Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

So here we are, New Year’s Eve, and the last day of the twenty-teens. It’s been a long haul; 2010 seems a million years ago, and my life and careers have taken many paths over those last ten years. 2010 was the year after one of my publishers collapsed–or rather, stopped paying me while continuing to sell my books. They never did finish paying the advance for my last book for them in 2009, Murder in the Garden District, and and they never paid my royalties for the books of mine they still had in print; my last check from them for royalties was received in January 2009. I never received another cent from them after that; I’d already received the first half of the advance for Garden District when I turned it in to them in late 2008. They never answered my emails, ignored my registered letters–yet continued to sell and make money from my work. 2010 was also the year I served on my local chapter board of Mystery Writers of America, and also the year I was elected president near the end and joined the National Board for the first of four years.

2010 was also the year Paul and I went to Tiger Stadium for the first time ever, to watch LSU play Mississippi live; we got there many many hours early before the game started so we could drink in the entire experience of Game Day on a college campus in the South. Paul had never been to a major college stadium before; had never been to a live SEC game before, and part of the pleasure I derived from that day was seeing Paul experience an SEC Game Day for the first time. We’ve been to many games since then, but that first one–in which LSU scored in the final minute to win–remains one of my favorite memories.

I went to Bouchercon in San Francisco that year, saw some college friends for the first time in decades, and was still a starstruck fan boy. I have since been to many others; Albany and Long Beach and Raleigh and New Orleans and Toronto and St. Petersburg (I had to miss Dallas this year because I was ill). I am even on their board now.

I started publishing y/a fiction that year as well; Sorceress came out that year, followed by Sleeping Angel the next. In the twenty-teens I published four new Scotty novels and two additional Chanse novels; some stand-alones; dabbled in romantic suspense (Timothy, The Orion Mask); and somehow managed to get nominated for some mainstream crime writing awards. (I’m 1 for 3 at this point.) I made some amazing new friends along the way this past decade, and while I definitely got older, slowed down, and experienced other physical changes I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, it’s been, for the most part, an absolutely lovely ride. I also lost some friends along the same way, but that’s not something (or anyone) I waste too much time worrying about.

This past year was a lovely capper to the decade that was; an Anthony nomination for a short story was lovely, as was the publication of my short story collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and the eighth Scotty, Royal Street Reveillon. I had a lovely short story in the wonderful Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology (“This Town”–and now, whenever I hear the song, I think of it as mine), got a story into the Dark Yonder anthology (“Moist Money”), came up with a great idea for the next book I intend to write if I ever clear out the unfinished ones languishing on my flash drive, and of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the magical season LSU is having this season. New Orleans is going to be insane the weekend before and the day of January 13th. (I am debating whether I should take the day off and go wandering in the Quarter and to the LSU pep rally; I mean, how often will I get the chance to do just that?)

In a few hours I’ll be at Commander’s Palace for the annual New Year’s Eve lunch which will be lovely as well–I’m already thinking about my Bloody Mary–and then Paul and I will come home to chill and relax. Paul is probably going to go down to the Quarter with some friends to watch the fireworks; I, tired old soul that I am, will probably be asleep before the fleur-de-lis drops at Jackson Square. But that’s okay; I love that I’ve also somehow managed, in the twenty-teens, to drop the FOMO (fear of missing out) I’ve had for most of my life. That’s a personal improvement, I think.

I like to think I’m a better person than I was at the dawn of 2010; there are those who would, perhaps correctly, say that’s a very low bar to clear. Regardless, I am not as prone to anger as I was back then, not as likely to engage on social media (in fact, I only engage with friends and usually to either agree with something they’ve said or tease them), and I’ve also become more aware of things pervasive in our society and culture–racism, misogyny, transphobia–and not just zeroed in on homophobia. I’ve learned, through reading, reasoning, and rational use of logic, that all of these things have the same root and are all simply branches of the same tree: the tree that is White Supremacy, and therefore, all of us–people of color, transfolk, queers, women–are engaged in the same fight against the same enemy, and that the primary tactic of that insidious enemy is divide and conquer–as long as we squabble amongst ourselves while fighting for our rights, their united front seems invincible; because it is through unity of cause and purpose that this horror poisoning our society, culture, and nation can be defeated.

