Stick-Up

Working at home on this ruby Tuesday, so I didn’t need to get up super-early or have to deal with anything like, you know, having to gulp down steaming hot coffee so I could prise my eyelids apart this morning in order to write this blog entry. Do I have high hopes for the day? Sure I do. Will I inevitably be disappointed? Most definitely. I slept really well last night–the bed was still incredibly comfortable this morning–and I feel revitalized in some ways, refreshed in others, and snapped out of whatever I was feeling recently; good sleep and not waking up to an alarm certainly does make a difference, I think, in almost every conceivable way. I was, indeed, tired when I got home from work yesterday–as I suspected I might be yesterday morning when I got up–and so spent the evening relaxing and watching television (Gaslit, The Baby, Tokyo Vice) until I went to bed relatively early. My brain is still not completely awake this morning, but it’s getting there. I have an errand to run this morning–or at some point during the day–but other than that I will be here doing my data entry and then working on my book after my day’s work for the day job is completed and my hours done. I should probably try to get packed today for the trip–get that out of the way, since the plan is to get up early Thursday and be on the road as soon as possible–as well as try to get everything wrapped up that I can before I go away for four days.

I’m not dreading the drive as much as one might think, to be honest. Now that I’ve discovered the magic of audiobooks (it’s funny how I always resist something because I’ve made up my mind I won’t like it, and then end up liking it a lot; to be fair, I was worried about listening to books in the car from a fear that I would get so absorbed in listening I wouldn’t pay attention to driving–that did not turn out to be the case) for long drives, the drives are a lot more enjoyable. I actually do not mind highway driving as much as one might think, given my utter antipathy for driving and my fears of the ignorance of 90% of the other drivers on the road, but if it’s a nice day–one thing you can definitely say about the South, it’s beautiful to drive through. The mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky make me a bit nervous when I drive through there once night has fallen, but the sun sets far later now than it does when I drive up in November so it should actually still be light out when I get to my parents’ Thursday evening. The lengthy drives for me now are about recovery, because they wear me out a lot more than they ever did before, which is undoubtedly part of being older (the thing that truly sucks about getting older is you’re never sure about things–“is this something I should get checked out, or am I just older?” It doesn’t help when you bring things up to your doctor and he says, “you’re getting older.”) but I am also not going to worry about “making time” and getting there as quickly as I can. If I have to stop, I have to stop.

Getting there isn’t a race or a contest. There’s no prize for getting there fifteen minutes earlier than planned. I really need to learn to be more patient. Why am I always in such a hurry? Can an old dog learn a new trick?

Anything is possible.

My mind does wander sometimes as I listen to the audiobooks–it often does on long drives–and hopefully this drive will help me get some new ideas for current and future projects the way it usually does–although it can be frustrating not being able to write ideas down immediately, as sometimes they get forgotten. But I like to believe that even if I have an idea that I forget, just having thought about it at that time means it will pop up again at some point. Over the past ten to fifteen years, driving through Alabama–either going north or coming south–helped me structure the story and create the characters for Bury Me in Shadows, for example–so maybe, just maybe, this drive will help me pull together some ideas for any one of the insane amounts of projects I have on-going at the moment. One can certainly hope, at any rate. I am not kidding when I say that Bury Me in Shadows was in my head since sometime in the mid to late 1980’s; I don’t remember when I wrote the original short story that eventually grew and developed into the book, but it was during that time period.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone, and I will chat at you again tomorrow morning.

