Off the Wall

It’s Saturday morning and the Lost Apartment is close to being clean; I have to work on the kitchen a bit more today and do the living room floors. I also have to start packing up/throwing away perishables for the looming tenting for next weekend. Heavy heaving sigh. But…it’s also going to make me clean out my cabinets, and since everything has to washed after the tenting is over, also make me reorganize them.

Crazy!

I have a couple of errands to run today; I need to get the mail and I also need to get my brake tag taken care of today–it was due in January and now it’s almost April. Not very adult or responsible, I’m afraid; I really need to stop procrastinating about things and just get them done. I am going to clean out my email inbox, respond to Facebook messenger, and I also have to mail some things today. I want to work on the WIP, and I want to clean, and I want to finish reading The Woman Who Fed The Dogs so I can move on to Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife, thus completing my Festival homework, and then I need to prepare some questions. Moderating isn’t something I particularly enjoy, in all honesty, but I generally do a fairly decent job at it–at least, no one has ever told me that I suck at it. I know Paul thinks I’m good at it, or he wouldn’t keep trying to make me do it–although I also suspect it’s simply easier for him if I agree to moderate a panel.

So, yes, my plate is rather full today, but that’s okay. Hopefully, tomorrow I can do some writing in the morning and spend the afternoon reading the Downing (which, of course, is completely predicated on finishing Fed the Dogs today). The world figure skating championships are also going on currently, and I’d like to see the men’s competition, which is airing this afternoon. Americans are sitting in first, second and fourth after the short program–which is unlikely to hold through the free skate, but stranger things have happened.

And while next weekend is going to be fun and lovely–the Weekend o’Festivals always is–it’s also going to be exhausting, especially when you add in the fun of having to put the house back together that Monday. And it’s almost April already! When did that happen? How did that happen? Where did the first third of this year go, and what do I have to show for it? Very, very little…although I suppose I did finish writing a book, so that’s something.

And this past week’s episode of Schitt’s Creek was another one of those “get me in my feelings” episodes. Seriously, y’all, if you aren’t watching this show, you really need to be. There was one scene last night that should win Daniel Levy an Emmy, just for that scene alone–and of course Catherine O’Hara is a comedic gift that never stops giving.

All right. This spice isn’t going to mine itself, now is it? Happy Saturday everyone!

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You Decorated My Life

Friday, and the weekend looms. Alas, but this weekend is deceptive; it is the last weekend before the Weekend o’Festivals which means I won’t see Paul very much and I probably won’t be able to get a whole lot of relaxing done as I will be stressing about numerous things. I need to finish reading two books by next weekend, I need to get some work done on the WIP, and I need to clean this filthy apartment. I am behind on everything (like always) and really need to step up my game. I’ve been feeling slightly overwhelmed this week, but feeling overwhelmed only leads to paralysis and inaction and chaos, so…when I get home from work this afternoon I need to get to work. I need to stay off social media, close my Internet browsers, and just get on it. I need to get chapters revised; I need to clean thoroughly; I need to do all sorts of things, and this is the last chance I have to get any of this done before the Weekend O’Festivals.

And the house is being tented that weekend for termites; effective Friday, the termite tent is going up. So we also have to prepare the house for that.

I’ve got to get my reading done as well, so I also need to focus and try not to goof off as much. Scooter, of course, won’t mind me sitting in the easy chair all weekend reading, either–which should minimize the kitty whining I have to put up with over the weekend. (there’s always kitty whining)

Heavy heaving sigh.

What I need is to have a Type-A weekend. I haven’t had one of those in a while; not sure what that’s about, but as I said, I’ve felt disconnected from everything since the Great Data Disaster of 2018. The return of my allergies hasn’t helped much in that regard, either–it’s spring in New Orleans again! I guess the first step in getting my shit together is to make a pretty solid to-do list, and stick to checking things off on it. That’s always been the most effective way for me to deal with these things, and something I’ve been rather slipshod about for quite some time.

