I Hear You Knocking

I really wish I had discovered how marvelous audiobooks are for long drives years ago. My God, listening to audiobook rather than music makes the drive so much more enjoyable; sure, I do zone out every once in a while when I am driving and listening–I always go off on some kind of mental tangent at some point or another when I am highway driving for a long time, which means I sometimes have to rewind because I missed something–but my old fears of audiobooks in the car (I would get so involved in the story I’d stop paying attention to the driving, or the driving would require so much attention I wouldn’t be able to listen to the book anymore) also proved to be for naught. The drive is still the worst part of the trip (other than the not-being-able-to-sleep thing), but audiobooks have dramatically improved the entire experience so much that I almost don’t mind the drive anymore….almost.

I also wish I’d started reading Carol Goodman a lot earlier. I don’t recall how or why I first discovered her work, but I am a big fan and I was delighted, after reading (and enjoying the hell out of) The Lake of Dead Languages recently to go ahead and download The Night Villa for the trip.

It may just be my favorite Goodman to date.

When the first call came that morning I was with a student, so I didn’t answer it.

“Don’t worry,” I told Agnes Hancock, one of my most promising classics majors, “the machine will get it.”

But it stopped after the third ring.

“I guess whoever was calling changed his mind,” Agnes said, relacing her fingers to conceal the ragged cuticle on her right thumb. She’d been gnawing on it when I found her waiting outside my door–ten minutes early for my eight o’clock office hours. Most of my students were sound asleep at this hour, which was why I held my office hours so early: to discourage all but the most zealous. Agnes was definitely a zealot. She was on a scholarship, for one thing, and had to maintain a high average, but Agnes was also one of those rare students who seemed to have a genuine passion for the material. She’d gone to a high school with a rigorous Latin program and gotten the highest score on the national Latin exam in the state. Not shabby for a state as big as Texas. She wasn’t just good at declensions, though she had the ability to translate a line of ancient poetry and turn it into poetry again, and the agility of mind to compare the myths from one culture to those of another. She could have a successful academic career in classics or comparative literature. The only problem was that her personal life was often chaotic–a result, I suspected, of her looks.

So far, the majority of the Goodman novels I’ve read all have to do with private schools and usually involve a Classics professor; just as in The Lake of Dead Languages, our main character in The Night Villa is a professor of Latin, who can actually sight-read (translate as she reads), but unlike the others, (set in Ne England) when The Night Villa opens we realize our main character is actually a professor at the University of Texas and lives in Austin. The others also were more Gothic in nature; brooding old buildings that used to be family mansions, now converted into schools and dormitories, slightly older heroines with dark secrets in their past that come back to haunt their present, the “woman in danger” trope replayed and revamped beautifully, with poetic writing and vivid settings you can see in your head (had Goodman published back in the 1970s and 80s, I guarantee all the books would have a young woman with long hair and long nightgown running away from a creepy mansion with a light on in one window). Our main character is Sophie Chase, a young woman teaching at UT with a sad backstory–orphaned young, raised by her grandparents and her aunt (M’Lou); she also had a long term relationship with a young man named Eli that ended up badly after she lost their baby in a tragic fall and he became involved with a mysterious, cult-like group. The opening of the book is a lot more violent and in-your-face than what I’ve become accustomed to with Goodman’s work; Sophie and some other professors are interviewing students for a possible internship with an archaeological dig going on in Herculaneum (a city which suffered the same fate as Pompeii and by the same volcanic eruption, but didn’t the press Pompeii did). During Agnes’ interview a troubled young man she used to date comes into the interview room with a gun and starts shooting–Sophie is shot in the chest and loses a part of her lung, but she ends up going on the trip to Italy as one of the other professors who was supposed to go was killed by the gunman. They are being hosted on the island of Capri in the bay of Naples by a billionaire software designer with an interest in archaeology. He has built his own villa on the island as a replica of the villa they are excavating in Herculaneum, the Villa della Norte, the Night Villa. A discovery of some papyrus scrolls in the ruins that reveal some information about an ancient slave girl from the time also has intrigued Sophie, which is part of the reason she has agreed to go–as well as wanting to get away from Austin for a while. (Sophie wrote her dissertation on the slave girl; this discovery offers to give her more insight and information about the girl for the book she is writing.)

The book is, if you’ll pardon my language, fucking amazing. Not only do we have Sophie dealing with the aftermath of a massive emotional and physical trauma (getting shot and losing part of your lung is a serious fucking trauma), but also the fallout from the end of her relationship many years earlier; a kind of feeling of responsibility for Agnes and how she is dealing with the guilt and trauma of the boyfriend going nuts and on a shooting spree (it ended with him shooting himself); and of course the mystery of the scrolls. The scrolls also give a beautiful insight into life in ancient Herculaneum and in the Roman Empire and also tell a story about the slave girl. It’s an exceptionally good novel, literate and smart and complex and multi-layered; and I haven’t even covered everything in the story here. Sophie is strong and likable and vulnerable; she makes for a great heroine, and she also has so much empathy for other people you can’t help rooting for her.

The book, set mostly on Capri, reminded me a lot–in a good way–of Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic with its Corfu island setting; Goodman is also exceptional about setting and place. I could see the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius; the ruins of the city buried by the eruption; and I also love how she weaved mythology and the ancient mysteries as an integral foundation of the story. I would even go so far as to say Goodman is the modern equivalent of Mary Stewart–which is high praise indeed.