Time Changes Things

I was a late adaptor to audiobooks; just like I was with ebooks (which I still kind of recoil away from, for some unknown reason; during the early stages of pandemic shutdown I revisited Mary Stewart and several other favorites on my Kindle or iBook apps and enjoyed them heartily–yet for some reason I never go back to the iPad to read…probably the enormous stack of hard copies in my TBR pile glaring at me from directly across the room from my chair). I always worried, you see, that I would get so caught up in listening to the book that I wouldn’t pay attention to the road, or my mind would wander and I’d miss something important. Several years ago on a trip to Kentucky I listened to A Game of Thrones on the way up and End of Watch (by Stephen King) on the way back; both turned out to be highly pleasant experiences and yes, while my mind did wander at times–my subconscious was listening so I never got lost when I was able to give the book my attention again. The last time I drove to Kentucky I listened to Foundation on the way up and Donna Andrews’ delightful The Falcon Always Wings Twice on the way back. Audiobooks make the time pass much faster than listening to music and singing along (I am quite the rock star in my car), and so, when it was time to drive up to Birmingham this past weekend, I selected Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger to listen to on the way up and back; it wasn’t quite long enough to last the entire drive…but I also had some Lisa Unger short stories downloaded as well, and I figured once the Lutz was finished, I could listen to one of those.

But the Lutz…my God. Why on earth did I wait so long to read/listen this impressive work?

When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body. I pumped his barrel chest and blew into his purple lips. It was the first time in years our lips had touched and I didn’t recoil.

I gave up after ten minutes. Frank Dubois was gone. Lying there all peaceful and quiet, he almost looked in slumber, but Frank was noisier asleep than he was awake. Honestly, if I had known what kind of snorer he was going to turn into, I never would have married him. If I could do it all over again, I never would have married him even if he slept like an angel. If I could do it all over again, there are so many things I would do differently. But looking at Frank then, so still and not talking, I didn’t mind him so much. It seemed like a good time to say good-bye. I poured a shot of Frank’s special bourbon, sat down on Frank’s faux-suede La-Z-Boy, and had a drink to honor the dead.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I was taking a shower when Frank died. As far as I could tell, he fell down the staircase all on his own. He had been suffering from vertigo lately. Convenient, I know. And I doubt he mentioned it to anyone. If I had waited for the place and told them the truth, maybe life could have continued as normal. Minus Frank.

This book was recommended by practically everyone I know; I’m not really sure why I never got around to reading it. I did read her next novel, The Swallows, and absolutely loved it; I also have her new one sitting on my coffee table waiting for me to get to it.

And as I said, now that I’ve listened to this one, I am really pissed off at myself for taking so long to get to it. I am not joking. When I arrived at the hotel in Birmingham on Friday, I literally stayed in the car until the chapter finished. When I got in the car to drive to Wetumpka Sunday morning, I even left earlier than I needed to in my eagerness to get back to the book, it was that good–and I had no idea how it was all going to turn out.

That opening! How do you stop reading after that? Who is this woman? Why does she have to go on the run after her husband’s accidental death? Who and what else is she running from? And most importantly–who is she? We’re never sure who “Tanya” really is; she picks up and discards new identities (who knew it could be so simply done? Even if it’s only temporary? But something bad happened in her past–something she is still terrified about, and doesn’t want the police to find her, so clearly it’s pretty fucking bad. As she goes on the run yet again, we start to understand who she is, in some ways–there are some things we’ll simply have to wait for Lutz to let us know about “Tanya”–but you can’t help but root for her. She has a sense of humor about her horrible situation, and you also can’t help but like her, whatever it is she did in her past. As the narrative continues, we are also fed some email communications between “Jo” and “Ryan”–one quickly picks up that at some point in her past, “Tanya” was also “Jo”–that rather cryptically talks about the past and the original situation that set her on the run.

And while “Tanya” never talks about what that was, or much about her past, we do get some information from her on that score: a distant mother who was alcoholic and went through men like Kleenex; an unstable home environment, she used to swim competitively–and each new piece of the puzzle fits securely into place.

As the book continues, she breaks the law to survive from time to time, and each new identity she takes on comes with its own challenges and difficulties and dangers. We follow her from one end of the country to another and back again; it’s almost like a series of vignettes, really, strung together into one over-arching narrative that you can’t stop reading. How is she going to get out of this? you wonder every single time, and the book just keeps barreling along until all the threads of her many lives come together at the very end, with a startling final twist just before the final resolution.