The common enemy has many faces.

And while it is tempting, at my advanced age, to put down my sword and let others take up the fight…I can’t.

So, what does this new decade hold in store for me? What does this New Year mean, what surprises and shocks and opportunities will it bring? I don’t know, I honestly don’t. but while the unknown can be terrifying, I am choosing to embrace it and look forward with hope and optimism. I will continue to write my books, I will continue to work on myself, and I will continue to fight against injustice as long as my fingers can type and as long as I can breathe.

Laura Lippman says you should simply pick a word for the new year rather than set resolutions or goals; I think mine for 2020 is improvement.

So Happy New Year, Constant Reader. Thank you for following me, for reading these words I write every day as I try to figure out the world and my life and who I am; thank you for reading my books and stories. Your support is truly wonderful, and appreciated, and while it might not always seem like it, I am always grateful.

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Who Will You Run To

Vacation all I ever wanted….

Yes, I am off now for about nine days, which is incredibly lovely. Today I am getting the car serviced on the West Bank, and will most likely go ahead and make groceries while I am over there. After that, it’s home and chores; I’d love to get all the cleaning and organizing done today so I don’t have to worry about doing any of that over the next nine days–and possibly do some writing while I am at it. My writing muscles are horribly, disgustingly, rusty; almost as rusty as my actual muscles which haven’t exercised since earlier in the year. I am going to try to get back into a regular workout routine during this vacation period; I miss the endorphins, and I miss the feeling of genuine tiredness one gets from forcing one’s muscles to do work. I also need to stretch regularly and do the dreaded, hated cardio; I’m very disappointed in myself for letting my regular workouts fall by the wayside.

I also want to read The Nickel Boys, and get that out of the way.

We watched two more episodes of Netfix’ Unbelievable last night, and Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver are absolutely killing it. I do think this is a must-watch mini-series; the difference with which the two women treat the rape victims in their cases is such a 180 from the way the men treated poor young Marie in the first episode; and of course Marie’s entire life and experience has turned into garbage not just because she was raped but because of how she was treated, and not believed. I have a lot of thoughts about men and rape/sexual assault; I’ve had them for quite some time but have never truly articulated any of them–who am I to talk about these things?–but there’s a lot more complexity buried there that is never truly talked about or explored; as though there’s a third rail one cannot touch. I’m looking forward to finishing it, and getting caught up on Castle Rock, which is killing it this season.

Which of course always comes down, as ever, to Imposter Syndrome; the fear that I am not intelligent, smart or articulate enough to talk about sensitive things or subjects or topics; which is what holds me back from writing personal essays. Laura Lippman recently announced that her essays are being collected into a book called My Life As a Villainess, which will be released next year, and I can’t wait for it. Her essays are amazing and smart and well-thought out, articulated beautifully; but then again, she is one of our finest writers publishing today, so why wouldn’t they be? Laura once told me, when I said that I am not a strong essay writer and am not very good at them, “Um, you write a personal essay every day on your blog.” It was very kind, and meant a lot to me, and there’s possibly some truth there; but I always see the blog as a kind of free-form rambling, stream of consciousness thing that I do every morning over my first few cups of coffee as I shake off the cobwebs of my sleep–which was glorious again last night, by the way–and try to prepare to face a day of who knows what being thrown at me.

I’m also looking forward to the LSU-Arkansas game this Saturday night on ESPN. The Tigers, despite the dismal defensive showing in Oxford last Saturday, remain the Number One team the country–I still can’t believe this season and how it’s turned out–and of course the Saints game Sunday at noon. The Saints bounced back from that disgraceful outing against Atlanta two weeks ago, and we’ll see how it goes from here. It’s weird to have the top ranked team in college football at the same time as one of the top teams in the NFL; how crazy would it be if LSU won the national championship in the same year that the Saints won their second Super Bowl? Magical indeed; as well as unlikely, but my God, would that ever be cool, and the entire state would lose its collective mind.

