a few times in the bathroom mirror tonight with the lights out, and when I turned the lights back on, I saw only myself standing there holding a Bloody Mary, the same Bloody Mary that I'd been holding when I walked in.
Such has been the last few days, lost in my birthday weekend with a few days to myself as a head start. Much progress on the book and lots of time to catch-up with people and places. Only one gig and then I was off to nothing more than being a writer, a lost weekend in every sense of the word.
Still a few days left of this sabbatical, and lots of Zing Zang Bloody Mary mix left in the fridge = Productivity.
Just getting back to the grind here after some distractions to do with The Music Half, which means I had gigs during most of the weekends that I'd otherwise be working on the book. I did get some positive reactions from a friend of mine to The Petrified Christ, and then I would later find out that she may have some bookstore connections (and if you do, too, let's start a phenomenon). Then while getting to some key plot points as I trudge towards the end of Darker Prometheus, I noticed that there are interactions that I didn't account for in previous chapters, good stuff, the result of some significant slicing and dicing. It's okay. "My old man is a television repairman, he's got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it."
Taking a break from writing on this Mardi Gras to watch a little New Orleans royalty.
Always so mysterious to me, even as an adult. The vast, polished white floor and dim lighting, images that were burned into my mind as a child while watching it on late-night PBS on Mardi Gras eve with my parents. This is what the rest of the country needs to see when we boast proudly about our special Tuesdays once a year.