Do yourself a favor, Constant Reader, and get every Lisa Lutz book and read it. I certainly intend to.

All I Know About You

Well, home again and back to reality. Sigh.

I had a lovely time this past weekend. I drove up to Birmingham Friday afternoon for Murder in the Magic City, a lovely event at the Homewood Library (this was my third visit in five years, I think) organized by Margaret Fenton, and the drove down to Wetumpka for Murder on the Menu, a fundraising event for the Wetumpka Public Library organized by Tammy Lynn. I always have a great time whenever I go, and there’s inevitably friends invited that I already know, and then I get to come home having made some new friends (and more books to be added to the TBR pile). For some reason, these two particular audiences respond very nicely to me–which is lovely, and in my post “just turned the book in” malaise, was exactly what I needed. Everyone is just so kind, and they buy and read my books and like them and they like to tell me how much they enjoy my books and when I am on stage; it’s just really, really, lovely.

Who doesn’t love being told they’re wonderful?

But as always I had trouble sleeping in the hotel–I did get some sleep, but not much–and so my own bed, after the slightly less than five hour drive (it would have been even less had there not be highway construction on I-10 at the Mississippi/Louisiana border that brought traffic to a screeching halt and when it started moving again, it was at a snail’s pace). I listened to Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger on the road coming and going (finished it right around that traffic slowdown, so while I was stopped I cued up Lisa Unger’s longer short story “All My Darkest Impulses,” which I didn’t finish by the time I got home), and it was amazing. I had read and loved her book The Swallows (which was fan-fucking-tastic; her latest is sitting on my end table next to my easy chair), so I thought “Everyone loved The Passenger, I should listen to it on this drive” and boy, am I glad I did. (There will be more on that later.) I also read a book called The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics by Bruce J. Schulman, which I greatly enjoyed (but didn’t always agree with) and there will be more on that later as well.

As always, I loved listening to other writers talking about writing and ideas and their own work; it’s always inspiring, and of course I was madly scribbling notes as ideas popped into my head while I listened (I also was getting ideas on the drive, like I always do)–titles and characters and thoughts about the story I have to finish writing today, “The Rosary of Broken Promises”–it’s due today; I’d hope to do some work on it over the weekend but I was so tired from not sleeping–not to mention how draining being “on” is for me (public appearances cause me a great deal of anxiety and there’s always nervousness and stress and worry)–that whenever I made it back to my room I just lay down on the bed and opened my book. When I got home last night, my easy chair felt so amazing–I watched some of the Olympic team figure skating event (the US got silver! USA! USA! USA!)–and unpacked and did the laundry and went to bed; oh how marvelous did my bed feel! I slept deeply and well and comfortably, and didn’t really want to get up this morning, to be honest. (Even now I am resisting the siren song of my bed and blankets; today may be a “sit in the chair and make condom packs” kind of work-at-home day while my batteries continue to recharge–or I may burn another vacation day; I haven’t really decided yet. I hate that trips require a recovery day for me now.) It’s always hard readjusting back to reality when I come home from a writing event, but it’s even harder from these two events because the audiences are so warm and kind and lovely to me that I kind of want to stay in that bubble for a little while longer, you know?

And now I have a gazillion emails to deal with, a house to get in order, day job duties to get done, and a story to write. Back to the daily grind, back to reality, back to my usual every day existence.

So, I need to head into the spice mines here. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

Going Down for the Third Time

Wednesday and your biweekly Pay-the-Bills Day for one Gregalicious.

It doesn’t feel like Wednesday to me, though; I’m still all messed up with my days of the week with the change in my work schedule. (I had to keep reminding myself last night that it was, indeed, Tuesday and not Monday.) I have to pay the bills today, finish revising the last chapter of the book, do some final tweaks on it, and turn it in. (Naturally, last night I was already breaking it down and figuring out how to fix it and make it better–slow down, Sparky, see what your editor says first….although it never hurts to prepare yourself and do your own critique.)

