Just to See Her

And we have made it to Friday yet again, Constant Reader. Isn’t it lovely? I slept well again last night, which was, as always, a lovely and wonderful experience. I have a short day at the office today–data entry, which is always a joy–to ease me into the weekend. I’ll need to stop at Rouse’s on my way home again so I won’t have to leave the house over the course of the weekend. I am trying not to get too hyped or worked up about the LSU-Georgia SEC title game Saturday afternoon; we’ve enjoyed an absolutely glorious season, filled with enormous highs that just kept getting better as the season progressed; everything now is undoubtedly gravy. It should be a good game, and one can never completely rule Georgia out.

This whole season, for both LSU and the Saints, has seemed like a fever dream at times.

I also hate to see the season winding down. I love football, and I love football season, and am always a little sad to see it end. The season opener we attended, the Georgia Southern game, seems like it was an eternity ago, and yet the season has also seemed to fly by. And here it is Christmas season, with the conference championship games this weekend and then the bowls and the play-offs for college; there’s another month or so of the regular season for the Saints before the play-offs as well…and then it’s Carnival.

The end of the year/beginning of the year is always jam-packed around New Orleans.

I didn’t really get that across, I think, in Royal Street Reveillon; the way the holidays and football season’s climax all crowd in around each other and then suddenly it’s time for the parades and Carnival–but in fairness, theres a lot of plot and a lot going on in that book, and Scotty was a little too-distracted by all the goings-on to think about the holidays or football season too much.

It’s hard to believe sometimes that I’ve been writing Scotty since 2001; that his first adventure was published sixteen years ago, and I’m still writing about him. I never dreamed Scotty would stick around this long; I never dreamed readers and reviewers would embrace him so much. The advance for Bourbon Street Blues enabled Paul and I to move back to New Orleans in 2001 after That Horrible Year Away; so for that reason alone Scotty would alway have a special place in my heart. I was interviewed last weekend for a radio show (“The Adam Sank Show”); and getting asked questions about Scotty–and the book–kind of put me into a sort of reflective mood about the character and series. I never imagined I’d still be writing and publishing and talking about Scotty in 2019; then again, I never look that far ahead. But had someone told me back then that my happy-go-lucky go-go boy would still be around seventeen years later, going strong and with the possibility of yet another adventure hanging around on the horizon, I would have most likely laughed really hard in that person’s face.

Scotty and the boys have aged gracefully and well.

But if I do decide to write Hollywood South Hustle, there are a number of things I’ve been putting off that need to eventually be addressed at some point; Frank really should retire from professional wrestling–but there’s a professional wrestling murder mystery/adventure for the boys I’d want to write before that happens (Redneck Riviera Rhumba). The collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site also provided a bit of inspiration for my Scotty gentrification novel, Bywater Bohemia Bougie (or Boogie, I can’t decide which one works better. I like the idea of addressing gentrification as well as the whole “bougie” thing; but boogie also works as a really good, fun word and as long as the title is alliterative, I don’t really care which word I use. (For the record, I sometimes sit around and think up Scotty titles, because I enjoy alliteration; others I’ve come up with include West Bank Waltz, Lake Shore Limbo, North Shore Novelty, Swamp Edge Swing, etc.; just on titles alone I could probably wind up writing Scotty books until I’m in my seventies). I still need to pull together the Scotty Bible, which would make writing any future Scotty books much easier, and strengthen continuity while eliminating mistakes.

As long as I can keep it fresh and new….which basically means as long as I don’t bore myself, really.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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Casanova

It’s Thursday morning in New Orleans and all is well–or right–in the world; well, at least in mine. It was also chilly and my bed comfortable and warm; and as I was sleeping well for yet another night, I didn’t want to get up. But I have things to do this morning before I head into the office, and once I’ve had enough coffee to sharpen and get my brain under control, I shall accomplish these tasks before getting ready for work.

I managed to get some chores done when I got home from work yesterday, so the Lost Apartment’s kitchen is not a disaster this morning. I made mac-and-cheese again (I think this week’s is better than last week’s was, frankly) but used some of my training from McDonalds as a teenager to “clean as I go” and as such, when the mac-and-cheese went into the oven everything I’d used to make it was cleaned and in the dishwasher already. I don’t know why I don’t do this every time I cook; it’s so lovely to finish cooking and have all the dishes and bowls and so forth I used be clean already.

The lessons one learns from working in fast food as a teenager will hold you in good stead later in life, apparently.

