Time Has Come Today

I arrived home from a second trip in less than a week about an hour ago. I made fantastic time from Oxford; I made it back to New Orleans in slightly less than fice and a half hours, including two stops for gas. I had the best time there, as well. I have lots of things to talk about regarding both trips, but right now I am decompressing and trying to get organized because I have to work tonight…and am already running out of steam. Whine. Ah, well, I can sleep late tomorrow. I did fall in love with both Montgomery and Oxford, though, and feel strangely reconnected to my Southern roots.

But I  also want to talk about this fantastic book I read on the trip, Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll.

luckiest girl alive

For the record, Constant Reader, anything blurbed by Megan Abbott is generally going to turn out to be fantastic.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wusthof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly getting humid in my grip.

“I think that design is better suited for someone of your stature.” I looked up at the sales associate, bracing for the word people always use to describe short girls hungry to hear “thin.” “Petite.” He smiled like I should be flattered. Slender, elegant, graceful–now there’s a compliment that might actually defang me.

And so we meet Ani FaNelli, engaged to a successful businessman from old money, and she herself has her dream job at The Women’s Magazine (read: Cosmo). Ani had a horrific experience in her ritzy private high school in Philadelphia, which her social climbing mother forced her to attend, and after this event, focused on reinventing herself and doing whatever she had to in order to get the great life she felt she deserved after that horrific humiliation. But the facade of pretending to be the perfect fiancee is starting to wear thin…and as the book flashes back and forth between her wedding planning in the present day and what happened to her back at the Butler Academy, the edges begin to wear a little thin and she slowly begins to remember who she is beneath her carefully constructed facade, and the unraveling begins.

Ani is probably one of those characters male reviewers like to talk shit about–you know, the “unlikable woman”, which has apparently become so prevalent in suspense thrillers since the enormous success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and this one has the obligatory “girl” in the title, even–but the title phrase does come up during the course of the book, and as the story of Ani’s high school experience unspools…it’s so much much worse than you think it could have been.

This was an Edgar Award nominee for Best First Novel (she lost to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, which also won the Pulitzer Prize), and it’s riveting. Highly recommended.

Bottle of Wine

Oxford, Mississippi is a beautiful little town. I arrived here yesterday afternoon–the drive didn’t leave me nearly as exhausted as the one to Montgomery did, even though it was longer; I suspect it was because I worked late the night before doing bar testing so was already tired. I checked into the Inn at Ole Miss, and then went foraging for dinner as well as exploring.  I had a lovely dinner at City Grocery; shrimp and grits, similar to the dish I make but slightly better–but I also was able to spot the spice differences, as well as the obvious addition of sautéed mushrooms, so the next time I make it I am going to make those alterations and see if it turns out the same way. I washed it down with a lovely glass of a Napa Chardonnay, and then wandered back down to the Inn, taking lots of pictures and getting all kinds of inspirations and ideas for a campus crime novel.I am not sure what the situation here is as far as campus crime, but I am making notes and a file, and perhaps some other time I can come up for a few extra days, talk to some more people, do some research and figure out how to get the story whipped into shape.

I also finished reading Jessica Knoll’s sublime Luckiest Girl Alive, which was absolutely amazing, and I intend to discuss that wonderful novel in more depth once I am home and at a computer rather than writing this on an app on the iPad (don’t get me wrong, this is very cool, and this is the first trip I’ve taken where I’ve not brought the laptop–and I will most likely never bring it again, as the iPad basically can replace it completely, and it weighs significantly less. I also started reading Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman, which I am enjoying and focuses on two women who have always fascinated me: Cleopatra’s sisters, Berenice and Arsinoe, and whom I myself have always wanted to write about.

My panel is this afternoon at four; they are picking me up at 3:30 in front of the Inn and I am really not certain what the discussion is going to be about. It’s a month-long event called the Radical South, a counter-event to Confederate History Month (in a moment of irony, I am here at a counter-event to Confederate History MOnth while the Confederate monuments in New Orleans are being taken down; which is also a subject for another time as I have very strong feelings about that myself) and after that I am being taken out to dinner. Tomorrow I intend to rise early, avail myself of the complimentary breakfast here at the Inn (it was sublime this morning), and then check-out and head home, as I have to work tomorrow night. But that also gets me a short day on Thursday, which is also lovely.