We finished Archive 81 last night, and it was interesting. The season ended on a cliffhanger, from which they can hang season 2, but I really enjoyed the show from beginning to end. I appreciated particularly the filming esthetic–you never realize how used you are to background soundtracks until you watch something that doesn’t have one, and it’s so odd it makes the show seem off-kilter, which was the exact right touch for this show. I think we’re going to move on to the second season of one of our Spanish language shows from Mexico next; the second season of Dark Desire drops today, and it stars our favorite Spanish-language hunk, Alejandro Speitzer (trust me, gorgeous)–although it’s been so long since we watched the first season (and have watched so many other shows in the meantime) that I don’t really remember a whole lot about the show, except it’s a well done crime show with all kinds of wild twists and turns along the way. I also remember the first season ended with a big surprise twist at the end, which was incredibly fun because it changed everything that had come before–always effective if you can pull it off, and far too ambitious for me to ever try.

Well, never say never.

It’s miserable in New Orleans today–wet and gray and drizzly, and yet warm at the same time (rainy weather always changes the temperature; if it’s already warm the rain makes it cold; if it’s cold the rain warms things up. It doesn’t make sense to me but I am also not a meteorologist). I’m going to make groceries–not much, really, just a few things–on the way home from the office tonight, and I was kind of lazy last night so tonight I have to do some clean-up around the apartment. My sense of days and time is completely fouled up; my default keeps telling me this is Tuesday and not Wednesday, which means I have to leave for Alabama in two days not three–which I think is why I messed up last night and didn’t clean the kitchen like I should have. I may go ahead and pack tonight as well to get it over with; one less thing to worry about tomorrow night after work, or Friday morning before I leave town (the drive to Birmingham is actually the same drive Jake makes in Bury Me in Shadows, which will make for some interesting thinking in the car). I’ve also downloaded Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger to listen to in the car; I may also make some phone calls while I am on the road. Stranger things have happened, and probably will again.

But I am very pleased that I am gradually making progress on the to-do list and everything that needs to get done. The list seems to endlessly refresh, alas, but I suppose that will always be the case until I am in an oxygen tent in the ICU waiting for the Angel of Death. (Note to self: update the to-do list.) But I still am having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that not only is today Wednesday but that doesn’t mean I do not have to come into the office tomorrow. Change is hard!

And on that note, methinks it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart

Saturday!

I slept very well last night. I got my day job work done during the day, I got two more chapters revised and edited last night, and Paul and I watched the latest episode of Servant last night (which is very bizarre and we are no longer sure we are following it, but it’s well produced and well acted, so it’s always interesting to watch), and then I watched a short National Geographic documentary about the Renaissance Popes (an episode from their series Pope), which was interesting–but it didn’t cover much more ground than Barbara Tuchman covered in her section on them in March of Folly.

Today dawns bright and sunny with a gorgeous, cloudless pigeon’s egg sky out there. I have some emails I have to do this morning, and I have to run some errands (prescriptions, mail) this morning (I am saving groceries for tomorrow). I also have to buy a new all-in-one printer as my latest one lost wifi capabilities yesterday for some reason, ergo rendering it utterly useless for my needs (just as well, I had just run out of ink and needed to buy more; money saved by the death of the printer) so when I go run my errands, the last thing I will do is swing by Office Depot on St. Charles to purchase a new one. I think they have a decent one at a reasonable price in stock; if they don’t, I’ll have to check either Best Buy or Target, neither of which is an option I particularly want to indulge myself in at the moment. Although a trip to the West Bank would also mean I could get lunch at Sonic, so…decisions, decisions. (Paul and I were, in fact, just last night talking about how we don’t really eat fast food at all anymore–he stopped at McDonalds on his way home from getting his hair cut in the Quarter yesterday) I’ve gained back some of the weight I lost last year, alas; not sure how that happened, precisely, but have no doubt that there’s a connection to me not going to the gym in months, for sure. Once this book is done….or at least under more control, at any rate…maybe on Monday afternoon when I am finished with my work-at-home duties. I am hoping to get three chapters of the book done today, which means I have to write/revise and polish the final two chapters over the next few days as well as go through and polish and tweak (hence the need for a printer) before finally turning it in and diving into the Bouchercon anthology work, which needs to be concluded by the end of February. I also have a short story due in early February–and next weekend I am going to Alabama for the Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu weekend in Birmingham and Wetumpka. (Note to self: get an audiobook for the drive.)