My mind is not fully cognitive yet this morning, but the space heater is blowing lovely warm air on my legs and my coffee is delicious and it surely won’t be much longer before I am functional. Or so I hope, at any rate.

Then I’ll start cleaning out the email inbox. I kind of need cognitive abilities to answer them all, and won’t it be lovely to have an empty inbox? That’s always my goal, every morning and every week, and it’s been far too long since I unlocked that achievement.

It also occurred to me–sometime late in November–that I should use my December blog entries to write about my most recent book; focusing not only on my characters but also on New Orleans, Christmas, and Christmas in New Orleans, since the book is set during the Christmas season. And not to worry–I have lots of pictures of hot guys in Christmas-type attire to share along with those entries. So, yes, y’all, Royal Street Reveillon is an actual Christmas-in-New-Orleans book in which I resisted the urge to try to adapt a traditional Christmas story to both Scotty and New Orleans–although it was incredibly tempting and I might do that very thing later in my life and in the series. One of my favorite Christmas episodes of any television series was the very first Christmas episode of Moonlighting–anyone else remember the show that made Bruce Willis a star?–in which Blue Moon Detective Agency secretary Miss DiPesto found a baby in a manger at Christmas time. They played very heavily on Christmas stories and traditions to tell the story in that extremely brilliantly witty way the writers had in the first season or so of the show; those first two seasons are some of the best television ever written and filmed. I thought about trying to do something similar with Royal Street Reveillon, but I also wanted to get the Grande Dames of New Orleans story into the book, and there was simply no way to graft all the reality show stuff onto a Christmas tale; so the book wound up simply being set during Christmas.

The Scotty series, which was originally intended to simply be a stand-alone, and then merely a trilogy, was built around holidays to begin with; the first was during Southern Decadence, and when it became a trilogy I decided to use the trinity of gay holidays in New Orleans: Southern Decadence, Halloween, and Carnival. When Book 4 rolled around, I set it around Easter and had the book open with the Gay Easter Parade. Book 5 was built around New Orleans winning the Super Bowl; Book 6 was built around Mike the Tiger (LSU’s live tiger mascot) and Book 7 didn’t really have a holiday or anything truly local to build it around. I’ve always felt there was some separation between the first three books in the series and the four that followed; primarily because of the gay holiday associations with the first three.

I decided, when putting this one together, to set it during the Christmas season because Christmas in New Orleans doesn’t get as much play as other holidays (not here, I mean nationally; no one thinks of “Christmas” and “New Orleans” together), and I do love Christmas–some of it. I love the idea of Christmas and its message; I despise the unrelenting commercialism and the playing of carols in September and the Christmas stuff being stocked in stores before Halloween and don’t even get me started on the horrors of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and so forth. I did think I could possibly work some of that into the story, of course; but there was literally so much going on in the book that snark about commercializing Christmas wasn’t needed or necessary, even though it would have been fun.

And let’s be honest: Charles Schultz did it best with A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1966.

But I’ve enjoyed Donna Andrews’ Christmas mysteries in her Meg Langslow series so much that I thought I should give one a try. And the result was Royal Street Reveillon.

And now it’s Christmas season in New Orleans; football season is winding up, but I am hoping that after this weekend, I can take a Saturday afternoon to head down to the Quarter–or drive around the city–taking pictures of Christmas lights and decorations and so forth. New Orleans, as I said in the book, loves nothing more than holiday decorating, and it’s so dark here at night the Christmas lights look even more magnificent.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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Big Love

Wednesday! How’s it going, Constant Reader?

I slept well again last night, and I am beginning to think that maybe–just maybe–nightly insomnia has become a thing of the past for me. It’s so nice to not be tired every day, or dragging when I get out of bed, or having to take several hours to fully wake up and participate in the day with my full mind. Huzzah! Today is also my short day at the office (one of them, at any rate) and so tonight I am going to make my mac-n-cheese again, even though it will make a mess (I promised Paul I’d make him some last week when I made it for the potluck) and so I am destined to come home to make a mess to clean up, but when I got home from work last night I did some other cleaning and picking up around the house, rather than just sitting in my easy chair and doing nothing. I do have a load of laundry to fold, another to put in the dryer, and I need to empty the dishwasher; but I have plenty of time this morning before I head into the office.

