Live With Me

Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day has rolled around yet again. Woo-hoo!

Yesterday I was working on cleaning out my inbox–an ongoing struggle, but it’s suddenly gotten easier lately–and around noonish an email from Left Coast Crime dropped in letting me know that A Streetcar Named Murder had been selected as a finalist for the Lefty Awards! I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like that to ever happen, so thanks to everyone who listed me on their ballot. It’s a tough category–the other nominees are Ellen Byron for Bayou Book Thief, Catriona McPherson for Scot in a Trap, Jennifer Chow for Death by Bubble Tea, and A. J. Devlin for Five Moves of Doom. Such a thrill, really, and to be nominated against authors for whom I have so much respect and admiration for their talents and achievements already? And so many other amazing nominees in the other categories as well–including lots of friends! Kellye Garrett, Alex Segura, James L’Etoile, Karen Odden, Laurie R. King, Gigi Pandian, Rob Osler, Eli Cranor, Wanda Morris, and Catriona again (nominated TWICE!!!!). I’m really sorry I won’t be going to Left Coast this year. I had a marvelous time last year, but it’s also the week before TWFest and Saints & Sinners, and there’s no way I could take that much time off so close together–let alone leave the week before the festivals. I’d come home to find the locks changed, seriously. So many amazing reads this past year on this list, and there I am, right there with some of my favorite people.

It’s always lovely to get recognized, of course. Award nominations are always a lovely pat on the back, and yes, while I often joke about always losing everything I am ever nominated for (I love pretending to be bitter and cynical about losing awards), it is indeed a great honor and a thrill and all those things they’re supposed to make you feel like. Being nominated for mainstream awards, like this and the Anthonys, was never in my thoughts or calculations (to be fair, I never think about awards when I’m writing something)–so yes, for the kid who used to give acceptances speeches to the mirror holding a shampoo bottle as a stand-in for an Oscar, it’s an honor and a thrill and a privilege. I mean, winning isn’t really in my control–anyone who’s ever nominated’s control–so I just look at it as a lovely nice job thumbs-up from the community and add it to my author bio.

I slept really well again last night and this morning I don’t feel tired or sore and my mind is completely alert–yesterday there was some residual fog from my trip still, and leftover exhaustion–but today feels absolutely great. I ran errands after I got off work yesterday–some books and other things came in the mail yesterday, including my Rainbow candles (a client gave me one for Christmas; I loved the smell, and then had to go searching on line to find more of them) and the leather-bound copies of Rebecca and Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier as produced by the International Collectors’ Library (about time I got two really nice editions of two of my favorite books). I was terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday so I pretty much melted into my easy chair with Scooter asleep in my lap and just watched videos on Youtube (I went down a Rihanna wormhole for a good while–I’d forgotten how amazing her music was–while also looking up videos from Hadestown, whose score I’ve been listening to every since I got home; I cannot tell you how much I loved this show). I need to pay the bills today and get back to work on the book–I’m behind again and am really going to have to work my ass off to get it done by the end of the month now, no time for goofing off or anything other than a major push; I also have a short story to finish that I’ve promised to a friend for an anthology; that will be a nice creative and intellectual challenge to try to get finished around the book, too.

So, yes, Constant Reader, as you can probably tell I’m in a really good place this morning. My coffee is marvelous, I got a lovely pat on the back from the mystery community yesterday (“they like me! they really like me!”), and I am feeling great about my writing and my future. We’ll see how long this happy feeling and inspiration lasts, won’t we? I also think the cold or sinus thing that’s been going on with me since I flew to New York has finally been given the boot by my immune system, which is really nice. (I always feel terrible when I travel–part of it is the lack of sleep and the dehydration caused by the pressure changes required for flying; one of these days I’ll learn to drink water and replenish electrolytes when I travel instead of just drinking Cokes and coffee and alcohol; you’d think I’d know better by now but I clearly do not) But I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like a really long time, and it’s going to take some getting used to and adjusting again. (This weekend especially is going to feel weird as fuck, to be honest.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.