As I have said a lot lately, I’ve felt disconnected from my writing life lately–my reading life, too–and I’m not sure what that is. I am hesitant to say “writer’s block,” because it’s not something I truly believe in; I do believe writers can go through fallow periods when they have nothing to say, or can’t think of anything to say; not being able to put words to page. But I don’t believe that–which I often refer to as a ‘malaise’–is the actual problem; I’ve always believed writer’s block is a symptom of depression. One thing I’ve often noted when reading up on writers of the past is how many of them had drinking problems, or certainly drank to excess fairly regularly; so regularly that I’ve sometimes wondered whether there’s a connection between creativity and addiction. I do think creative types are more emotionally volatile than their fellow citizens; more susceptible to vulnerability and emotional instability, which can lead to depression, which can lead to not being able to write, which then turns around in a vicious cycle to make the depression worse, and some people deal with that by using alcohol. I myself have a medicine cabinet filled with medications to help me navigate the fast-flowing, submerged danger everywhere river of my life, and they’ve helped with my own particular brand of crazy.

So, in a little bit I’m going to take a shower and head across the river to the dealership; and hopefully when I come home I’ll be able to get some clear-headed thoughts down on the page as well as some seriously deep-cleaning done on the Lost Apartment.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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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.

Here I Go Again

Facing down yet another Monday like a beast.

I went to bed early last night–just watching the Nadal-Medvedev final in the US Open was exhausting, in addition to the emotional rollercoaster of the LSU-Texas game the previous night, and putting finishing touches on the volunteer project (we’ll be tying up loose ends all week, I suspect), and around nine-ish last night I was just worn out, and went to bed. I slept off and on all night–not sure how that’s going to play out today–but I guess we’ll see. I have two long days in a row for the first time in a few weeks, and I fear my body is no longer used to that abuse…but I guess we’ll see. Now that I have a half-day on Wednesday instead, it might make things easier for me in the middle of the week.

Here’s hoping, at any rate.

I printed out the first four chapters of the final rewrite of the Kansas book last night, and it’s better than I thought it would be–the chapters I’ve already done need some work, and I need to seed the rest of the story a bit more. I’m trying something different with it–just as I did in Bury Me in Shadows, which is first person present tense–I am trying to do this in a remote third person point of view in the present tense. I noticed that despite my attempts to keep it in present tense, I slipped into the past tense a number of times out of force of habit, which is one of the reasons why I am writing this in the present tense; I want to not only shake things up for me as a writer, but break the habits of doing things the same way every time. I want to continually push myself as a writer and as a story-teller, and the best way to do that is to expand and try different things, different styles, different methods of storytelling, different ways of presenting the narrative and writing different kinds of crime novels. Laura Lippman is a master of this; her last few novels have all been dramatically different in style, voice, tone, and presentation–After I’m Gone, Wilde Lake, Sunburn, and Lady in the Lake–there’s definitely a Lippman sensibility to them, but the stories and storytelling and construction of the books are all dramatically different. That’s kind of what I want to do with my own stand-alone novels; I’ll probably always come back to Scotty, and as I’ve said recently, there’s another Chanse novel I’m probably going to try to write sometime next year–but the entire point of the stand alones was to do different things and experiment with style as well as story and writing.

But now that all that’s left is wrap-up on the volunteer project–thank the Lord, you have no idea what an enormous venture this was–I can start getting caught up this week on everything else that has slid while I focused all of my prodigious energy on getting it finished. I love doing volunteer work; I often take things on that I shouldn’t, as they interfere with my writing and staying on top of everything else in my life, but I like helping out. One of the primary reasons I love my day job so much is because I feel like I’m helping people make positive changes in their life, and at the very least I am helping people get STI’s cleared up, if nothing else. I need to finish an essay by this weekend, and I have to finish a first draft of a short story that’s due by the end of the month. I’d also like to get some work on the Kansas book done–it may not be finished when I want it to be finished, but that’s also life, and I am certain I can get it finished, at the latest, in December. I also remembered I have a novella a publisher is interested in that I need to get to work on; it’s a long short story but there are any number of places where it can be expanded easily, and so I should be looking at that as well.