I also didn’t write last night–I was sleepy when I got home, which is why I did chores–and even fell asleep in my easy chair sometime between nine and ten, waking up around quarter to eleven with a start. I do tend to sometimes, when really tired, doze off in my chair for a moment or two, but never for as long as I did last night. So whatever I’m doing in my life regarding sleep is working.

I did realize last night that a short story I am working on for an anthology submission–one I’ve been working on for several years, off and on, now–has the wrong title. This title is its second; the first title was good, but I had to change it because I decided to use that title for another story it fit better. As I was sitting in my chair last night, my mind drifting away to sleep, my mind zeroed in for some reason on this story–which is currently back-burnered, but despite that it’s still in my head, so it’ll pop out from time to time–and as I was reimagining the opening scene–which is set in a grocery store; the entire story takes place during the main character’s trip to the grocery store–it hit me squarely between the eyes: the title doesn’t fit. And when I don’t have the right title….the work doesn’t ever seem right. (Case in point: the current work-in-progress, Bury Me in Shadows, didn’t really start flowing until I changed the original title, Bury Me in Satin..and while no, I didn’t work on it at all yesterday, I feel really good about this final revision. The stuff I’ve done on the first chapter is solid, and I couldn’t be more pleased.)

I was also too tried to do any more reading last night, so I think after the mac-n-cheese goes into the oven, and once I have that mess cleaned up, I may curl up with Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside.

Or I might write. I’m feeling a lot better after my vacation about a lot of things, not the least of which is my writing these days. And while I may have only put about 1500 words of revision into effect with the book, those are  great words, and they are completely reshaping the story and turning it into what I’d envisioned it would be from the very beginning. I don’t know what on earth was the problem before–why I was having so much issue connecting with the stories and the characters–but I do feel them now; there’s a lot of family dysfunction that I was simply glossing over, and I always had an issue with contrivance with the story; it was necessary for my main character to spend the summer in Alabama, but getting him there felt completely contrived, and the way I was writing it and telling the story, it simply didn’t make sense for his mother to send him there–and the more I got into the actual story as it developed, the less sense it made; to quote Joan Didion, “the center would not hold.”

And when the center doesn’t hold, the entire cake will collapse.

Hence the stress, anxiety and borderline depression I’ve been suffering through the entire time I’ve been writing this book.

Ah, self-diagnosis.

And on that note, back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, everyone.

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Point of No Return

So, what did we learn from our first Monday back at work? One, that it’s very important to get physical and mental rest from the day in, day out of full time employment, and that if I can stay focused and motivated…well, there’s really nothing I can’t do if I want to do it.

But that has always been true. It has always astounded me how much I can do–and what I can do–if I put my mind to it and ignore those horrible voice in my head (depending on what it is, they alternate between my parents, really–every so often a former teacher will pop into my head, working on my confidence and trying to paralyze me into useless futility). All that stuff I’d been dreading, and putting off? Handled yesterday with aplomb, minimal irritation or embarrassment, and now completely out of the way.

What have we learned from this? Probably nothing.

Last night, for the first time in over a month–since I was sick at Halloween, actually–I sat down, opened the latest version of Chapter One, and started revising. And while it wasn’t as easy as I would like–I deleted about a thousand words and added a thousand new ones, that make better sense and work better; certainly the voice of my main character is better defined and sounds more realistic–I still managed to get some work done, and it was good work. Very good work, with which I am very pleased. I was truly worried, frankly, that this book was never going to get kicked into gear; now it has, and now it’s possible that I might–just might–get this book finished this month and ready to do something with in January.

What a glorious feeling.

I slept really well again last night–going to bed earlier on the nights before these early mornings really does make all the difference–and since Paul was out to dinner with some friends, I came home and cleaned the kitchen, preparatory to getting some writing done, and so this morning my kitchen is pretty clean–there’s still a load of laundry in the dryer that needs to be folded, but I doubt I’ll get to that this morning–and so I am pretty pleased with that as well. I am pretty certain I’ll start feeling run down and tired by the end of the week again, but as long as I keep getting good sleep at night, I should be okay.

Or so I hope, at any rate.

It’s hard to believe it’s December already. Where did this year go? Football season can’t be almost over already, can it? Heavy heaving sigh. I was just thinking yesterday that the next few months are going to be nothing but madness, sheer madness. There’s Christmas, then New Year’s; and then of course it’s Twelfth Night and Carnival has started. There’s college football bowl games and play-offs; the Saints will be in the play-offs as well, and then after the parades are all over, at the end of March is the Williams Festival. Heavy heaving sigh. I am also heading up to New York in the middle of January; it’s been years, and that should be a lot of fun–exhausting, but fun.