For All We Know

When I got up at the Lefty Banquet last weekend and said we were living in a golden age of crime fiction, that wasn’t just smoke I was blowing up the audience’s ass to get applause (I literally have no idea how to get an audience to applaud, or laugh, or cheer, or do anything other than point and laugh at me and the blather coming from my lips and directed out by a panicked, terrified mind); it is something I truly believe. Every time I pick up a book by someone who is currently flourishing and publishing, I am rarely, if ever, disappointed; every year brings a fresh new crop of great books by current authors as well as a plethora of amazing new and diverse voices. The sheer creativity in plots and stories and characters; the language usage; the seamless construction of story that flows and keeps the reader turning the page is truly remarkable.

And Catriona McPherson is a force of nature.

There was no mistaking the smell. Except, come to think of it, that’s not true. It was all too easy to mistake the smell, to miss that one crucial note in the putrid bouquet. For a start, it was damp, and there was a years-deep rind of mould coating the bricks, eating into the mortar, softening the cheap cement that, once upon a time, had been used to pour the floor.

In the damp, rot had come along and worked away at the joists and beams, at the stacks of softening cardboard boxes and yellowing newspaper. The drains were bad too, always had been; a faint drift in the air like a sigh of sour breath. Cats, of course. Or maybe foxes. Something had got in and stayed a while. And why wouldn’t a cat or a fox stay, out of the rain, with a buffet of little scurrying things laid on? Little scurrying things that must have thought they were safe in here. They added their bit to the chord, too, but in such tiny dabs it would take a bloodhound to find them.

No bloodhound needed for the bottom layer. Under the damp and rot, under the drains and vermin, there was something else, sweet and soft as a whisper. And what is whispered was a tale of death. Unmistakable, inescapable death. Not the snuffing out of a mouse either, not some grasping stray, not a proud wild fox brought to broken, whimpering nothing. This was something much bigger.

Catriona McPherson is one of the more prolific writers in our genre; producing a minimum of two books per year (if not three); the flyleaf of A Gingerbread House lists twenty-six titles to her credit thus far in a career with scores of award nominations and wins. I’ve yet to read either of her two series, the enormously popular Dandy Gilver series set between the wars in the UK, or her “scot in America” series, but I hope to spend some time with both at some point in the future…it’s been hard enough keeping up with her stand-alones–which I’ve enjoyed tremendously each time I’ve plucked it from the TBR mountain and settled in for a wild and fun ride in my easy chair.

The problem with writing about one of McPherson’s stand-alone novels is you don’t want to spoil any surprises for those who’ve not had the pleasure to sit down with it as of yet; no easy task for either a professional reviewer or yours truly; a humble blogger who simply likes to share the good news about another terrific read for those who are always on the lookout for another terrific writer whose career they should be following. The main character in this story is Tash Dodd, daughter of a family who’ve built up a shipping business into a major firm over the course of her childhood and adult life; a bright, intelligent and hard-working young woman with big plans for the future of the company and her role in it. She loves her parents and disdains her brother, whom she thinks is a bit of a dullard. But one day looking around in her father’s office, she hears a phone ringing and finds a burner, hidden beneath piles of paper, and against her better judgment, her natural curiosity–thinking her father is having an affair, why else would he have a burner phone–she answers.

And finds out that there are things far worse to learn about her father than an affair.

The chapters about Tash are entwined with other chapters about other single women; lonely women with different stories and backgrounds, who are looking for something more from their lives, only to find out there is danger in looking for something more. These women are beautifully drawn characters, flawed and three-dimensional and relatable despite being completely different from each other–a masterstroke of characterization, I might add–as well as different from Tash, distinct in their needs and wants and desires and lives. What do all four women have in common? How does what Tash is experiencing and going through–having gone into hiding while trying to figure out how to extricate her family business from the horror they’ve gotten enmeshed with–relate and entwine with these women?

Brilliant written and structured, McPherson draws her reader in with her gorgeous prose and once the reader is in the palm of her hand, she slowly draws her fingers in to squeeze every last bit of suspense and tension her reader can handle out of her story and characters, far exceeding reader expectations.

Well done, Catriona. Highly recommended.