With the river so high and all the midwest flooding, I’ve also been thinking about, of course, Katrina and the flood that followed. It doesn’t help that the lead off and title story in my soon to be released collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, is an aftermath story, with the character on his roof in the heat waiting rescue. It’s a morbid, creepy story; one that I was reluctant to tell, if I’m going to be honest about it. I evacuated; Paul and I packed up as much as could fit in the car, put Skittle in his carrier and fled north. We left the Lost Apartment shortly after eleven a.m. that morning; we didn’t get to Slidell until nearly seven, and the outer bands of the storm were already coming in as we crossed the Twin Spans across the lake. It does now seem like that was an incredibly long time ago, and yet the memories, while faded with time, are still relatively vivid–even though the distance makes it seem as though it happened to someone else. There’s an unreality about the entire thing, looking back over the years. It’s hard to believe something like that could happen, yet it did, and it does, every year, to somewhere. Puerto Rico is still recovering, and suffering, from Maria.

The other day on Facebook there was a post from the New Orleans Tourism Board about signs they’ve created that businesses here can hang in their windows, to show queer tourists that they are welcome in the business and in the city. Quite naturally, some homophobic trash (from Oklahoma) had to show up on the thread and say shit like well, looks like I need to cancel my reservations for New Orleans this May–guess it’s time for another hurricane! 

You really can’t fix trash. Particularly from some asshole who smugly thinks Oklahoma is immune from natural disasters. This reminded me, of course, of the congressional trash serving at the time who didn’t think New Orleans (the fifth largest port in the United States) didn’t need to either rebuild or recover from this disaster; they were willing to just let the city sink in the swamp and disappear. Steve King, the Klansman without a mask, was one of them; yesterday he said something similar again about how everyone affected by Katrina sat around waiting for help while “in Iowa we help each other.”

Really? Fuck you, you racist faux Christian piece of shit, and I do hope you have a lovely time in hell when you get there.

And despite the fact that Iowans clearly continue to reelect this excrement to Congress because he is a racist bottom-feeding monster, they still deserve our sympathy and our support and our help in this time of disaster for them.

Sorry you don’t have a soul, Mr. Congressman.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Tusk

As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve always had issues with my weight and, by extension, my body. I am trying–the goal is, anyway–to get down to 200 pounds. I am currently hovering at a plateau of 212, with fluctuations running from 210-215. Tuesday I tried on a pair of pants I’ve not been able to wear for several years and they fit comfortably; yesterday was the true acid test of my black Levi’s–which I haven’t gotten on in almost four years.

Not only did they fit, they fit fairly comfortably…and as the day progressed so began the ever-green struggle to keep pulling them up constantly as they slid down. I don’t know what that means–other than the reality that jeans do stretch when you wear them–but I’d like to think my body shape has changed. That fifteen or so pounds I lost has made a difference.

Huzzah! Now, of course, I should use that as motivation to improve my bad eating habits and start going to the gym with some degree of frequency…and also need to keep reminding myself that no matter how sore I may get, or how tired, or how little I want to lift the weights–I always feel better afterwards.

I worked a little on the WIP yesterday–not as much as I would have like or preferred, but so it goes, you know? I am still reconstructing that first chapter, which, now that I’ve started pulling it apart and trying to put it back together to try to make it more compulsively readable, isn’t quite as good as I may have thought it was when I originally conceptualized, and wrote, it. A lot of that probably has to do with originally conceiving the book as first person/past tense; and now I am shifting it to first person-present tense, so the reflective tone of the opening paragraphs no longer works.

The opening sentence, which I’d loved, has to go: My mother ruined my life the summer before my senior year of high school.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good opening sentence, but it doesn’t really work anymore. Choosing to write in the present tense–which most y/a fiction I’ve read recently seems to be in–changes that dynamic; plus I always seem, at least in the early draft stages, to have a tendency to create a reflective, looking-back framing device for the story, like my character is remembering how it all happened from the vantage point of the adult he now is–and that’s just reflexive and lazy writing on my part. (It’s not a bad device, I’m not saying that by any means; but I use it too frequently, or try to, at any rate. I blame reading Herman Raucher’s Summer of ’42, which used this device beautifully; as did Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. Perhaps someday I will use it when it is appropriate and will work. I need to reread the Raucher; I bet it doesn’t hold up–primarily since it’s theme is about a teenaged boy who has sex with a woman in her twenties and he basically stalks her; hmmm, there could be a really interesting essay in there…)

I hope to get that first chapter revised, restructured, and rewritten this evening, since it’s one of my two short days this week; and tomorrow I can move on to the next chapters. I  started reading The Woman Who Fed The Dogs, part of my TWFest homework, and I also need to get that finished so I can read the last bit of my homework, Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife. 