And 2020! A sparkling new decade, exciting and new. That will be the decade I hit sixty at long last, and should I live that long, the decade where I finally am able to retire from the day job. Sooner would be better than later, of course; I am considering my options for going early–but that would also mean paying off most of my debt and the car. I think the car will be finished being paid off towards the end of next year or early 2021; I am on track to get it paid for in less than the five years of the loan, and who knows? I may, if there’s a windfall of some sort, even be able to get it paid for even sooner. And if I can make that Honda last twenty years–which I should be able to–I hopefully won’t ever have to buy another car before I die.

And on that cheery note, tis time to get back to the mines of spice. I want to get some more reading of Laura Benedict’s book, The Stranger Inside, done today, and obviously, it would be amazing to get more progress done on the book.

But I’m writing again, am excited about the book (as it goes into yet another draft), and feeling pretty good. Yay, Gregalicious!

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Heat of the Night

Monday morning and I am up before dawn, ready to go back to work (yay?) and get back into the groove of my normal existence again. I slept relatively well last night, but of course am a little out of sorts from having to get up to an alarm. At least I had the brains to go to bed early last night.

Both Dublin Murders and Watchmen continue to be terrific entertainment, and I highly recommend both series to anyone looking for something to watch. I think what Watchmen is doing is exceptionally clever; an alternate time-line United States, with super heroes, and as an alternate timeline, the writers are able to tackle white supremacy and racism in ways that are not only eye-opening for some, but a lot more honest than most fictional entertainments I’ve seen. I’m surprised it hasn’t come under fire from the white supremacists, frankly; how could they not be aware of this? Jean Smart and Regina King are also killing it, in their roles of Laurie Blake and Angela Abar. There are only two more episodes left in this season (four in Dublin Murders), and I am curious to see where both shows go in order to finish off this impressive debut seasons.

One nice thing about the lengthy vacation of doing little–and I don’t regret the lost free time, not even a little bit–has been the ability for me to get a grip on my life and where it’s going. One of the worst feelings, I’ve always felt, about life is when you let it happen to you, rather than being actively involved in it. That’s probably not as clear as I would like it to be; I am still waking up and haven’t had enough coffee. But when I was thirty-three, I realized that my life was just happening; I’d get up and go to work, do the things I had to do–laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.–and then would go to be and get up the next morning and do it all over again. By letting life happen to me, rather than being actively involved in it, my life was passing me by and I wasn’t getting anywhere with it. So, I decided then and there to make changes, and to become more active in steering the direction of my life. For the most part, I’ve managed to continue this; not always successful at it, frankly; it’s very easy to get caught up in the routine of your days and getting through them, getting by, making it through to the weekend, and just being adrift. That’s kind of where I’ve been lately, these last few years, maybe even longer; just doing what I need to in order to make it through the day, and as such, I don’t feel as in control of my life as I should be, as I want to be, as I need to be. I don’t think I would have realized that I’ve become so passive about my life had I not taken the week off.

Sure, it’s very easy to get beaten down in this life. Jobs, bills, money doesn’t stretch nearly as far as it did even a few years ago; health care is in a shambles; and every day it seems the world is getting crazier and crazier. I’ve not written much of anything in quite some time; I’ve also been incredibly passive about my writing. I’ve been allowing the general state of the world, and the  general state of the society, color my opinions and allow myself to go to the darker side. I don’t know how to find new readers anymore; I don’t even know how to connect with the ones that I already had, and that’s self-defeating to worry about those things. I never worried about marketing or publicity before; I always just did what I always did before, without recognizing that the world, and publishing, have changed since I first started–and dramatically so. But I don’t see–as I have been told so many times in this past decade–how social media sells books. Maybe it does; maybe it doesn’t, and maybe I do spend more time on it than I should. (I don’t really think that’s a maybe, it’s clearly more of a definite.) For me, social media has become more about social interaction, while my actual social interactions have declined to the point where I am almost, practically, a hermit; and I kind of prefer that hermit-like existence and state. I also have a tendency to not face things that are unpleasant–and the end result of that is always worse than if I just faced up to it early. But lately…ever since the illness thing started, whenever that was, I have turned away from things that were unpleasant with the old I’ll deal with it later I can’t handle this right now–which is ultimately self-defeating, since the stress still weighs on my mind and affects my sleep and moods and everything.