So much to do, so little time, so little opportunity for procrastination, laziness and pushing things off until tomorrow, right?

Heavy heaving sigh.

But there’s also cleaning to do around here, filing as always, and some book organization is also needed. I am not feeling particularly overwhelmed in any sense this morning, which is always a really good thing, and I feel confident that I can get everything finished that I need to get finished as well as get a jump on future things that need to get finished. I am really looking forward to spending some time every week getting rid of paper files, too–you have no idea how much I am looking forward to that; realistically, there’s no reason for me to keep paper files on anything unless it’s something I am currently working on; otherwise it can remain electronic; and realistically, I can donate a back-up hard drive to an archive mush easier than I can sort and organized paper files…and if they don’t want that, well, then that’s the end of that, you know.

And I still will have gotten rid of all the fucking paper files.

So, win-win?

And on that note tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Breathe

Good morning, Friday. How are you today? I am feeling good, thank you for asking.

I got a very good night’ sleep last night, and I have, as always, a lot to get done over the weekend (and today) before I head to Kentucky for the holiday on Monday. I want to drop off more books for the library sale tomorrow, have tons of writing to do (as always), and I would like to be able to finish reading Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon, which I am deeply enjoying. I have a stack of cozy mysteries to take with me on this trip–Owl Be Home for Christmas by Donna Andrews; Pruning the Dead by Julia Henry; Better off Wed by Laura Durham, and A Disguise to Die For by Diana Vallere, plus any number of them on my iPad as ebooks (I’m taking the iPad with me on the chance that I run out of books, which is a horrible fate to contemplate)–and I also need to figure out how to work the check out audiobooks from the library for the phone thing so I can listen to a book both coming and going. (Eleven hours in the car both directions)

And now that some things have settled and been settled, I can now go ahead and officially announce that I have signed a one-book contract for a potential new series set here in New Orleans with Crooked Lane Books; that is the book I am currently working on, having had to put Chlorine aside yet again to make room to write a new book. This is a series with a straight woman main character–a widow with twin sons who’ve just left for LSU, leaving her with a bit of empty nest syndrome and a beautiful old Victorian house in the Irish Channel that now is much too big for her, who gets an unexpected inheritance from a great-uncle of her late husband’s whom she didn’t know even existed. The book will be published under the name T. G. Herren, to differentiate it from my queer books and series. I just got the sketch art for the book cover, and I love it. The book is called A Streetcar Named Murder, and will be released in the fall of 2022. I will be talking about this book a lot over the course of the next year, so prepare thyself, Constant Reader. (T. G. for those who may be wondering, are my initials only reversed; longtime reader know that I reversed my names for my erotica pseudonym Todd Gregory, hence the initials T. G.) My editor is the exceptional Terri Bischoff, whom I have always wanted to work with, and now I am not only working with her on this but also on the Bouchercon anthology for Minneapolis 2022 (we are co-editors), Land of 10000 Crimes.

Life is pretty good for one Gregalicious at the moment, seriously. And I am really looking forward to my January release, #shedeservedit, while being incredibly nervous at the same time. I also got an invitation to contribute to another anthology that pays well in my inbox this morning, so I am feeling kind of good about myself…I give it a day or two. (Bury Me in Shadows has a great review in the next issue of Mystery Scene magazine, which thrilled me to no end when I saw it last night. More on that later.)