Always, always, always so much to do!

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me!

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Silly Love Songs

Weekends are never really long enough, are they?

Here it is Monday morning and my first full normal week, and maybe–I think it’s possible I may have finally adjusted back. Of course, next weekend (not this coming one) is the Weekend o’ Festivals; which will of course throw me off-course yet again now that I am getting back to normal.

Hurray!

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’m not tired this morning; I went to bed early last night as I was sleepy (before ten!) and slept deeply and well and restfully; I woke up slightly before my alarm but I was so relaxed and comfortable I kept hitting snooze–there are many mornings when I don’t want to leave the warm nesting cocoon of blankets in my oh-so-comfortable bed, and today was one of those mornings.

But I did get up, I did drink a lot of coffee, and I’ll be departing for work relatively soon. In the dark. Where no one can you hear you if you call for help.

Sorry, had a Shirley Jackson moment.

But the big news of the weekend is I was able to finish reading what is surely going to be one of the top crime novels of the year, Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister.

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I betrayed my sister while standing on the main stairs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a beaded Versace gown (borrowed) and five-inch stiletto heels (never worn again).

At the time, I never could have scored an invitation–or been able to afford a ticket–to the Met Gala in my own right. I was the guest of my boss, Catherine Lancaster, the editor in chief of City Woman magazine. She wasn’t even my boss. She was my boss’s boss’s boss. And somehow she had personally invited me

Well, not personally. She had her assistant swing by my cubicle to deliver the message, which turned out to be a good thing, because my immediate RSVP was laughter. Not even a normal-person laugh. More like a snort. Even back then, the so-called Party of the Year was paparazzi porn, a celebrity-soaked, fashion-focused spectacle. The idea of me–the bookish new member of the writing staff–hobnobbing with rock stars, Oscar winners, and supermodels was ridiculous. So I snort-laughed.

So, Alafair Burke.

Alafair has been in my TBR pile forever; I’ve been wanting to read her Ellie Hatcher series and earlier works for quite some time. I don’t recall precisely why I decided to start working my way through her canon with The Ex, but I was SO GLAD I DID. The Ex was so amazing, made a lot of Best of the Year lists, and also was an Edgar finalist for Best Novel.

Last year came The Wife, which was also brilliant.

So, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to her new one (dropping officially April 16), The Better Sister, and once I started reading it last week I really didn’t want to stop reading it. It’s part of my homework for the Weekend o’ Festivals; I am moderating a panel that weekend on which one of the speakers will be she.

It’s fantastic, y’all. Seriously.

The set-up for the novel is basically this: two sisters, several years apart in age. The older sister, Nicky, is a bit of a fuck-up; the younger sister, Chloe, is a Type-A who makes other Type-A’s look like slackers. She was worked her way up from being a staff writer at City Woman magazine to editor of another female-centric, but not as big, magazine. Chloe recently has done a series of articles called #themtoo about women who have been victimized but aren’t as high-profile as some of the cases we were seeing with #metoo. This has earned Chloe the scorn of Internet trolls. Her husband (Adam) is a lawyer at a major firm, but he used to be a prosecutor. He was kind of pressured by Chloe to move into the higher-paying world of private law; she also makes more money than he does. They have a teenaged son, Ethan.

The catch? Ethan is Nicky’s son; Nicky was Adam’s first wife.

As I said earlier, Nicky was a fuck-up and Chloe is the Type-A. Of course Chloe steps in when they divorce and Adam gets sole custody of Ethan. And while this might seem lifted from the script pages of Guiding Light (Reva married every male Lewis at some point), Burke not only makes this far-fetched notion work, but it totally makes sense.