The weather is also sublime; rather cool for late April, but not humid, which is always a plus.

And now, I am going back to the spice mines.IMG_1725

 

I Say a Little Prayer

Today I venture north to Oxford, Mississippi, home to one of my literary heroes, William Faulkner, and also home to Ole Miss, aka the University of Mississippi. This isn’t going to be a quick ‘in-and-out’ like Montgomery; I am spending two nights there (the event is tomorrow night) and will drive back down to New Orleans on Wednesday. I have to work later that evening, which is daunting and will make for a long, exhausting day, but I feel like I will sleep rather well that Wednesday night, if for no other reason than pure exhaustion. I am feeling rested this morning, but not quite awake; I am going to continue with coffee-swilling before I shave and shower and depart. I am already packed; all I have left to do is put the current book I’m reading (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll) and my iPad into my bag. I believe the event is tomorrow evening, so I will have all day to explore Oxford. I will be taking the camera with me, and I plan on making a pilgrimage, at the very least, to Faulkner’s home. (In an aside, sometimes when I mention that Faulkner is one of my literary heroes I get mocked, or get called pretentious; but I truly enjoy reading Faulkner. He isn’t easy to read, or follow, but the language! The way he builds the story! I still think The Sound and the Fury is the greatest American novel, no matter what–but I have been thinking lately I should, as an adult and more mature reader, give both Hemingway and Fitzgerald another try.)

I did finish reading Thirteen Reasons Why yesterday afternoon, and no, it didn’t end in the same was as the television series, and yes, it’s ending was just as dissatisfying to me, although it made sense. The book makes no judgments of the characters, including Clay, although the relationship between Clay and Hannah wasn’t as developed or as evolved in the show; I didn’t get a sense of why Clay would care as much as he did from the novel. But it was a fun read, and let’s face it–as I said on the panel Saturday, what could be more noir than high school? All of my young adult fiction, frankly, is based on that principle.

We also finished Feud last night, along with the rest of the country, and Jessica Lange was absolutely heartbreaking. Sarandon really was great as Bette Davis, but for some reason, I just think Lange was better as Crawford. The whole cast was terrific, really, and it was horrible what happened to both women as they aged, how the industry turned their back on them, what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood–and how that hasn’t, really, changed. Ryan Murphy is an interesting writer/producer. American Horror Story seems to go off the rails every season; I never got past the second episode of Scream Queens; and I never watched Nip/Tuck–but really enjoyed Popular. But with American Crime Story and Feud he’s done an extraordinary job; but then again, in both instances he didn’t have to really come up with a plot or an ending to the story he was telling: both were based in reality. I also am terrified of his Hurricane Katrina season of American Crime Story. It could be terrible, absolutely terrible; all I can do is hope that filming in New Orleans–as he did with American Horror Story–made him fall in love with the city the way Jessica Lange did (she now lives here).

Obviously, I’ve not written a word since I left for Montgomery on Friday (other than here), and hope I’ll have both the time and the energy while in Oxford.

And now, back to the spice mines.6f72d89ae05ea0959513f24176fd12e5

Piece of My Heart

So, as I said in my last entry, we finished watching Thirteen Reason Why. Do not read any more because here there be spoilers. I am trying to learn WordPress, since the blog has been moved here from Livejournal; and I don’t know how to hide text behind a cut here the way I could there. So I am going to try to make this paragraph as long as possible so when it cross-posts over to Facebook no spoilers will appear so anyone who hasn’t watched, or finished watching, won’t see something they shouldn’t. I will say I  greatly enjoyed the show, just as I am enjoying reading the book, which I hope to finish reading today. Continue reading “Piece of My Heart”