She’s a Lady

Saturday morning and I have errands to run today and chores to do; writing to get done and emails to write. I also want to spend some time today reading as well. I was a lolly-gag this morning, leisurely remaining in bed far longer than is my norm. It felt lovely, frankly, and I think it was exactly what I needed to get my body and my mind back in the order it needs to be in for me to function properly.

In other words, I think I have finally recovered from my trip to Left Coast Crime, which is marvelous.

Last evening I finished reading Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House (more on that later), I actually wrote for a bit (more on that later) and then once Paul got home we binged through the rest of season 2 of Bridgerton, which I think I enjoyed much more than the first (despite the absence of gorgeous charismatic Regé-Jean Page, whom I stopped missing once the story really began going). I think I actually preferred the plot of season two more than the one for season one, and it was absolutely lovely seeing an openly gay actor (Jonathan Bailey) so brilliant and convincing in a traditional male romantic leading role. Is that homophobic of me, or a commentary on show business’ homophobia and fear of casting openly gay male actors in those types of roles? I am not sure.

So last evening was quite an accomplished one, and I was most pleased to see that going into work on Friday was actually helpful. I did manage to get a lot done in the office yesterday as well, which was lovely, and that carried over into my evening here at the Lost Apartment. Today, as I mentioned, I have errands to run (prescriptions, mail, groceries) and chores to do (dishes, floors, organizing) and I would love nothing more than to get some writing and reading done today as well. One can dream, can’t one? I want to get through the first draft of my story this afternoon, and I’d like to work some more on something else I started working on yesterday; nothing of import, really, simply a novel idea I’ve had for a very long time that, for some reason yesterday I couldn’t get out of my head, so I just went ahead, found the existing files, and started writing my way through the first chapter. It actually flowed pretty well, and before I knew it–and it was time to call it quits for the evening–I’d written well over a thousand words, which was marvelous, and had also done no less than a thousand or so on my story. This was pleasing, as Constant Reader is no doubt aware of how I always worry that the ability to write is a skill that I might lose at some point in my life, and it always, always, terrifies me.

I am absolutely delighted to let you know that my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, originally published in The Beat of Black Wings, edited by the incomparable Josh Pachter, has been selected as this week’s “Barb Goffman Presents” by Wildside Press in this week’s Black Cat Weekly. I am not the most secure short story writer in the world (many thanks to both Josh and Barb for their keen editorial eye that helped improve the story dramatically from the terrible first draft I wrote years ago), so these little victories help a lot with my Imposter Syndrome issues–which inevitably raise their ugly Cerberus-like heads all the time but especially when I am in the malaise period after finishing a novel manuscript, and especially if I am trying to work on something else and it simply isn’t coming. I am confident now that I will not only finish an initial draft of my story this weekend but perhaps even finish that first chapter I started writing last night and maybe even an outline/synopsis of said book project, which has been languishing in my head for at least a dozen years now, if not more. I mean, it’s not Chlorine, obviously; but that book is becoming even more complicated for me the more I research it–not a bad thing, but indicative of how much work the book is going to be. I was paging through William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen the other night, and I once again was amazed at how tunnel-like my vision was in my initial conception of the book and who the characters needed to be; but I also think the more research I do and the more fears I have of writing it making it all the more necessary for me to actually go ahead and do so.

I really need to work on my focus. I don’t know what it’s actually like to be able to simply write a book and block everything else out of my life in order to solely focus on the writing; my ADHD certainly makes it more difficult and I am inevitably always juggling a million things at once. What must it be like to be able to laser focus all of my attention and energy on a book? It will be interesting to see how retirement, should I ever reach that place, will change and/or make a difference in my writing, won’t it?

I imagine I won’t know what to do with all the extra time. I’ve gotten so used to being scattered in my approach to everything I write that I don’t know what being singularly focused that way would be like, or if it’s even possible for me.

On that somber note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Signs

It feels very weird this morning to be getting up so early after having a work-at-home day yesterday. I slept really well last night–I did have a martini with a friend late afternoon yesterday, which was absolutely marvelous. Paul got home late last night–another grant, as always–and so after I got home after my martini (which are really quite marvelous drinks, frankly) I collapsed into my easy chair and started watching Young Justice again, after getting caught up on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which has replaced The Daily Show as my source of news served up with a touch of humor. His piece on the buying and selling of our online data was superb–scary, yet superb.