Trapped By A Thing Called Love

Yesterday wound up being a complete waste.

I had such high hopes yesterday morning as I swilled coffee and planned my day out. But after I finished the chores I had left to do (not many) I was exhausted, completely exhausted. I had no energy at all, I was physically tired, mentally fatigued and emotionally drained; I felt much like my batteries were almost dead. I don’t know, maybe I am getting to the point where these lengthy all-in-one-day drives a mere two days apart are no longer feasible for me. Hopefully, yesterday’s lack of anything productive (I did finish reading The Borgias, though, and I did do some research on-line with the iPad in my easy chair) enabled my batteries to recharge and I’ll be able to get through the rest of this week, playing catch-up every day.

I do feel more rested this morning–my legs don’t feel tired the way they did yesterday morning–and I think I slept much better last night than I did the night before, which is a good sign. I have to go to WWL this morning to tape a segment of Great Day Louisiana–which is weird, as I’ve never really done many television appearances before (I did a spot to promote Saints and Sinners a long time ago, and of course, I did a news spot after Paul was attacked, which was a weird experience)–and then I am going into the office, with errands to run on my way home (note to self: do not forget to make a grocery list) and then my life is back to (what passes for) normal again. I also have to assess where I am at with everything I am working on and need to dive back into everything. The trip was necessary, and I am not sorry I went in the least, but I really couldn’t afford to lose the time working. Ah, well, when am I not behind on everything and dashing about trying to keep all the plates spinning?

But right now I am just focusing on the fact that I am not exhausted and feel much better than I did yesterday–at one point I was just so exhausted I felt sick–but that’s okay. I guess when I make these trips henceforth that I shall always have to remind myself that I need a recovery day–which is the case when I fly anywhere also–and I just have to accept that as a part of getting older and having to adapt to that. I hope to start getting back to the gym now–I’d hoped to go yesterday, but there was no way I could walk there, let alone do any weightlifting and then walking back home–and would like to focus on getting into better physical condition by Bouchercon.

I did finish listening to Carol Goodman’s marvelous The Night Villa yesterday morning while I did dishes and folded clothes and did some general clean-up around here–more on that later; Goodman is a marvelous writer and I am very excited to start digging into her backlist; I have several more of her novels in the TBR pile–and so I am now ready to pluck something new to read from the stack, although I am leaning towards Tara Laskowski’s The Mother Next Door, which I am in “competition” against for an Anthony. (I don’t think I’ll win either award I am nominated for, but it is so lovely to have the nominations, really. Anything more than that is too much to hope for, really.) Ah, this coffee is quite good this morning, which is delightful.

And on that note, I am going to finish this and head into the spice mines and start figuring out what I need to get done and where I am at with everything before I head to the television studio. (That sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?) Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.

Amazing Grace

Well, I am home and I am drained–exhausted on every level: emotional, physical, mental. I got home before six last night–I left Kentucky at seven a.m. my time–and of course, the entire time I was there I never slept much or well, so while I did sleep well last night (oh, the comfort and joy of my own bed at last) I am still bone-tired physically this morning as I swill my coffee and wait for clarity of mind to develop. I am glad I took this essentially last minute trip, though. I hate that my family lives so far away from me. Or I live so far away from them? I don’t know which is the proper way to put that. I guess it doesn’t matter.

I did do a lot of reading–I listened to Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway on the way up and Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa on the way home (I got home so fast that I wasn’t able to finish the latter; I am going to finish listening to it this morning while I get the Lost Apartment back under control), and I also read Alan Orloff’s delightful I Play One on TV and James Kestrel’s Five Decembers, which was amazing. My dad also gifted me two books by Paul Strathern, The Medici and The Borgias. After I finished reading Alan’s book I started reading The Borgias, which is really interesting. (My dad bought them because I talked so much about loving Italy, so he decided to read some Italian history; he really enjoyed them and thought I would as well, and I am like gimme gimme gimme.) He had also cleaned out an area in the basement, purging books (I come by my hoarding tendencies genetically) and found some that were mine when I was a kid so he put them aside for me, if I wanted them. I took them, even though I am trying to purge books myself; ironically, one of the books he gave me was The Rape of the A*P*E*: A History of the Sexual Revolution by Allan Sherman, which I talked about in my erotica writing workshop at Saints and Sinners, and since I have to teach it again at the West Jefferson Parish Library a week from Saturday, I am glad to have it in my hot little hands. I really have to be more prepared this time around.

As I sit here and the coffee works its wiles on me, I am trying to figure out and remember where I am with everything and what needs doing. I am terrified to look at my inbox; I mostly deleted spam the last four days, so that it didn’t get completely out of control. I need to finish the edits on my book and I need to revise a short story, that much I do know, so when I get through this morning I’ll be buckling down here at the work station and trying to get through them. I’ve also got to get the workspace under control, and the Lost Apartment isn’t exactly in great shape either (I didn’t get the chance to clean as thoroughly as I would have liked before I left; I also left a sink full of dishes, which I started working on last night but didn’t quite finish; Paul and I decided a few hours after I got home to relax and watch our shows-in-progress: Under the Banner of Heaven, Hacks, and Gaslit (what they did to Martha Mitchell was so disgraceful–and Julia Roberts is killing the role) because exhaustion was starting to seep in for me and I really was out of steam. My easy chair felt amazing–I really felt like I was one with the chair last night–and there is definitely nothing like my own bed. I woke up at six this morning–my body not knowing it was a holiday and I didn’t need to go to work this morning–but I stayed in bed for another hour before getting up. I really don’t want to figure out what all I have to get done and where I am with everything just yet–and I absolutely should go to the grocery store today, but I don’t have the energy to deal with that today so I’ll probably make a short list and stop on the way home from work tomorrow. I have to go uptown to get the mail anyway.