Sealed with a Kiss

Very tired this morning. I only woke up less than an hour ago–I drove home from Montgomery last night, and of course, had trouble sleeping in the hotel on Friday night. Ten hours plus of driving over the course of two days wore me out, and tomorrow I am driving to Oxford, MIssissippi–approximately five and a half hours or so, with stops probably closer to seven hours–and when I drive back Wednesday I also agreed to do two testing events that night for work. Sigh. I am going to be the walking dead by the time I get home Wednesday night, and Thursday is going to suck pretty badly. Ah, well. Such is life, you know? And Paul is going to take the train Thursday up to Hammond for his birthday to see our friends Bev and Butch; I’ll have to drive up there on Saturday to get him, so that weekend is going to be a bit of a mess as well.

Ah, well, I’ll get over it.

The drive up to Montgomery on Friday was nice; it was a beautiful day for a drive, and Alabama is quite beautiful. I did go ahead and make the detour through Chef Menteur Highway and over the Rigolets bridge (which was rebuilt after Katrina and is much more impressive than it was before), and while I didn’t stop, I am glad I did it because it took me through New Orleans East (still showing the wreckage from last year’s horrific tornado) and I also saw Little Vietnam, which I don’t remember seeing the last time (2003) when I was out that way. I am glad I drove out there, as it gave me a better idea of what it’s like out there, and will make writing my story about it even easier. And it really only was an extra fifteen minutes. I’ll go again, when I have time to stop and take pictures, walk around, and get a better idea of the area, but am very glad I went. (And frankly, it was really kind of inspiring. I am going to do a lot more exploring, not just of the city but the area around New Orleans. Seeing it makes me want to write about it, you know?)

I had never been to Montgomery before, and the part of the small city where I was, downtown and near Old Alabama Town (the historic part of the city) was really quite nice and lovely. The Book Festival itself was a lovely event, and everyone was very kind. I signed a lot of books, and the panel I was on was interesting with great questions posed, not only by the moderator but by the audience when it was opened up for questions. After my signing, I got in the car and drove home, getting home just before nine. We finished watching Thirteen Reasons Why, and then the first episode of The White Princess. Jay Asher was at the Alabama Book Festival, and I wanted to meet him/hear hims peak, but during his talks I went to lunch because I was tired and hungry and had to be at my best for my panel. Missed opportunity, but ah, well. I don’t know that I’m quite ready yet to talk about the show–I am still tired and foggy from the trip–and I have to go to the grocery store at some point today, and I need to pack for the Oxford trip. But it was lovely talking about books and writing with book people–it’s very invigorating–and I am hoping when I get back from Oxford I’ll be able to get some more, good, work done.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you.

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Bend Me Shape Me

 

In a couple of hours, I’ll be on the road to Montgomery, Alabama, for the Alabama Book Festival. The route takes me on I-10 East to Mobile, where I will then get on I-65 north all the way to Montgomery. It’s a lovely drive, if gas stations and places to eat and rest stops are a bit on the sparse side, and I am going to drive leisurely. I’ve decided to make that detour on Chef Menteur Highway over the Rigolets after all, and maybe even stop at a few places that look nice to take pictures. It’s also a lovely looking day outside, so it should be a great day for a lovely drive through the countryside.

When I got home from bar testing last night we watched the eleventh episode of Thirteen Reasons Why–Clay’s tape–and it was so much more heartbreaking than I feared it would be. Bitter cynical Queen Greg cried a couple of times, and the performance of Dylan Minnette as Clay was not only surprising in its subtle nuance, but perfectly done in an understated way that was much harder to watch–and more heartbreaking and effective–had it been over-the-top histrionic, as most directors and actors seem to choose. The entire young cast is quite effective in their roles, and I’ve also become more impressed by the performances of the adult actors. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the show, though, is the seamless editing, the way the show transitions between past and present. The big reveal of Clay’s tape also explained so much more about the behavior of the others kids, which seemed almost inexplicable before. The last two episodes will probably be just as intense….and I am also looking forward into finishing reading the book. In an odd coincidence, the book’s author, Jay Asher, is also appearing tomorrow at the Alabama Book Festival. I am sure his talk will be jam-packed; but I am going to make the effort to go see him.