But I entered data yesterday and made condom packs while watching some gay cultural history videos on Youtube, which I am enjoying. I’ve also been thinking a lot about writing and what I need to get done–thinking about it counts as writing, by the way, and if you don’t think so, don’t make me come for you BECAUSE OH FUCKING HELL YES IT DOES. I need to get to work on that story when I have time this week–it has to be finished before Edgar Week, which is coming up pretty quickly in the sideview mirror–and I want to start writing a first draft of a manuscript. I think I am going to push Chlorine back another month–sorry, Nikki–and try to get the first draft of another gay noir thriller written; whether or not I will remains to be seen, but I’d really like to get a first draft of the three books done over the next three months. Is it potentially overly ambitious? Of course it is, we’re talking writing, at minimum, at least one hundred and twenty thousand words in three months, but it’s also eminently do-able, as long as I stay focused and don’t allow other things to interfere or distract me; which is always an issue for me. (Look! a squirrel!) But I am starting to feel rested again… which is really nice. I have to go into the office again tomorrow–four days a week now–but at least I don’t have to get up at six to go in tomorrow. Yay? And I do think I am going to stay at home Monday of next week–decisions, decisions; which is the best day of the week for me to work from home, Monday or Friday? Heavy heaving sigh.

I hope to finish Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House this evening; so I can be prepared to move on to the next one. Please don’t think I’m not enjoying this book–I am–simply because I’ve not finished it yet. It’s quite good, and you really should be reading Catriona’s work if you aren’t already, Constant Reader, and if you ever get the opportunity to listen to her speak, jump at it. She’s quite amusing, and her Scots accent is something I could listen to all day. Her Guest of Honor speech at the Lefty Awards banquet was quite epic and enjoyable; and she’s also a very talented (and hard working) writer. I’ve certainly enjoyed everything of hers that I’ve read….the good news is also that she’s incredibly prolific; at least two books a year. I hope I live long enough to retire because I hope that once I do, I can get caught up on all of the books I am so far behind on reading.

Oh my GOD, that TBR stack is terrifying.

I’m trying to decide what time to come into the office for my final in-the-office day of the week, There is something to be said for getting up early, coming in and getting it over with–as well as beating traffic on the way home, and coming in early means it’s easier to find a place to park, always a plus, you know. (There are few things I despise more than trying to find a place to park.) I am really looking forward to this weekend, to be honest; I keep finding more chores around the house and there’s also this strange mentality I have that I will actually write this weekend around everything else I have to do. Is it possible? Anything is possible, really. Is it likely? That remains to be seen.

It rained last night–heavily; we had some massive thunderstorms sometime during the night after I went to bed,. The thunder woke me up very briefly, and then I just went back to sleep. I don’t think there were any tornadoes or anything–my phone’s warning system certainly didn’t go off, or I slept through it, one or the other. But I am not seeing any doom-and-gloom on local news websites this morning, so I guess we dodged another one last night. It was humid AF yesterday–it’s amazing to me how every year, like clockwork, the humidity returns and every single time it catches me off guard. (To be fair, the real humidity doesn’t really clock in until late May, but the heat starts much sooner, and it’s already getting there.) I am not looking forward to the higher power bills of the dog days of summer (and why are they called that? Dog days? I mean, I know three dog night is an old Aussie saying for nights so cold you need three dogs in the bed to keep you warm, but where did ‘dog days of summer’ come from?) and the steaming humidity, but there are, indeed worse things. And I think our new system kept the bills down pretty well last summer, which was quite nice indeed. So, here’s to a sort of bearable summer if I don’t spend much time outside? Huzzah?

And on that note, it is off to the spice mines for me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

This is Todd Sanfield, former fitness model who now has his own underwear/swimwear business! Check it out at https://www.toddsanfield.com/–he’s also the model for his website.