This has been, all in all, a pretty good year for me–I had a short story collection come out in the spring and a novel this month–and while I’d like to get both of these novels that are in progress finished and out by next year as well, I don’t think that’s going to happen, which is perfectly okay. Bury Me in Shadows took me a lot longer than I intended to get finished, and that’s perfectly okay; it happens. But I also think I can get a strong revision of it finished this December, and then I can get it turned in for January; a strong push and the Kansas book can be turned in at the end of January, and hopefully by then, doing a chapter a week,  I can also have a strong first draft of Chlorine finished as well. I also want to get more short stories written, as I would love nothing more than to have another collection out sooner rather than later. I’m also nominated for an Anthony Award for my short story “Cold Beer No Flies” from Florida Happens, which is pretty awesome; I sold my short story “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s (and the story was received pretty well by most reviewers; probably the most, and best, feedback after publication I’ve ever had on a short story) and I also sold my story “Moist Money” to Dark Yonder, which I’m pretty pleased about.

I’m still reading both Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which I hope to have more time to read now that the volunteer project is under some sort of control, and  James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, which is giving me a rather pointed history of racism in New Orleans, and it’s not pretty. We New Orleanians know there’s still systemic racism here in the city, as well as individual racism, but the history of slavery and racism in New Orleans is unique to this place and different than everywhere else; we had an entire middle-class of free people of color before the war, who weren’t obviously slaves but had to show deference to white people and were segregated out of places frequented by whites; Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series, beginning with A Free Man of Color, and Anne Rice’s The Feast of All Saints, are excellent fictional representations of that weird second-class citizenship the free people of color of New Orleans and Louisiana experienced. It’s still appalling, though, to read about lynch mobs and murderers never brought to proper justice for their crimes. Stained in blood as it is, New Orleans has a fascinating history, and has always been one of the more interesting places in this country.

And tomorrow is officially my new book’s birthday! Huzzah!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Funky Worm

Well, it’s Sunday morning and the windows are covered with condensation again, which means it’s hot and humid outside (with a chance of rain). I finished reading Laura Lippman’s brilliant Lady in the Lake yesterday, but after running my errands in the heavy heat and damp, I was pretty wiped out by the time I’d put everything away and found it incredibly difficult to focus on much of anything. I did some more cleaning, brainstormed a lot more in my journal (I’ve been having some great ideas for “Never Kiss a Stranger”) and then watched the first official game of the college football season–Miami vs. Florida on ESPN last night. I’m not much of a fan of either, to be honest, but it’s an in-state rivalry game and they don’t play each other very often. It was a great game, actually; I didn’t think Miami had much of a chance, but ended up only losing 24-20, and they had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds but couldn’t convert. LSU’s first game is next weekend–a non-conference snoozer; I don’t even remember who they are playing–and soon enough the Saints will be playing their regular season games too. I love college football, and the Saints–I only watch the Saints play in the NFL and pay little to no attention about other teams unless the Saints are playing them. (This goes all the way back to when I was a kid; I’ve never cared much for the NFL but have always loved college football…if I didn’t live in New Orleans I probably wouldn’t care about the Saints, either; but you can’t live here and not love the Saints. It’s practically a city ordinance, and I will say I’ve never seen or experienced anything like the way this city loves its football team.)

Today I have a lot to do. I am going to revise my short story that’s due next weekend, and work on a big project that needs to also be finished by next weekend, and I am probably going to mess around with “Never Kiss a Stranger” a little bit today. I am also going to reread the last few chapters of Bury Me in Shadows so I can finally get those last three chapters written, hopefully by getting a start on that today, and finishing by September 1 so I can do one last pass on the rape culture novel before sending it to my publisher. I also think I’m going to work a bit on my story for the MWA anthology. It’s already finished, and I’ve revised it already a couple of times, but I think I am going to revise it one more time, give it another going over, to make sure everything is fine and ready to go. I doubt it’ll get taken, but I like submitting stories to these anthologies, and one of these days I am going to actually make it into one of those anthologies if it kills me.

And it just might!