Yeah, that sounds like a better plan than going today. (Although hilariously last night I said to Paul at one point, “I probably should at least do the dishes and stop putting things off until tomorrow, which is becoming a habit and I don’t like it” and here I am, pushing something off till tomorrow again.)

Some things never change.

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

Liar

Look at me, up and awake before seven in the morning on a Sunday! Who would have ever thought that would happen? I feel surprisingly awake and alert and rested this morning, given the early hour and all, but that’s okay. When you’re awake, you’re awake–so I figured I might as well get up and get a jump on the day. I will be going deep into the edits of A Streetcar Named Murder today. I ran the errands I needed to run yesterday, got some organizing and cleaning done around the house, and started the deep dive into the edits yesterday–most of the day was spent planning and figuring out things in the book that I didn’t have time to figure out when I was actually writing it (mistake mistake mistake; how do pantsers do this all the time?) and with my lesson firmly learned, am ready to get cracking on fixing the errors here and clearing up and tightening up the story. I want to be finished with it all before I leave on Thursday, because it will be very hard for me to finish it while I am in Kentucky. (And I’d rather spend whatever time I have free while I’m up there reading, frankly.) I’m getting a bit excited about the trip, if I may be so bold as to say so, which is a good thing; right now I am not even dreading all those hours in the car–I have Carol Goodman and Ruth Ware novels to listen to in the car–and while I do have to go into the office tomorrow, I work at home on Tuesday this week and can packed and ready to go that day so Thursday morning I can get up, have some coffee, and head out on the highway early.

There’s also some straightening and organizing I need to get done this morning–looking around the workspace is making me shudder right now–but it’s nice to feel rested and ready to go, honestly. I wonder what was so different about last night that I slept so much better? I’m not even going to check the Fitbit because I don’t necessarily trust its judgement and evaluation of my sleep, to be honest. I mean, it’s interesting to see how I feel vs. how it thinks I slept–but there are times when I wake up and feel rested and great but I supposedly slept poorly; and then mornings when I get up and feel groggy and tired and exhausted, it claims that I slept very well. I don’t know if I can trust it, and frankly, if it wasn’t part of the complicated system of trying to get cheaper health insurance through my job, I sure as hell wouldn’t wear it. Paul often buys me really nice watches as gifts and I never wear them–mainly because I am clumsy as fuck and inevitably break things that are nice–but the Fitbit…like I said, there’s this really complicated system of scoring points through a program that helps reduce the cost of my health insurance. I’m not entirely sure I understand it–I never really grasped it when it was explained eight or nine years ago–but I know I score points, earn a medal status (bronze, silver, gold) and if I get to silver, I don’t have any “out of paycheck” contributions to my health insurance, and registering my daily steps and how well I slept through the Fitbit scores fifty points per day. (The points also can be cashed in for gift cards; I always get Amazon to buy books, of course. Don’t @ me; the other options don’t really work for me.)

It looks to be a nice day outside my windows this morning, although it’s undoubtedly already incredibly hot outside. I’m hoping to manage to not go out into it much today–maybe taking out the trash or something–and I may be meeting a friend who’s in town for drinks later this evening (not too late, since I have to get up early in the morning), but other than that, I mostly plan to sit here at this desk and edit and revise and rewrite today. I also don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get this finished; I am hoping by focusing and working really hard and not allowing myself to get distracted I can power through and get this back to my publisher before I leave on Thursday.

One can always hope and dream at any rate.

We watched Hacks last night, and the most recent episode of The Offer, although I’m not really sure why we continue to watch the latter. I noticed last night that there are any number of shows we’re in the middle of (Severance, Pieces of Her, Slow Horses) that we forgot we were watching and thus will need to pick up again–it wasn’t that we weren’t enjoying them, but rather that we inevitably ended up having our viewing disrupted by something for several days and when we had time to go back and get caught up on things, we forgot we were watching them (we also never finished Physical either). It is interesting–I thought about this while watching The Offer last night–how many shows we’ve seen lately that were set in the 1970’s (Minx, Candy, The Offer) as well as what a great job they are doing depicting the era. I remember saying during one episode of Candy, “living this kind of life was my biggest nightmare when I was a kid, and they are doing a great job of showing how bleak and ugly and dull suburban life was back then.”