Brown Sugar

Wednesday morning and today is my work-at-home day. I have data to enter and condom packs to stuff; and of course, household chores to do when I need to back away from the computer for a moment or two. I’ve sort of gotten caught up on my chores around the house–it’s also Pay-the-Bills Day, hurray–but there’s always something that needs to be done around here. There are dishes in the dishwasher that need putting away, and laundry as well, the bed linens didn’t get their weekly laundering on Friday because I was out of town, and so forth. I slept deeply and well last night and feel incredibly well rested this morning–for the first time since leaving, really; yesterday was merely an improvement on Monday because this is supposed to be how I feel when I get up. I’m a bit groggy, but the coffee will undoubtedly help with that, and I’ve already done Wordle–I am finding that to be very helpful in kicking my mind back into gear again in the mornings–and now I just have to finish writing this entry. I also have entries to do on Mia Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobe and Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets, and I am getting close to finishing Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House, which I am really enjoying.

I came straight home from work yesterday and did some chores when I got home, which included putting away the stuff in the dishwasher and folding clothes, before settling in to read some more of Catriona’s book. Scooter climbed into my lap and turned into his usual contented purr-ball self (we think we have a new outdoor kitty; Guzman has also come back and isn’t skittish anymore; and Tiger has resurfaced as well), and when my mind finally became too fatigued to go on reading, I started watching some videos on Youtube (I started watching another one about the inbred Spanish Hapsburgs, but turned it off when it failed to note that Charles V had also married a first cousin on his mother’s side, adding to the inbreeding coefficient dramatically; the Iberian royal houses of Castile, Aragon and Portugal had already been inbreeding for centuries) and then Paul got home. I’ve also discovered a new wonderful channel on Youtube about music, “Todd in the Shadows,” and I really enjoy his lengthy looks at one-hit wonders (last night I watched his videos about “Mickey,” “I Touch Myself,” “Missing,” and “What is Love”–I’ve watched quite a few of these in the past and while I don’t always agree with his opinion about the song itself, it’s interesting to hear the backstories of the artists and the songs themselves, as well as what they tried to do to follow up the success of their one hit wonder. And of course, when Paul came back downstairs, we binged the rest of the fifth season of Elite, which we both greatly enjoyed and might be one of the best seasons thus far; certainly it was stronger than season 4. I think this deserves its own entry, frankly; so I think I am going to go ahead and do one at some point. And then it was off to bed and I fell asleep almost immediately, which was lovely, and slept deeply and well through the night, which was also pretty amazing.

Huzzah!

And hopefully, once I am done with my work-at-home duties, I can work on finishing that short story. I really need to get it finished and turned in before I leave for the Edgars in two weeks. Woo-hoo! (Although yes, I am terribly worried about sleep once I am in New York, too. Fortunately I will have at least one night to get used to sleeping in a new bed before the banquet.

It looks kind of cloudy outside this morning, and the crepe myrtles–which are getting more full since the butchery last year–are swaying in the winds. I should probably check the weather to make sure this isn’t going to be another one of those “potential tornado” days–we’re all a little jumpy after that one a few weeks ago–and it looks like it could be another one of those days. Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to make a to-do list; the one I am working off is from before the trip to Left Coast Crime (so much fun!) and is, therefore, dated.

Sigh.

I also need to get some other stuff done–the Bouchercon anthology needs more organizing, I need to start planning Mississippi River Mischief, and I also got, ordered on-line, another copy of William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Helped Shape Hollywood, which I already have a copy of somewhere but it was simply easier to order a new copy than go through every fucking box in storage to find it, and is going to be important research for Chlorine. I was planning on writing a draft of Chlorine in May, but I may push that back a month and do another first draft of something that has drawn some interest from another potential publisher; it’s something I’ve also been wanting to write for some time but have never gotten around to, so we shall see. The day job is changing a bit, so that’s also going to have some impact on my writing schedules and so forth. Heavy heavy deep heaving sigh.

It’s always something.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee, pay the bills, and get started on my day. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Treat Her Like a Lady

Tuesday morning and I clearly should never go into the office the day after I travel. Lord, was I tired yesterday! But I was good Sunday night when I got home and unloaded the suitcase directly into the washing machine and even remembered to move them to the dryer. I stopped on my way home from work yesterday to get the mail and to make some groceries, and then had another load of laundry to do, and dishes to wash and put away…ah, the mundane that comes after the glamour. But there could be worse things. I was a little too tired to focus on finishing Catriona McPherson’s marvelous A Gingerbread House, which I really want to get to the end of because I am dying to know how it all turns out; but that will have to wait, I suppose. I think I am going to tackle Marco Carocari’s Blackout next; I should have already gotten to it, really. (Bad Greg, bad Greg!)