But we’re seriously starting with a fucked-up family dynamic…so when Chloe comes home from a party to their home in the Hamptons to find Adam’s dead body, stabbed to death and the house trashed…secrets and lies start coming out, and I swear to God, this plot was like riding a rollercoaster–ups and downs and swings and switches and twists until by the time I reached the end I was completely riveted and not even remotely certain which way was up and which was down…and I had to know the answers.

This book is amazing, absolutely amazing. Every character rings true, the dialogue is stunning, and the plot is so intricately plotted that one almost needs a whiteboard to keep track of everything.

Alafair Burke is a national treasure, and this book is a GIFT to us all. Buy it. Read it. Tell your friends.

We Don’t Get Along

Music has always been a part of my life, and has, in many ways, influenced my writing. I’ve gotten book and short story ideas from songs I’ve enjoyed; I write more effectively and more efficiently when I’m listening to music; and I used to go into what I always referred to as the zone when I was writing with music on. I used to put several CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle before sitting down to the computer; hours later I’d come out of it with several thousand or so words written and the stereo had stopped playing.

I don’t allow myself a lot of regrets in life–life is too short to spend time mourning things you didn’t get to do–but one I do allow myself is having no musical training. I cannot play any instruments, I cannot read music, and I have no talent for it whatsoever. I thought at one point I could possibly write lyrics…but no, I have no gift for lyrics or poetry, either.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy music, and I do.

Which brings me to our next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Diane Vallere’s “We Don’t Get Along.”

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There’s more than one way to tie a knot, I thought. I yanked on the ropes, putting my weight into the move to increase the tension and tighten the cord. Kristine Chamberlain’s wide, brown eyes watched me in the reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror that was propped against the opposite wall. That was about the only thing she could do. The gag in her mouth kept her from a verbal response.

“Does this hurt?” I asked. “I don’t want it to hurt. It’s important to me that you’re not hurt. You’re not hurt, right?”

Kristine shook her head.

“Good. I didn’t want to tie you up.” Kristine raised one eyebrow. “This was Morgan’s idea. He said you wouldn’t be home. I told him to make sure. I told him I’ve been watch- ing your patterns every night for the past two weeks, so I could learn your schedule be- fore we picked a time to break in—a time when you’d be out. We needed to be patient. Morgan is impatient, so here we are.”

Kristine nodded again. Her eyes didn’t indicate fear. That was good. Fear made people do crazy things, and if tonight was going to go off without a hitch, everybody needed to act exactly as expected.

Kristine Chamberlain was a once-hot eighties pop star who’d lost her fame but held onto her wealth. She lived in the Hollywood Hills, where any number of houses fit the profile of potential target. She was like every other formerly famous celebrity hiding out in a too big house with too much stuff that cost too much money.

I was very pleased to see Diane Vallere in the table of contents, as she was an author whose work I’d been wanting to read. I have several of her novels in my TBR pile–I think the first two of her Costume Shop mystery series. She’s quite prolific, as you can see by clicking on that link, and if “We Don’t Get Along” is a barometer of her writing ability, I have a lot of hours of pleasure ahead of me in reading her backlist.

“We Don’t Get Along” is a very tightly written story, and quite a lot of fun. Morgan and Ginger (Ginger is a our POV character) are a married couple who burgle the homes of the wealthy in the Hollywood Hills…but after ten years of marriage they are calling it quits, after one last job–robbing former pop star Kristine Chamberlain’s home. As the burglary progresses, Ginger takes us through their “meet-cute” and then the years of marriage, from the happy early years to the slow growing realization that not only do they not get along, they don’t like each other very much. I love the entire concept of married-couple-as-criminals, and Diane does a great job here of fleshing them out and making Ginger–a criminal–not only likable but someone the reader can root for; we want her to succeed and get away from her loser husband.

And then the story takes a turn.

Great, great fun.