I also booked another trip to New York for January yesterday, which is exciting as well. I also made my hotel arrangements for a return engagement to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu–the Birmingham/Wetumpka one-two punch I did in consecutive years a while back, so you can see why I feel like my career no longer feels stagnant or in stasis at the moment. And yes, the goal for 2022 is to finally land an agent once and for all. I think Chlorine is the book that will do that for me; we shall see.

I got caught up on Foundation yesterday, and I am really impressed with how well the show turned out, considering how much it has veered away from the books. I’d like to read the books again, frankly–oooh, audiobooks for the car!–and I also watched another episode of The Lost Symbol, which frankly I don’t pay as much attention to as I perhaps should while I am watching. It’s very well done, but the plot is far-fetched (which is about the only thing I do remember from reading the book), but watching the show has made me curious about seeing the Tom Hanks films based on the other Dan Brown novels, which I didn’t really care about before. That’s something, I suppose.

And on that note it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you again tomorrow.

Sweet Summer Blue and Gold

WEDNESDAY!

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that I only have another two work days left before I am on vacation yet again; maybe that’s why I was so rested and full of energy yesterday as opposed to tired, worn, and old the way I usually feel on Tuesdays. I guess how this day will play out remains to be seen. I also managed to get caught up with reviewing the books I read whilst on my trip–I would have done this sooner, but my wireless keyboard stopped functioning (writing on a laptop is difficult for me; I’ve always used a separate keyboard) and so I ordered another one yesterday that will hopefully arrive before it’s time to go to Kentucky so I can take it with me so I can actually get work done while I am there.

And I am behind, as always, on everything.

But I am making progress, which is always pleasant and a relief of sorts. My book-buying compulsion is getting out of hand again, so I am going to have to do some more serious pruning of the books-on-hand this weekend and over the next few evenings, so I can drop off some boxes to the library sale this weekend. Yay! And I have some of my stuff-to-do more under control now than I did before, so again, it’s always lovely to make some progress as each day passes. It’s hard to believe next week is Thanksgiving; it kind of shook me up when I realized it on Monday that I only have a week between trips–and will be traveling again in mid-January (New York again) and will most likely be heading to Left Coast Crime in April as well (I think it’s in Albuquerque?)–barring another variant and another spike or wave of COVID infections. We got caught up on The Morning Show last night, just as the pandemic is beginning to break in the US–yay for reliving that horror, but they are doing a really good job with it, and I am not sure how I feel about their take on “cancel culture”–as someone who the right tried to cancel, back before it was called cancel culture, and yes, I do need to write about that at some point–but there is something to what they are saying, I think; I’m not sure. I don’t consider myself a moral authority on anything; I just think about things and try to learn and try to be better myself than the person I used to be. Life is about nothing if it’s not a constant learning and growing process, and we can always do better, be better, and grow, right? The people I feel bad for are those who actually stop growing and learning, stagnate and fossilize their beliefs and values, and think they don’t have anything else to learn, no need to grow. To me, that’s just sad and tragic.

I didn’t make it to the gym last night after I got off work because I wound up staying later than I usually do–I didn’t leave the office until after five, and thus got stuck in rush hour traffic going through the CBD on the way home (although they finally fixed the lights at Poydras and Loyola, so it wasn’t the nightmare getting through there that it has been since Ida, thank you Lord) and then I did some things around the house when I got home–things that needed doing–before Paul got home. I’ve also been listening to Red (Taylor’s Version), which is I think my favorite Taylor Swift record (yes, I am a sixty-year-old Swiftie, don’t you dare try to shame me for it), which is also quite good. I was a little brain-fried when I got home, but I am hoping to get back to reading Barbara Ross’ Shucked Away, so I can move on to Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon. I think I am going to simply take cozies with me to Kentucky; I really enjoy reading them and I also should spend more time reading them–it’s so hard to decide what to read all the time, and there are so many different books and styles of books that I want to read, and it’s not a bad idea to get away from the darker stuff for a while…