It’s very exciting that we have so many up-and-coming queer writers in the mystery genre, I have to say.

I slept really well last night; this morning I don’t feel tired at all (and yes, I woke up before the alarm went off this morning). I feel like I am actually settling back in to my life and rest and reality; we’ll see how it goes the rest of the day, won’t we?

We watched the first three episodes of the latest season of Elite on Netflix, and I think it is safe to say that it is clearly one of the gayest shows ever to air; and this season more so than any of the prior ones (or maybe it has been all along, and it just caught me off guard last night?). The show is centering gay Patrick more this season than last, and he’s falling for an absolutely beautiful young straight boy (I think we’ve all been there at least once in our lives) and their “friendship” is kind of nice to see; it’s one of the few times I’ve seen this dynamic played out on television. It could easily go the wrong way, so I am curious to see how this continues to play out. But as always, everyone on the show is gorgeous, the drama is way over the top, and we don’t know who this season’s murder victim is yet. There are some new characters (a wealthy Paris Hilton type who calls herself the “queen of Ibiza” and deejays; the handsome son of a soccer player I’ve already mentioned) and of course, no one is left from the original core cast except the characters of Samuel and Omar–and their friendship is already on the ropes. Sigh. I love this show so much.

I’m also feeling more hydrated than I have since I left for Alburquerque Thursday, and yes, that’s entirely on me; it never even crossed my mind that the higher altitude (five thousand feet!) and drier climate would have an effect on me. It did. I had a glass of wine Thursday afternoon when I ran into a friend in the bar and literally got tipsy from it, and my God, were my lips constantly getting dry and chapping? I also can’t remember the last time my mouth was so consistently dry, and drinking water didn’t help at all; maybe some blessed relief for a moment or two before my mouth went completely dry again. I guess desert climates are something you get used to when you live in one, but ugh, my skin was also so dry and of course, the dryness also triggered my psoriasis again (which has cleared up since I arrived back into the dampness of New Orleans.

So, overall, I feel much better this morning than I have in a few days; rested, rehydrated, and relaxed. Which is nice, since yesterday all I did was spin my wheels and keep everything level, rather than moving in a forward direction to get everything taken care of that is on my to-do list (hello, short story that needs writing!). I did make a stop on the way home to make a bit of groceries, but a more in-depth trip will be necessary once the weekend rolls around. Heavy heaving sigh. But…I should probably do an in-depth reorganization of the kitchen cabinets (yes, I have a deadline looming, can you tell?) but there’s undoubtedly some expired things in there that could be cleaned out, and yes, the other cabinets could stand a good reorganization as well. Maybe I should move the pots and pans from over the stove to over the sink? Decisions, decisions.

But tomorrow I get to work from home and it’s not a full eight hour day, either. I’m thinking about watching some movies while I make condom packs and break down some biohazard stuff (expired tests; they need to go into biohazard but aren’t dangerous to handle without gloves), and of course, there’s always data to enter as well. Huzzah! We now have to come into the office four days a week, so I guess this week that will be Friday since I am working at home tomorrow. I can’t decide which day would be best for me to come in next week–it will alternate between either Fridays or Mondays until we go back to five days in the office again–and as tempting as it is to stay home again on Monday, on the other hand I’ve never really gotten used to Tuesdays being my Mondays. So….we’ll see.

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

You’ve Got a Friend

Monday morning and back to reality. The bipolarity of my existence is just one of those things that, when I think about it, always kind of makes me laugh. But the one lovely thing about this bipolarity is that it keeps me humble, methinks. It’s hard to become an egomaniacal author when you spend your Monday thru Friday in a lower-level position in a sexual health clinic.