Mercenary

As I have said before, reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s indirectly led me to Spotify, which led me to rediscovering the magic of the Go-Go’s again after many years, and then led me on to rediscovering other 80’s music I loved, like the Cars and, just Friday, Josie Cotton. Josie Cotton is probably best known for her her cover of the Go-Go’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” (which could never be released or recorded today, but at the time was kind of in-your-face and cool) as well as fronting the band playing the prom at the end of the terrific teen movie Valley Girl (which also should have been a much bigger hit than it was; but calling it Valley Girl was an attempt to cash-in on Moon Zappa’s novelty hit “Valley Girl”, but the movie was actually so much better than that; it was one of my favorite teen movies of the 1980’s and also starred a very young and beautiful Nicolas Cage in what may have been his first starring role). I was listening to two of her albums Friday night and yesterday (Convertible Music and From the Hip) and marveling that she wasn’t a bigger star than she was; she certainly had fun, upbeat music with lyrics that bit down hard, and she also had a terrific sense of personal style that should have caught on in the age of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

Go figure.

Which leads me to the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Bryon Quertermous’ “Mercenary.”

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“They asked for my dental records,” Lodi Meyers said, “so they can identify my body if he kills me.”

Andre Taylor sat across from her at a diner on the outskirts of downtown Detroit. “You really want to talk about this now? With me?”

“I don’t have any other options,” she said, tears giving way to an angry flush across her cheeks. “They’re putting together this moronic safety plan for me while insisting there’s not enough evidence to keep him in prison.”

Andre flexed the fingers of his beefy, gnarled hands and picked up his coffee cup without taking a drink. The bleached white of the cup contrasted with the dark black skin of his hands, which were shaking enough to splash a bit of the freshly poured coffee onto the table.

“I’m really not the person you should be talking to about this.”

Lodi reached her hand across the table and clutched Andre’s wrist. “That’s exactly why we’re talking.”

Andre put his coffee cup down and stood up. “This was a mistake.”

Lodi grabbed his wrist again, this time more aggressively. “There’s a reason you showed up even though this is a terrible idea. You want to make sure I haven’t told any- one what you did.”

Bryon Quertermous has published two novels–Murder Boy and Riot Load–which are kind of hard to classify. They’re noir and hard-boiled, but there’s a twisted, slightly demented sense of humor about them that reminds me of Victor Gischler’s work (which you should also read).

“Mercenary” is a terrific tale, built around two people–a woman and a man–who are tied together by the weirdest connection (saying anything more would be spoilerish); she’s a former pain clinic manager and he’s a bail bondsman. Her husband is about to be released on bail–and plans to kill her. The rest of the tale, as she tries to convince the bail bondsman to help save her life, plays out as we find out more about their connection, why the husband is in jail, and see just how far Lodi is willing to go to protect herself and her daughter–who is in a coma. There’s a lot here, and Quertermous tells his story sparingly and carefully, with fewer words than most would have used, and yet I can’t help but feel there’s even more to be mined here; this easily could have been a novel. Instead, it’s an enormously satisfying dark tale with a sardonic sense of humor that was quite fun to read.

September Morn

So, yesterday I was lazing around, trying to fix a technology issue (involving calls to Tech Support and so forth) but not letting it get to me–despite the disruption to my day that this was causing. I did feel myself starting to slide down the slippery slope from irritation/frustration to the first stage of anger, but I distracted myself by watching something on television. I’d intended to spend the day–well, that doesn’t matter; suffice it to say my frustration was growing. I then watched something on television that completely shifted my mindset (more on that later); when Tech Support called back I simply suggested–since what needed to reboot wasn’t finished–that we simply call it a day and try again tomorrow at noon. Of course, not ten minutes after ending that call the final phase began–which meant, as I laughed at myself, that had I had them call me back in another two hours, we could finish resolving the problem. It’s kind of funny, but really–I wouldn’t have wanted to do with it two hours later, either.

But when I noticed that the final stage had started, and I laughed about it, I looked down at my notepad and opened another tab to do a search…and as soon as the results came up I just stared at my computer screen in stupefaction as the key to the next Scotty book opened a door in my brain. I think I mentioned this the other day, but there are two stories I want to tell for the next Scotty book; two different crimes, but how to connect them together? I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this for years now, years, and just looking at the search results page triggered exactly how to do it. Both stories will intertwine perfectly now.

And this? This is why writers drink.