I also have started up again with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I’d stopped watching last season because I quickly grew tired of the Erika Jayne/Erica Girardi mess–I’d never particularly liked her very much, but at least she was somewhat entertaining–but given that the great wealth she has flaunted ever since she joined the cast was essentially stolen from settlements for victims of great and horrific tragedies and she was completely unrepentant and tried to play like she was the real victim, I no longer felt any desire to watch a sociopathic narcissist who has knowingly or unknowingly participated in embezzlement, fraud and God knows what else. I’d reached a point where I kept thinking someone just needs to slap the shit out of that fucking crooked bitch and felt that giving them eyeballs and a rating point on Hulu was endorsing the fact that Bravo was enabling her and giving her a platform to try to redeem herself in the public eye, which was shitty. Sure, innocent before proven guilty and all that–but The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills isn’t a court of law; and the fact they milked her potential criminality for ratings was disgusting and craven. I don’t love to hate her, I just fucking hate her. And the rest of the cast–outside the newer ones–are equally garbage. I stopped watching The Real Housewives of New York during its most recent season because I couldn’t watch the blatant racism being offered up as “entertainment.” Fuck you, Bravo, and fuck you, Andy Cohen. The Real Housewives shows have become a microcosm of everything that is wrong with American society and culture: there’s no accountability for anything. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: people are rewarded for being horrible.

It also makes me feel like I’ve always been incredibly naïve about the world, believing that being a good person means you’ll be rewarded and bad people will be punished for their wrong-doing, when the harsh reality is quite the opposite. I feel like I’ve been gaslit most of my life, frankly.

Which, of course, always comes back to me being a crime writer. I want to see justice being done. I want to see evil-doers punished and good people rewarded for their goodness. I want to write about a world where murderers and criminals are caught and punished, their victims avenged; not the real world where the wealthy can hire great lawyers and outspend the prosecution to get off, while so many innocent people who cannot afford great lawyers are convicted or talked into taking plea bargains every day and doing time while having committed no crime other than not being able to afford a great lawyer. (I’ve always wanted to write about a public defender–but who wants to read a book where the public defender loses every case?)

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Bring the Boys Home

Thursday and I’ve survived thus far–small victories, regardless of how small they might be, are still victories–and just today and tomorrow in the office before the weekend. I have switched out Monday for Tuesday next week (the guy who works Monday has a doctor’s appointment so we switched days) which should make for an interesting week; in office Monday, at home Tuesday, in office Wednesday, leave on Thursday. I am really dreading going back to five days in the office, but am also hoping that by the time that happens we’ll also have evening hours again so I can give up these wretched mornings.

The good news is I have selected my audiobooks for the drive next week: The Night Villa by Carol Goodman and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. I think the books I will take with me to read while I am there will be Five Decembers by James Kestrel (which recently won the Edgar for Best Novel) and probably Rob Osler’s Devil’s Chew Toy, most likely. I won’t have time to read both while I am there–I’ll only be there for two full days, plus two 12 hour drive days (YAY CAN’T WAIT)–but I can certainly make some headway with at least one of them. I also am thinking since I usually get up at six on Thursdays that I can go ahead and get up that early next Thursday and be on the road by seven-ish in the morning. That will help me get past the two biggest logjams on the road (Birmingham and Chattanooga) at off hours, but will put me into Knoxville during the evening rush hour, yay, but better one than all three). I also would like to stop and take some pictures in the Smoky Mountains on the way, which is something I’ve always wanted to do whenever I am driving this trip, but I’m always behind schedule and rushing and its dark outside in the time of year when I usually make it, so….but those gorgeous sunsets in the mountains are marvelous. It’s too bad my story has to be finished long before this trip, alas…at least if I want to make it for this submission call.

If I want to make this submission call. The jury is still out.

I slept decently last night–I haven’t synced the Fitbit to the phone yet for a definitive sleep score yet–but i did wake up a few times during the night but I was able to go back to sleep each time. Ah, a 76–that feels about right. I feel a bit groggy this morning but somewhat rested; we’ll see how good I am at getting things checked off the to-do list today, won’t we? I had drinks with a friend in from out-of-town last night after work, and then when I got home I had to hide everything in the kitchen so I could do a ZOOM meeting, which was productive and nicer than I would have thought, and then I hung out with Paul gossiping and getting caught up on each other’s lives before retiring to bed last evening. I am, however, looking forward to getting through this day so I can sleep a little later tomorrow morning, and then slide nicely through to the weekend. Heavy heaving sigh. And of course, next week I have to go to Kentucky. Yay. But I’m very excited about the audiobooks I downloaded to listen to, and the opportunity to do some reading while I am there. Find the positives in everything is always a good methodology to pursue, especially in times like these where it feels like the entire world is burning to the ground. (I said to Paul last night, “no one told me when I was a kid that everything in the world would just get worse and worse every year once I was an adult. That was one thing I didn’t plan on.”)

But as my coffee is kicking in now, and my mind is becoming less clouded and foggy, I am feeling better about my world and all the things I can get done and need to get done and WILL get done by Monday. I need to remember not to be so hard on myself about everything, and maybe slow down and cut back on everything else that I am doing and be a lot more selective going forward. I also need to recognize and accept that I am older and while the heart might still be willing, the body and brain are older and a bit slower and I can’t do as much as I used to. I need to get back to the gym after I return from Kentucky, and start taking that seriously (the pictures from Ellen’s book launch! Ye Gods, I look terrible). I need to focus and get the Scotty book planned, as well as two other projects organized and ready to go, and I also need to get these edits done (I am hoping to spend some of the weekend doing just that; I’ve got to finish this before I can move on to something else).

And I found another submission call that sounds interesting. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader, and remember–the weekend is nigh.