I am very tired this morning and could have easily stayed in bed for the rest of the morning–but at least I slept well last night. (My last night’s sleep in Albuquerque was the best night of the three I was there as well.) The trip home was relatively painless as well; every flight on time (well, there was a slight delay of about forty-five minutes in Albuquerque, but all that did was shorten the layover in Austin) and there was no irritations or annoyances on either of the flights. Delightfully, Meg Gardiner landed in Austin on her way home from some event in Florida while I was there, so I got to see her! That was pretty cool, frankly. I also started reading Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House, which is creepy and weird and I have literally no idea where this book is going or how it is going to end. I hope to finish reading it tonight after I get home from work–and I may even go to bed early tonight to try to make up for all the rest I lost. I hate not being able to sleep. My work-at-home day this week will be Wednesday, so I’ll have to get up early tomorrow again, too. We’re back to four days in the office every week, so I’ll have to go in on Friday as well–but that’s cool.

I was a little overloaded this weekend; I’m not used to being around so many people anymore, and I am also not used to talking to so many different people in such a short period of time, either–but it was absolutely delightful. I can’t name everyone I saw and had fun with over the course of the weekend–I’d inevitably forget someone–and I also made a lot of new friends, too, which was awesome. There were a lot of highlights, and not really any lowlights. There was a bizarre thing that happened on Friday night–very very bizarre–but I don’t think I want to talk about it or tell the story, because it’s really embarrassing for someone I really don’t know and I’m really not into the “name and shame” thing when someone was, well, rather intoxicated, and therefore not in their right mind. But while it was weird and strange, I could at least see the humor in it–it was kind of funny–even if weird as fuck.

But I am feeling a bit invigorated and stimulated mentally, if physically exhausted, and I am hoping to carry this momentum into getting this short story finished this week. I read several great books on the trip that I’ll need to blog about, as well as a couple of others I won’t be blogging about as I didn’t enjoy them as much as the ones I loved–but it was delightful to get the chance to read a lot; one of the best things about air travel is the forced reading time involved.

But my own bed was lovely last night–and Scooter clearly missed me, as he wouldn’t let me out of his sight once I got home and kept demanding, as I loaded clothes in the washing machine and unpacked my bags, that I go sit in my easy chair to give him the lap to sleep in he’s been missing for four days–and hopefully, I will sleep well again tonight and be even more invigorated as I try to get adjusted back to the day to day.

Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Age of Consent

I slept late this morning–I didn’t even, as I inevitably do, wake up at five and fall back asleep, instead sleeping until almost eight thirty and then taking another fifteen minutes or so to acclimate myself to the idea of getting up. It wasn’t easy, as my entire body was still relaxed and the bed so accommodating and comfortable, but there was simply no way I could stay in be any longer. I have, as always, too much to do and get one today and as lovely as the thought of staying in bed for another couple of hours may have been, it was simply not to be. But the sleep felt marvelous; I don’t think I’ve slept so deeply in quite some time, to be honest, and while you may not be as fascinated as I am by my sleeping, I did feel it necessary to comment on such a good night’s sleep for a change.