I love listening to authors talk about writing, frankly, and 90% of the time they don’t annoy the crap out of me. I am excited also because being around book people is always an inspirational high for me.

I doubt that I’ll have time to work on the outline while I am in Montgomery–I’ll probably arrive with just enough time to check into my room, maybe take a shower, and then head over to the author party. I am looking forward to seeing some of the people I met in Wetumpka there, and of course, the always delightful Carolyn Haines and Dean James are also going to be there this weekend–I do always love seeing them.

And now, I am going to have some more coffee, and get ready to head out. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

Here’s gorgeous Brandon Larracuente, who plays Jeff on Thirteen Reasons Why, one of my favorite characters on the show.

Brandon Larracuente

Hey, Western Union Man

We continue to watch Thirteen Reasons Why, and last night we got through Episode 10, which was heartbreaking. Tonight when I get home from work we’ll watch Episode 11–spoiler! It’s when Clay listens to his own tape, and while I am absolutely riveted, I am also dreading the episode. I also am getting further in the book, which is different in some ways from the show.  At one point watching last night, I said to Paul, “I’m so glad I’m not a teenager now,” even though I feel relatively certain that the things that happen in the book/show probably happened when I was a teenager–I, like Clay, was probably unaware/oblivious to it all–which is a horrifying thought. I find that I am often unpacking a lot of things from my past, recognizing behaviors that were no big deal back then but now are horrifying.

I’ve been processing a lot of that lately, to be honest, and in no small part because of the manuscript. I didn’t do any reading/outlining yesterday, nor did I touch “Quiet Desperation,” primarily because I felt kind of tired and out of it yesterday (another wretched night’s sleep  Tuesday, followed by Wacky Russian on Wednesday morning), and while I certainly slept better last night, Paul’s alarm and his constant smacking of the snooze button this morning got me up earlier than I would have preferred. Tonight is yet another late night of bar testing, and tomorrow is the drive to Montgomery and the Author Welcome Party. Heavy heaving sigh. But I’ve pretty much decided not to spend the extra Saturday night in Montgomery; Saturday morning I’ll check out and head over to the Book Festival, spend the day there, and then drive back to New Orleans. That way I have Sunday here to run errands and do things, before driving up to Oxford on Monday. After all this travel I am going to get into a regular workout schedule upon my return, as well.

That’s the plan, at any rate.

So, this morning I am going to pack for the trip, clean the kitchen and get some laundry done, do some writing, and maybe read a bit. I am having lunch with a former intern of mine from a million years and several jobs ago–she’s now a lawyer, how bad-ass is that?–before I head to work. We are lunching at the Irish House, a pub-style restaurant whose chef won Chopped  many years ago, and they have pretty awesome fish-and-chips, and it’s a short walk from the Lost Apartment (I’ll take the car, though, so I can take my time and then drive to work from there). So the dryer is spinning, the washer is agitating, and I am sitting here with my second cup of coffee listening to a playlist on my iHome stereo waiting for the clouds to clear out of my head completely before I get up and unload the dishwasher and get the day going.

This morning I also picked out the story I’m going to revise/rewrite for an anthology I want to submit to–getting into it (it’s annual) is on my bucket list and I will keep trying until I do get in. I’ve submitted three or four times so far–failing every time–but two of the rejected stories ended up somewhere else, so that’s always a good thing. I am really taking my short story writing a lot more seriously than I used to; I am no longer allowing myself to think I am not good at it because that is self-defeating (another one of my daily affirmations, which really, as weird as it seems and as ‘new agey/touchy-feely/mumbo-jumbo’ as it feels and I’ve always dismissed it as, actually is seeming to work. 

I just wish I had thought this way twenty years ago. Ah, well, no regrets.

Live and learn.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Grant Aleksander, who played Philip Spaulding on Guiding Light:

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