Stay Awhile

Another work-at-home Monday here in the Lost Apartment and I am not feeling especially motivated this morning. Granted, I’ve yet to swill down any coffee (which will undoubtedly make a significant difference) but I also have a lot to do. I wasn’t nearly as productive over the weekend as I would have liked to have been, so the to-do list still has many things to be crossed off of it. But I think the relaxation was necessary in some ways–I did make notes in my journal all weekend, and I did a lot of thinking about writing, and I do think that’s very important; as I mentioned on the Spirit of Ink the other day, it’s crazy to sit down to write something without spending some time thinking about what you are going to write first. There’s this sense, often reinforced by television and movie depictions of writers trying to write, that we simply sit down at the computer (or typewriter, depending on the time period) and then stare in in frustration at the blank page or document before finally giving up. I don’t know any writer who sits down without some idea of what they are going to be writing about when they sit down to start, and it occurs to me that not thinking about what you’re going to be writing before you sit down and start writing it is nothing more than defeating yourself before you even get started.

We wound up watching quite a bit of television over the weekend; Anatomy of a Scandal on Netflix with Siena Miller and Michelle Dockery was how we spent most of yesterday; it wasn’t bad but there was a massive plot hole in the center of it that, once we were aware of it (a surprise twist about halfway through) kind of undermined the story and the character who was committing the deception: it simply did not make any sense. Maybe in the book it was based upon it worked better, I don’t know; but it really undermined the impact of the show and its message; which purported to be about entitled men and the “boys will be boys” dismissal of sexual harassment and assault on women; the old “he said/she said” debate in which the woman is never truly believed in our justice system (or the British one, in this case; sad that both countries have the same issues with toxic masculinity and accountability for entitled male behavior, but not terribly surprising, since one country is basically the mother of the other). The acting was good, but I really didn’t see anything fresh or new to the story; we’ve seen this same story before numerous times: powerful man is accused by underling with whom he is having an affair of sexual assault after the affair ends; wife isn’t sure whether she should believe him or not; and endless surprising revelations from the pasts of everyone involved.

But I did get some things done, so the weekend wasn’t a complete and/or total loss, to be sure. I managed to get most of the dishes done (there’s still another load to put in the dishwasher and run) and most of the laundry, and I did manage to get some organizing done as well. As I already mentioned I got some writing (or thinking about writing) done; I also did some important on-line research for not only my next Scotty but for a sequel to A Streetcar Named Murder if they want one; if they don’t, the research will certainly come in handy for something else. I also did find a couple of submission calls I might, if I have the time, cobble something together for–but the deadlines are very tight, and I don’t have anything in pristine-enough shape to turn in for the calls, either, which would mean needing to find the time to revise and rewrite stories for both, or at the very least trying to figure out which stories might work in either case. I’ll need to review the calls again with an eye to looking at what is in the files.

I also finished reading Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages, so Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief is up next for me. I am interviewing her at Blue Cypress Books this coming Sunday, so it’s best that I be prepared to talk to her about her new series don’t you think? I think a week–despite everything I have that needs to get done this week–is more than enough time to make sure I can read the book and be sort of intelligent-sounding while we are at the store. I’m not terribly worried; Ellen is witty and wise and warm and a great story-teller, so I know she’ll run with the ball every time I hand it off to her.

And on that note, this isn’t getting anything crossed off my to-do list, so I’d best head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, no matter what it requires you to do.

That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be

The passage of time addles my brain and messes with my memories, as I have often complained about here. I don’t recall why I first picked up a Carol Goodman novel–someone must have recommended her books to me; all I do now is that when I did meet her in person, at the HarperCollins cocktail party at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, I had already read at least one of her novels and had quickly become a big fan. I fanboyed hard at that party, if I am recalling correctly, and I am not a bit embarrassed or sorry about it.

And every time I read another book she’s written, I fanboy all over again.

I have been told to make the Latin curriculum relevant to the lives of my students. I am finding, though, that my advanced girls at Heart Lake like Latin precisely because it has no relevance to their lives. They like nothing better than a new, difficult declension to memorize. They write the noun endings on their palms in blue ballpoint ink and chant the declensions, “Puella, puellae, puellae, puellam, puella…” like novices counting their rosaries.

When it comes time for a test they line up at the washroom to scrub down. I lean against the cool tile wall watching them as the washbasins fill with pale blue foam and the archaic words run down the drains. When they offer to show me the undersides of their wrists for traces of letters I am unsure if I should look. If I look, am I showing that I don’t trust them? If I don’t look, will they think I am naïve? When they put their upturned hands in mine–so light-boned and delicateit is as if a fledgling has alighted in my lap. I am afraid to move.

In class I see only the tops of their hands–the black nail polish and silver skull rings. One girl even has a tattoo on the top of her right hand–and intricate blue pattern that she tells me is a Celtic knot. Now I look at the warm, pink flesh–their fingertips are tender and whorled from immersion in water, the scent of soap rises like incense. Three of the girls have scratched the inside of their wrists with pins or razors. The lines are fainter than the lifelines that crease their palms. I want to trace their scars with my fingertips and ask them why, but instead I squeeze their hands and tell them to go on into cass. “Bona fortuna,” I say. “Good luck on the test.”