I also noted that there are new episodes of both Foundation and The Lost Symbol for me to catch up while condom packing on my work-at-home days, and I also have some data entry to do (almost caught up at last, huzzah!). I also have to figure out what audio books I want to take for the ride both ways–eleven hours; I listened to A Game of Thrones on the way up last time and End of Watch by Stephen King on the way home; perhaps this would be a good time to listen to one of the Stephen King novels I haven’t gotten to–The Outsider or 11/22/63 or Dr. Sleep or Black House–so many choices! Or perhaps it would be fun to listen to cozies on the way up? I get too much pleasure from actually reading Donna Andrews to give that up to listen to one; but maybe there’s another one of my favorite cozy series I can listen to; who knows? But I have all weekend to figure that out since I am not leaving until Monday morning.

I am going to try to not spend all day Saturday in my chair watching college football all day–at least not until I get the writing done that I need to get done–and hopefully will be able to read while the games are one when I finally do sit in my chair and relax.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

You Make Me Feel Brand New

As you are well aware, Constant Reader, I am a huge Stephen King fan, and have been since I read Carrie I was fourteen all those years ago. I don’t have the same urgency I used to have with King, when I would buy the books on their release date in hardcover and then put everything aside so I could read it from beginning to end; there are numerous King novels on my shelves that I’ve yet to read–11/22/63 and Doctor Sleep, among others–and along with them, for a very long time, was End of Watch.

End of Watch is the third in what is called the Bill Hodges trilogy, following Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed (Mr. Mercedes deservedly won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America). I would occasionally glance at the shelf of unread King novels from my easy chair and think, “I really need to read End of Watch” but never got around to it.

So, given my discovery that most audiobooks are too long for the twelve hour trip home, I decided that I would listen to End of Watch (thirteen hours) on my way home; then I could just get the book down from the shelf and finish reading it at home. So, I got in the car Friday morning, opened the app, and linked my phone to the stereo in my car. I pulled out of the driveway, and as I was pulling onto the highway I suddenly remembered, Oh no! The reason I haven’t read this is because it’s the last Bill Hodges book, and I love the characters so much I didn’t want to finish and say goodbye to Bill, Holly and Jerome for good!

But it was too late, so I soldiered on.

end of watch

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away.

Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk.

“The Golden Tits of America!” Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. “We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!”

The opening chapter of this book is a perfect example of King at his best. The two EMT’s in this opening aren’t characters pertinent to the story nor do they appear again (one of them actually does, but very briefly, much later); they are simply the framing device King uses to get the story rolling. They are the ones called to the scene of the murder/suicide the opens the book, and King exquisitely captures their personalities and lives, vividly making them real and alive in their brief pages; he does this throughout the book, introducing a cameo character and bringing that person vividly to life.

Retired cop and now private eye Bill Hodges and his business partner (and friend/family) Holly Gibney are brought into the case because one of the two victims was paralyzed from the chest down by the monstrous Mercedes Killer, Brady Hartsfield, whom Holly put into a coma before he could detonate a bomb at a boy-band concert filled with screaming tweens (the very thrilling conclusion to Mr. Mercedes). And before long, some very strange things keep happening, and all the evidence, the only connection, is that everyone involved has some connection to Brady Hartsfield…who is still in a coma.

Or is he?

End of Watch takes the series, in a brilliant finale, into King’s world, of experimental drugs that can develop telekinesis (back to Firestarter), and also the psychology of  ‘herd mentality’; Brady has been given experimental drugs that have somehow given him horrible abilities…and he uses those abilities to infiltrate the minds of others, using a hand-held gaming device, and pushing them to suicide. Again, King’s genius is seriously involved here, as we go into those teen minds and see how the descent into suicidal depression works…and how easy it is to trigger that spiral. It’s absolutely terrifying, and absolutely real. And once the story gets going, it’s the usual fast-moving train that King always writes, and when I got home from the trip Friday night I couldn’t wait to get my copy down from the shelf and read the stunning, brilliant, utterly satisfying conclusion.