But nevertheless, it was a good feeling, and made my evening. I like writing books with complicated plots, and I’ve always felt that the Scotty books (after Mardi Gras Mambo) weren’t as complex as the pre-Katrina ones. Bourbon Street Blues wasn’t complicated, but Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo were…and after Katrina I simplified the plots a lot. Royal Street Reveillon is a return to complicated plots and subplots, and if the series is going to continue, I have to be able to further challenge myself when I am writing the books. Part of the reason I went off-contract was because, despite the fact that I like routines and order, I felt the deadline treadmill I’d climbed on was a rut and I was becoming far too complacent with the work I was producing. (I’m not saying I’m not proud of the work nor that it wasn’t good work; and maybe that’s just all a part of my Imposter Syndrome complex, but I always feel like my work could be better, that’s all I am saying; and whether not writing on deadline is making the work better remains to be seen…but it’s not as stressful for me to create the work as it was.)

You never can win. I was just thinking that had I been on a deadline with Royal Street Reveillon, it would have wound up being a shorter book and a major subplot would have had to have been cut out from it. Maybe the longer version is more self-indulgent; I don’t know. But I feel good about the book; satisfied with it…and it’s been a while since I’ve written a book I felt this satisfied about. And that’s going to have to be my measuring yardstick going forward. How do I feel about the work? I know I’m not going to please everyone with it, and when people give me valid reasons for not liking it I will listen and decide whether it is something I should take into consideration going forward, or not.

This week I plan on getting back to work on the WIP. Today’s agenda is spending the rest of the morning reading Alafair Burke’s brilliant The Better Sister, cleaning out my email inbox, and rereading the first ten chapters I’ve written on the WIP. I also want to spend some time cleaning today; I still haven’t done the floors, and I’d wanted to do the staircase as well. I feel rested this morning–although I could probably sleep for another hour or so–and that’s kind of nice. I’m still not sleeping completely through the night, but some good sleep is better than none.

I watched a few more episodes of The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and while I am enjoying it, it got me to thinking–as documentaries are wont to do–about sex trafficking and the abduction of children for whatever reason (Lori Roy addressed this very beautifully in Gone Too Long, and I will repeat myself: you need to preorder that book because you will love it) and how privilege comes into play with dead or missing children. Maybe at some point I, too, will write about missing children but at the same time I don’t want to seem exploitative…therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? It also astounds me that no one ever questioned the McCanns and their friends’ stories earlier than they did. But the big question for me–and I’ve not finished watching, but I know this story has no resolution–is, how did they get rid of the body and how were they able to do it? How did they know where to dispose of it?

Also, as I watched, I couldn’t help remembering Alex Marwood’s superb novel The Darkest Secret, which you should also read, Constant Reader, if you haven’t already (and if you haven’t, all the shame should be heaped upon you).

I suppose the whole privilege thing has been on my mind lately because of the college admissions bribery scandal that dropped this week. I, too, have heard the nonsensical complaints about “affirmative action” over the years–how students of color got to go to college for free and took the spot of a white student with a higher GPA; how allowances were made for minorities at the expense of white kids; how a person of color (or woman) got a job a white man should have; on and on it goes, lie after lie after mistruth after falsehood, all with the common denominator of no one is as oppressed as the straight white male. The public outcry about this admissions scandal was a bit of a surprise for me–what about legacies, or wealthy people who basically donate money to colleges so their kids can get admitted regardless of grades or abilities? That has been going on for years, and in particular at the elitist Ivy League colleges. One founding principle this country was founded upon was a mistrust of elites and a class-based society; the founders did not want their new country, their United States, to have the same problems with elites and classes that the mother society, that of Great Britain, had. And yet…here we are, with moneyed people convincing the poorer and middle classes to vote against their own best interests so the moneyed, privileged class can become wealthier and more privileged.

Ah, well.

And on that note, I should probably return to the spice mines. I am running out of time to get my moderator homework done, and that is a big no-no. I mean, I am sure I could lead a great discussion without having read the books–I’ve done it before–but I prefer to be better prepared, plus the books look fantastic.

God knows I’m loving Alafair’s.

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