It is difficult to read, or write about, novels set at private schools without instantly thinking of Donna Tartt and her The Secret History–although I am not now, nor have ever been, a big fan of that particular novel (I’ve always meant to go back to it and give it another read)–or Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, which is a book I really loved and should write about someday. I certainly don’t mean to imply that Goodman and her work is derivative; it’s not, by any means, any more so than anyone ever writing about a gay private detective in New Orleans is being derivative of my work. It’s reductive thinking at best, and lazy at worst.

When I was being interviewed for the Spirit of Ink yesterday, I was asked about what I am reading and how I decide what to read next–which isn’t a good question for me to answer, because so many things play into what I decide to read when I am looking for my next read–but I did give a big shout out to Carol Goodman and her The Lake of Dead Languages, which I only finished reading today; I said that Goodman writes modern-day Gothics, similar to what Phyllis A. Whitney wrote in her heyday of popularity, but with a distinctly modern flare that firmly fixes the books as contemporary. That brooding sense of menace and danger that are a hallmark of Gothics? Goodman had that down to a science. It’s actually hard to believe that The Lake of Dead Languages is, in fact, her debut novel; there’s so much professionalism and experience and intelligence in the book that that it’s actually a little intimidating for someone who’s writing novel number forty-something; the confidence in her language and character and story-telling choices is that of someone at their peak, rather than at their beginning. The book is immersive, impossible to put down, and incredibly satisfying when you finally reach the ending.

The book tells the tale of Jane Hudson, a divorced mom who has returned to Heart Lake Academy to teach Latin. She’s from the small town of Corinth in upstate New York that is home to the school; she was a scholarship student herself at Heart Lake, and when she was a student there several tragedies occurred: one of her roommates committed suicide, and later, so did the other roommate and her brother, whom Jane was sort-of in love with in that way teenaged girls think they are in love. But things aren’t what they seem, nor as things what they once were: those long-ago tragedies turned Heart Lake from a first-rate girls’ school to a school of last resort for problem girls whose parents have money. But weird things, echoes from the past, are intruding into Jane’s new life; there are the three stones known as the Three Sisters in the lake–and an old legend about how three sisters from the Crevecouer family (whose estate is now the school) all committed suicide by drowning in the lake and were turned into the three stones. The legend isn’t true–only the youngest sister died, from Spanish flu in 1918–but the legend is more fun to believe for students than the truth, but the truth–especially the truth from Jane’s time back as a student–has a weird way of working its way back into the light. Another student attempts suicide, Jane begins to think someone knows more about the tragedies of the past than they are letting on, and are torturing her–with pages from her own long lost diary when she was a student.

Goodman also manages a time-line shift; about a third of the way through the book we go back in time to when Jane was a young girl, and her burgeoning friendships with her roommates…which ended in tragedy that Jane has always blamed herself for–but Jane also never knew the full truth about what happened when she was a girl.

(Sounds like the cover blurb on a Phyllis A. Whitney novel, doesn’t it?)

The Lake of Dead Languages is a great read, one that I was truly sorry to finish reading. Highly recommended.

Another Day

Sunday morning and I slept really well again. I woke up, as always, at just before seven, but stayed in bed lazily until nearly eight–when nature’s call became too much to be ignored for longer. But I have a nice fresh hot cup of coffee, a long Sunday with a lot to do and/or get done today (I also need to run to the grocery store this morning, which is always so exhausting) but I suspect that i can get everything I need to get done, done. Yesterday morning I spent some time with the Carol Goodman novel (which is really and truly spectacularly well done), went to do my self-care (which was lovely) and then picked up the mail and headed home to spend some time doing things. I did the bed linens, emptied the dishwasher and did another load (that needs to be emptied this morning) and also got some things organized for my next writing project. I did the Spirit of Ink interview at 2, as scheduled, and then when I was finished with that I was drained, as I knew I would be, so I did some more file organizing before retiring to my easy chair with my journal to make notes for Mississippi River Mischief, which I am also starting to get excited about writing (which is a lovely change from the usual, where I dread writing any and every thing).

So, overall, I was quite pleased with my Friday. Since we’d finished or gotten caught up on everything else we had started watching, we decided to binge through season two of The Hardy Boys on Hulu, which I am enjoying. Is it the Hardy Boys of my childhood? No, but neither was the 1970’s show with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. I belong to several kids’ series groups on Facebook (they are very interesting people; I’ve always wanted to write a book about kids’ series fandom) and they were, of course, quite unhappy with this adaptation (but not NEARLY as up-in-arms as they were about the Nancy Drew television series, in which Nancy actually has sex with Ned–who’s Black in the show–in the very first episode). Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I don’t expect adaptations to match us precisely to the source material, and whether people in their fifties and sixties want to admit to it or not, both series in their original forms are horribly dated today. I did enjoy the show’s nods to the canon series throughout–one of the villains was named McFarlane (Leslie McFarlane ghost-wrote many of the original books) and the bad company is Stratemeyer Global (the Stratemeyer Syndicate created and owned both series, among many others), and there was also a single throwaway line at one point about “what happened at midnight” (which is one of the titles of the original canonical series); so that was all a bit fun for me. Even as I watched, I kept remembering all the dog-whistles of the fan group–disguised as “dedication to the original canon” of course–but when you use words like woke and so forth, your bigotry and personal biases are kind of put right out there on display.