I was talking to a friend recently about Lolita–I can’t remember how or why the subject even came up in the first place–butthat conversation put me in mind about how we as a society have changed when it comes to the sexualization of teenagers by adults. I recently watched a terrible show called A Teacher, about a woman in her twenties who teaches high school and ends up having an affair with one of her students, and how this basically ruins their lives on both sides. There has been a lot of that in Louisiana over the past decade–there were two teachers in Destrehan having affairs with male students, occasionally have three-ways with them a while back–and it seems like these kinds of scandals break down here all the time. Teenaged boys and older women have long been looked at societally as not the same thing as the reverse–inevitably triggering responses from adult men things like I wish I’d had some older woman to teach me a few things and so forth, that whole “boys will be boys” mentality that still pervades the culture and society to some degree. This is something I may write about at some point, because it interests and intrigues me–even if it is a bit of a third rail, a dangerous path to follow with lots of potential pitfalls along the way. Teenagers often confuse hormonal responses as love–the whole conflation of sex and love that usually most grow out of it at some point–and of course, teenage boys are easy to manipulate because of their hormones. I think the primary problem I had with A Teacher was I never understood the woman’s motivations; it never made sense to me that she would be so self-destructive; they tried tacking on some back story after the affair was exposed which involved a difficult relationship with her own father, but it didn’t work for me. I also think back to all of the “coming of age” fiction I read when I was a kid, and how inevitably such romances/relationships were always seen as positive things, or depicted that way; there was always some inexperienced teenaged boy falling for some beautiful older woman who inevitably will take his virginity–going back as far as Tea and Sympathy, where the woman did it to “cure” the boy of suspected homosexuality, through Summer of ’42 (I also read the book of this, which impacted me with its tale of loss and longing, and how thirty years after that summer the now adult man still remembers her with love and longing; it would not be depicted that way now) to Class, which really does not hold up well AT ALL. There was a few of these in the early 1980’s–I remember another one called My Tutor, where a wealthy man hires a beautiful woman to tutor his son, they have sex eventually and then the boy (played by Olivia Newton-John’s then husband, Matt Lattanzi, who was stunningly beautiful) finds out his father not only hired her to tutor him but to seduce him (“make a man out of him” is how it was put, how it was always put)–but for a very long time adult/teenager relationships like this were seen as no big deal, at least in films; but I also think it’s pretty safe to say that this was also true societally as well; a father would tend to be proud of his teenaged son for fucking a teacher, rather than being horrified and pressing charges….I think A Teacher missed a beat there, frankly; by having the main male character being raised by a single mom instead of a single dad or at least both parents (or one being even a step-parent) they miss the chance to really address this aspect of toxic masculinity; naturally a mother would think of her child as being molested, whereas a father….that would have been interesting.

It is something I am considering for a Scotty story; it’s all amorphous up there in my brain right now, but it’s slowly forming.

And of course, if the teenaged son was having an affair with an adult male, the father’s reaction would be vastly different than if the affair was with an adult woman.

Yesterday I watched the film version of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, which wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been. The film came across as very cold, and also got off to a very slow start. It was enjoyable for the acting, which was top notch–and one can never go wrong casting Charlotte Rampling–and it was a beautifully done film; a very quiet British style ghost story (I really have been enjoying British ghost stories over the past few years, and now I want to read The Little Stranger, of which I have a copy somewhere), and the film has a very dream-like sense to it that is rather marvelous…but that same sensibility also keeps the viewer at a slight distance, which results in the viewer not getting emotionally invested in the characters or the story. (At least, that’s my takeaway from it.) It also put me in mind of Sarah Waters, who is an enormously talented, award-winning British lesbian writer. I reviewed her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, years ago when I still a reviewer, and was blown away by it completely. At some point since then I stopped reading her–not sure why, and I don’t think it was a conscious choice, to be completely honest; I think she somehow just fell off my radar–but watching this film reminded me of what great writer she is, and perhaps I should go back and read her entire canon, including rereads of the first couple of books–I believe her second novel was Affinity–but…as always, time stands in my way.

I also was thinking of revisiting some Agatha Christie; Catriona McPherson posted on Facebook the other day about a talk she is giving for a public library (I believe in South Carolina?) about Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, which put me in mind of Christie again–sending me own a rabbit hole of memories of her novels–in particular my personal favorite of hers, Endless Night–and how I came to read Agatha Christie in the first place. (I picked up a copy of Witness for the Prosecution off the wire paperback racks at Zayre’s; I knew it had been a movie and I knew who Christie was, but had never read her and was beginning to transition from kids’ mysteries to adults. I also didn’t catch the smaller font words beneath the title reading and other stories; I thought it was a novel and was most startled to discover it wasn’t. So the first adult mysteries I read were Christie short stories, which blew me away. The first actual Christie novel I read was The Clocks–after which I was hooked. Remembering this made me also remember the great mass market paperback publishers of the day: Dell, Pocket Books, and Fawcett Crest. Almost every paperback I read as a teenager was from one of them, and I do remember those publishers very fondly.) I have some Christies here in the Lost Apartment,–I was thinking of rereading either A Caribbean Mystery or Nemesis. I always, for some reason, preferred Miss Marple to Poirot; still do, to this very day. I read the first few paragraphs of Nemesis last night, and was, as always, entranced. So perhaps for this weekend I shall reread Nemesis and some short stories, around working on the book.

Because I absolutely, positively, must work on the book.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and don’t forget there are panel discussions for Saints and Sinners up on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel.

The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.