And immediately became sad. I love the characters of Bill, Holly and Jerome, and was deeply sad to realize I had indeed, reached the end of the watch with them.

Highly recommended.

(one caveat: I did struggle with the depiction of one of the suicide victims–a gay teen–but finally decided that it was okay because he was depicted sympathetically, if stereotypically, and King is making an effort to diversify his work. So, I gave him a pass on the gay teen character.)

Seasons in the Sun

SO lovely to be home. I drove a positively obscene amount of miles this week, and it’s lovely to be home.

The Saints won Thursday (GEAUX SAINTS!) and tonight is LSU/Texas A&M (GEAUX TIGERS!).

And I am completely and utterly exhausted.

This trip, rather than playing and listening to music in the car, I decided to try listening to audiobooks. I was a complete and utter Luddite when it came to audiobooks; I was warily aware of them (like podcasts) but wasn’t really quite sure how they worked or when you would listen to them. But I figured driving for twelve hours twice within a five day period would give me time to listen to an entire book (I was very incorrect in that assumption) and also thought I could use my library card to borrow one or two. I wound up with A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin for the ride up and End of Watch by Stephen King for the ride back. I wasn’t sure how this would work out; I generally don’t like being read to, and I was worried I’d either be too busy paying attention to driving to listen or listening would distract me from driving. I was also more than a little taken aback to see it was over thirty-three hours long; far too long to be completed on this trip, and I wasn’t sure I’d want togo three days between listening and still not being done. I decided to take my copy of the novel with me, figuring it would be easy to find my place in the book and just finish reading it while there. Likewise with End of Watch, which is slightly more than thirteen hours. I’d find my place in the hard copy and finish it when I got home.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the experience, frankly.

I did finish A Game of Thrones as planned, and I have about 100 pages of End of Watch to go before I am finished with it as well, which will hopefully happen today.

I also have about a million emails to wade through and answer.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

I also read “The Sequel” by R. L. Stine, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Witness one Zachary Gold, 33. Youthful, tanned, long and lean, tensed over his laptop in the back corner of the coffee shop, one hand motionless over the keyboard.

Casual in a white Polo shirt to emphasize his tan, khaki cargo shorts, white Converse All-Stars. He grips the  empty cardboard Latte cup, starts to raise it, then sets it down. Should he order a third, maybe a Grande this time?

Zachary Gold, an author in search of a plot, begs the gods of caffeine to bring him inspiration. He is an author in the hold of that boring cliche, the Sophomore Slump. And his days of no progress on the second novel have taught him only that cliches are always true.

R. L. Stine hardly needs an introduction from me; people call me profilings, but my output is nothing compared to Mr. Stine’s. I particularly enjoyed reading his Fear Street books (not even I, voracious reader that I am, could actually read them all), and they helped inspire me (along with Stephen King) to try to connect all of my young adult novels in some way; which I not only did but wound up connecting all my novels. I’ve met him several times and have corresponded with him briefly; he’s very gracious and kind.

This story is terrific; and definitely not for kids. The main character is a young author, with a wife and baby, whose first novel was enormously successful and yet…he is undergoing what is often referred to as a “sophomore slump”; he cannot figure out what he wants to write next–but he definitely doesn’t want to write a sequel to the first, as his agent wants him to. He often writes in coffee shops, needing the background noise to help him focus (similarly, music or the television in another room much works the same way for me), and then one morning in his usual coffee shop, struggling to write, or come up with any idea, he is approached by a very large and belligerent man who claims he wrote the manuscript Zachary stole and published…and then the tale is off and running. But there are many twists and different directions the story takes, and I can assure you–you won’t see the final one.

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