And I can only imagine how upset they are that Aunt Gertrude (Trudy on the show) is a lesbian…which actually makes canonical sense, to be honest.

But it was a very pleasant way to waste the rest of the day, frankly, and I felt pretty marvelous when I went to bed last evening. I am really enjoying my sleep lately, which is marvelous, and lately I am feeling very–I don’t know, optimistic?–about my career and my future as a writer, which is always a plus. I am still waiting for my edits on A Streetcar Named Murder, and to hear back about my short story, but I am feeling pretty good about myself this morning (let’s see how long that lasts, shall we?) and tomorrow evening i am going to make a semi-triumphant return to the gym. This morning I am going to spend some time with The Lake of Dead Languages, and then I am going to head out to the grocery store, probably around elevenish, so I can come home and do some more writing and organizing and so forth. I am going to try to bang out a draft of a new manuscript by mid-June, and then I want to spend until August 1 finishing a first draft of Chlorine, at which point I will most likely have to start really working on Mississippi River Mischief. That’s a pretty good schedule, if I can stick to it–and then of course there are any number of short stories I want to get written in the meantime. There are two submission calls I saw recently (with very tight deadlines) I’d like to get something submitted to–but then it always comes down to time and motivation–both of which I am good at failing at–so it’s all going to depend, I suppose. But I am going to get organized here in my office space before retiring to read for the rest of the morning, which hopefully will mean productivity. We also need something new to watch, since we’ve binged our way through everything already–but there are any number of shows that dropped since the beginning of the year that we’d like to see that we never got around to, and more are coming out all the time.

I also want to rewatch Heartstopper at some point, so I can finish my post about it at some point. I really need to get those old unfinished posts finished and posted at some point, don’t I? I also have a bad review of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not to finish as well as a review of Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout, as well as some ruminations about the resurgence of anti-queer political homophobia which hs reared its ugly head again.

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

Mr. Bojangles

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I am kind of excited about the weekend if I am being honest. It’s nice, for one thing, to be able to sleep in a bit this morning and tomorrow; I do have some things to do today (one is doing something personal for myself; along the lines of important self-care) and of course, I am doing an on-line interview with Spirit of Ink’s Jaden Terrell as well (she’s actually quite lovely, too; I can’t believe how many years I’ve known her now). Tomorrow I have to probably go run some errands–I am hoping after my interview today I will make it to the gym, after which I will come home to curl up with Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Lost Languages with an eye to finishing it. It really is good, y’all; I hate that it’s taking me so damned long to get it done, really. I also have some other blog posts I need to finish and post–I’ve got to stop starting blog entries and then not finishing and saving them as drafts and then never going back and finishing and/or posting them; every time I go to the draft page here those unfinished entries reproach me, and they’re getting MEANER the more time goes by. Like I really need to be shamed and mocked by unfinished blog posts?

Bastards, really.

So, as I mentioned, we finished watching Minx earlier this week. I had started this during my festival widowhood, had some initial issues with it (still kind of have those original issues, to be fair) but somewhere around the third or fourth episode the show hit its stride and I started to really enjoy it. (It’s also a stark reminder that women had little to no rights less than fifty years ago, and thanks to the fuckhead judicial activists on the “supreme Court”–which should now always be put in quotes as the fucking joke it actually is, as well as supreme should henceforth be in all lower-case–those rights are about to be taken away in the service of an incredibly anti-American authoritarian agenda by the party of “small government”…yeah) The premise behind the show is simple: an ardent feminist and journalist wants to launch a new magazine for feminists called The Matriarchy Awakens (yes, that is actually what she is calling it) while working the subscription line at a magazine for teen girls. She believes that women–once they are aware of what feminism is really about–want and need such a magazine, to enlighten them about their own oppression and to learn more about their own power and equality. The show opens with her going to a weird fair where magazine companies take pitches for new magazines (is this something that really used to happen?) and of course, none of the old white men take her seriously or see anything of potential in her magazine. While she is waiting to go inside, she meets a pig of a man who actually produces porn magazines…long story short he offers to publish her magazine with the catch that she needs photo spreads of nude male models inside–“why shouldn’t a woman get to look at a dong if they want to?” Naturally, she is horrified…and then the Burt Reynolds issue of Cosmopolitan comes out and she realizes that it could, indeed, be empowering for women to look at naked men–but the editorial content will have a very strong feminist bent, and that empowering female sexuality should also be a part of feminism. As I mentioned in my earliest commentary on the show, I disliked the trope of the uptight feminist woman who needs to loosen up and enjoy herself–and her own sexuality–more; but it was handled a lot better than I thought it would be; it wasn’t the tired old “she just needs to get laid” thing. There are also a lot of male dongs shown in this; I wasn’t expecting the parade of penises as they look for their first centerfold–but there was nothing salacious or even erotic about the dongs on this show; they were just…dicks. But the show continued to improve with each episode, and it–along with Physical, which we didn’t finish–is a stark reminder of just how shitty it was to be a woman in this country back then (somewhat better now, but not even remotely close to where it needs to be, frankly).

It also made me think it would be interesting to see a documentary about how Playgirl got started and its journey over the years until it finally ceased publication. (I have an idea about a noirish type thriller set in the 1970’s about the struggle against prohibitions on porn called Obscenity, which is part of what I call The Chlorine Quartet.)