So yes, terribly self-defeating.

Equally self-defeating is the self-doubt I allow to creep into my mind when I am writing; the entire why bother you’re not going to make much money from this so why even bother wasting your time? And on and on it goes. All of these thoughts went through my mind over the last week; when you’re home alone it’s easy for your mind to go places you really don’t want it to go, and that had a lot to do with my not really doing a whole lot this past week, But I think it’s better to sit down, take stock, and realize what you’re dealing with–recognizing those self-defeating patterns and mindsets and thoughts–when you have the time to actually pay attention; and the usual day-to-day get-through-this-day mentality when I am working enables me to put it aside, deal with it later, etc etc etc.

So, we’ll see how the rest of this year goes. I am determined to do better, to keep my mind on positivity, and stay focused.

And on that note, I need to get ready for work.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Hello

Sunday morning, and despite all the things I have to do today–there’s no Saints game, and all the things I’ve been brushing off all week have to be done today–I am still aglow from an insane day of college football yesterday.

First off, how insane was the Iron Bowl? The Auburn-Alabama game is always special (except for those years when Auburn is terrible and they get blown out) but yesterday’s was one for the ages. Strange things often happen in the Iron Bowl (“Punt Bama Punt” for one, the “Kick Six” for another) but I couldn’t believe the insanity of what I was watching yesterday. A kick-off return for a touchdown? Two pick sixes? A game-saving field goal that bounces off the upright and is no-good? A too many men on the field penalty that gives Auburn a first down and wins the game for them? Fucking insanity. And now Alabama is 10-2–their worst regular season since 2010. And the two games they lost were by a combined total of eight points. Interesting that with two losses–one to LSU, ranked first or second, depending on where you look for the rankings; the other to a Top 15 Auburn–whose only losses were to LSU, #4 Georgia, and top 15 Florida–people are already wondering if the Alabama dynasty is over.

If you’re thinking that, you don’t know Nick Saban, and you really haven’t been paying attention.

But LSU. Wow, LSU. What a dream ride of a season this has been; trouncing Texas A&M 50-7 and basically making them look like a lower division team on a Saturday night in Death Valley. 12-0, an undefeated regular season for the first time since 2011, and a thrilling season with incredibly exciting wins over Florida (still can’t believe I was at that game!), Auburn, Texas, Alabama, and now A&M. Watching this team play has been a pleasure and a joy all season. I’ve been writing an entry about this season since the Alabama game, detailing the growing love affair between the state of Louisiana and quarterback Joe Burrow; I didn’t post it that Sunday morning and have been adding to it ever since, thinking, Oh, I’ll post this if we go undefeated and then last night, well, maybe I should wait until after the SEC title game. Who knows when or if I’ll ever post it; but I do appreciate Joe Burrow so much that I definitely want to document this insanely fun season here. The story of this season’s LSU football team has been a great one; the transfer quarterback, the coach no one wanted, the running back who was too short, the receiver who was too skinny and only a two-star recruit.  As time ran out last night, I couldn’t help but think, next year Joe’s name and number is going to be mounted on the stadium with Tommy Casanova’s and Billy Cannon’s.

So. Much. Fun.

I still can’t completely wrap my mind around it.

But I have to shake off this oh my god LSU is undefeated afterglow and get my head back into the game. It’s back to the office with me tomorrow, and back to work. This vacation has been enormously pleasurable, I feel completely rested and relaxed, my mind unwound and in a good place; now I need to get moving on everything and stay focused. I still have some things I need to figure out, and I need to stay motivated. This vacation seemed to work better than the last–the last I was ill and trying to recover from being ill; so it wasn’t quite the same rest-and-recovery thing; but if I hadn’t been ill I would have gone to Bouchercon and that wouldn’t have been restful either; fun, but not relaxing. I am in a good place after this week off, mentally and emotionally, and so I think that this December (I can’t believe it’s already December, for fuck’s sake) will be highly productive and fun. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are falling in the middle of the week this year, so that will create both peculiar and unsettling work weeks around them, and then suddenly it’s 12th Night and Carnival, with Mardi Gras just around the corner. Yikes, indeed!

I’d much rather lay around all day, frankly, and do nothing one last time, but I don’t think that would be a particularly wise move, honestly.

All right, enough of this and back to the spice mines. Happy December 1st, everyone!

classic male beauty

Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.