We also started watching The Offer last night, which is about the making of The Godfather, from the point of view of producer Albert Ruddy. I knew a lot of this material already–Mario Puzo had already documented the writing and selling of the book, and then the making of the movie, in a long-forgotten book called The Godfather Papers back after the movie was released and hailed as an instant classic; which included his memories, diary entries, and correspondence. I read the book (I mean The Godfather) when I was about eleven or twelve years old; I don’t really remember. My father had the paperback edition with the black cover and the white print, with the image of the hand holding the puppeteer’s strings, and I also recall one summer while visiting relatives in the South one of my cousins had a copy that had all the “dirty parts” dog-eared–so I had read about Lucy Mancini’s bizarre vagina problems before I actually sat down and read the book. I’ve been meaning to go back and reread it; it’s been called a turgid potboiler melodrama, trash, you name it–but if nothing else, it was a really good read. Obviously this is one of the cases where the film was better than the book, and I’ve been meaning to watch the movies again at some point, but it’s such a time commitment…

We also got caught up on this week’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which is twisted and bizarre. I’ve never read the book, despite being a fan of Jon Krakauer, so I don’t know where this is going, and I am very tempted to go back and read the book now.

I slept well last night (as I am sure some of you are wondering about; like anyone really cares whether I can sleep or not) and so feel pretty good this morning. I have a lot of things to get done around here before my appointment at 11:15–the sink is full of dishes; the dishwasher is also full with clean dishes to put away; I am doing laundry; and at some point the trash needs to be taken out–and of course I need to make lists so I know what all I have to get done over the course of this weekend.

Heavy sigh.

And on that note, I’d best head into the spice mines and make another cup of coffee. Have a great Saturday, Constant Reader.

Whatcha See is Whatcha Get

Good morning, Constant Reader, and a happy Thursday to you. I am a bit groggy this morning as I swill my first cup of coffee, but Scooter has already been fed and so at least the cat cries have stopped.

For now, at least.

I slept pretty well last night again, and maybe my body has readjusted to my work schedule already, which is nice and I was a bit concerned that it might take a while for that to happen. But I seem to have slipped right back into the routine I was in before I left for New York, and that is, of course, quite lovely. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from the office yesterday and picked up a few things, then once I was home I retired to my easy chair to edit “Solace in a Dying Hour,” which actually is a much better story than I thought it was. In fairness to me, expecting the story to need a great deal of work really isn’t a case of Imposter Syndrome, as one might have expected (it so often is just that), but rather because it was so hard for me to write and took me so long to get into the story groove. It’s actually not bad at all, and just needs some tweaking here and there; which I should be able to do tonight and get turned in by the end of the day. This is actually rather nice, and I am most pleased about it, in all honesty. By the time I’d finished, Scooter was in my lap and I tuned in to get caught up on Superman and Lois; Paul came home while I was watching and we switched to the new Jane Seymour mystery series on Acorn, which is quite good. I’ve always appreciated Jane Seymour and thought she was more talented than she often received credit for; I suppose being a Mini-series Queen during the 1980s didn’t really help all that much–but I thought she was exceptional in the adaptation of East of Eden that was done in the 80’s, in which she played Steinbeck’s perhaps most evil creation, Cathy Ames. (She was also good as Natalie in War and Remembrance, having a remarkably long career for someone who started as a Bond girl in Live and Let Die.) The show is Harry Wild, and we quite enjoyed it; although it’s hard to think of a British crime series we haven’t enjoyed.

I also didn’t get an opportunity to read any more of my Carol Goodman novel, either, which didn’t please me. Perhaps tonight I can relax with my book and the Gothic story of what is going on at that boarding school on the lake. Really, y’all, if you’ve not read anything by Carol Goodman, you really should. But tonight I am coming straight home from the office–no detours, no stops to make–and so hopefully that means I can spend some good quality time reading tonight. Fingers crossed, at any rate, especially since Saturday I have an appointment in the late morning and a ZOOM appearance to make in the mid-afternoon, which means I won’t have a lot of time to do much of anything on Saturday other than making the kitchen background to my computer camera neat and tidy.

I was also delighted to see that the Saints signed former LSU and Kansas City Chiefs standout (and local high school star from St. Augustine’s) TYRANN MATHIEU. The Honey Badger is finally coming home to New Orleans (HUZZAH!) and I think this was an incredibly smart move by the Saints. Mathieu has already proven himself to be a leader who is interested in helping and giving back to the community (he helped fund the new state-of-the-art training center for the LSU football team, for example, despite the fact that he was kicked off the team and out of school for infractions after his sophomore year), and what better brand ambassador in the city of New Orleans for the Saints than a local kid who made good? I’ve never really understood why the Saints never signed anyone from LSU over the many years since Sean Payton took over–especially since so many of those stars were from either New Orleans or Louisiana–but maybe it was a “local hero ego” kind of thing. Who knows? (Paul and I dreamed that Joey Burrow would end up playing for the Saints, but that would have been too much to hope for, really.) I’ll be actually curious to see how LSU and the Saints will do this year; I remember the last time new coaches came in to both around the same time was 2005 at LSU (Les Miles) and 2006 with the Saints (Sean Payton)–both of those turned out well, so here’s hoping the new coaches at both for 2022 will also turn out well.

As always with football season, hope springs eternal.

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