Oddly enough, these last week or so I’ve had a sense of general malaise–the notion that I have so much to do that I’ll never get it all done, which then creates inertia/paralysis: there’s no way I’m going to get this all finished so what’s the use in trying? This is incredibly self-defeating, and I know I have a tendency to often defeat myself, so these are alarms and triggers I know to watch out for, fight against, and not get too deeply imbedded in my brain. I don’t always succeed; sometimes the inertia/paralysis wins and I get nothing done, which only exacerbates the problem. But I somehow manage to always get everything done, which is very exciting.

This coming weekend is Southern Decadence, and this is going to be my first Southern Decadence when I am not working in the office on Frenchmen Street–I don’t even have to drive through the Quarter to get to work anymore, so I won’t be caught off-guard by seeing hordes of gay men walking around in the Quarter on my way to work. I am going to do condom duty on Friday night only, giving me a lovely three day holiday weekend to enjoy, watch LSU and get to work on the rape culture novel for its final draft before submission. I’ll be glad to have that book finished, and then I have another project to work on for both October and November, and then in December I can return to Bury Me in Shadows. If my plans hold up, I should be able to then finish revising another unfinished manuscript in January before starting to write the new Chanse, while doing the final research and prep work to get started on Chlorine. These plans are, of course, always subject to change; you never know when another project is going to drop into your lap and that could possibly change everything yet again.

I really need to make a to-do list, and do some other business-type stuff today. I’ve also started packing another box of books to go into the attic; I should probably finish that today as well. I think I’m going to read Rob Hart’s The Warehouse next, followed by Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows, and then I’ll come back to the Diversity Project, probably with Michael Nava’s Lay Your Sleeping Head.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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Don’t Expect Me To Be Your Friend

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and when I was a teenager I loved nothing more than those enormous books that could also be used to shore up the pilings of your house–epic novels with paperback editions that occasionally topped a thousand pages, so thick that reading them inevitably cracked the spine, leaving loose and sometimes lost pages in its wake. They always seemed to lose their book shape, these enormous and theoretically disposable books, and looked ugly on the shelf when you tried to put them back. I’ve always liked clean lines on my bookshelves, and those enormous paperbacks always messed up the ramrod straight line of spines I liked looking at, admiringly, my own personal library.

It was during this time I discovered Herman Wouk.

The first Wouk novel I read was The Winds of War. It was my father’s book, actually, although all the books in the house generally wound up in my room eventually. It was mountainous, enormous, and while I was aware of World War II history–it was still fairly recent, and I had many family members in my grandparents’ generation who served–but it wasn’t my favorite period of history (although I would eventually come around to it and become fascinated by it, a fascination I still hold to this day) and I was particularly interested in reading it. One Saturday I was sitting in the living room, bored, and rather than walking to my room to get the book I was currently reading,  I picked up The Winds of War and started reading. It was summer, we were living in Kansas, and we’d just moved there and I knew no one. Several hours later I was deep into the book, completely fascinated, mesmerized by this story of the Henry family–a Naval family–caught up in the sweep of oncoming war in Europe and in the Pacific. The book closed with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States finally entering the war.

And I became a Wouk fan. I started reading all the Wouk I could find, loved them all, from The Caine Mutiny to Youngblood Hawke, and couldn’t wait to check War and Remembrance, the sequel to The Winds of War, out from the library when it was released.

And then there was Marjorie Morningstar.

lady in the lake

I saw you once. I saw you and you noticed me because you caught me looking at you, seeing you. Back and forth, back and forth. Good-looking women do that. Lock eyes, then look one another up and down. I could tell at a glance you’ve never doubted you were good-looking and you still had the habit of checking a room to  make sure you were the best-looking. You scanned the crowd of people on the sidewalk and your eyes caught mine, if only for a moment, then dropped away. You saw me, you tallied up the points. Who won? My hunch is you gave yourself the crown because you saw a Negro woman, a poor one at that. In the animal kingdom, the male performs for the woman, woos her with his beautiful feathers or flowing mane, is always trying to out-strut the other men. Why do humans do it the other way? It doesn’t make sense. Men need us more than we need them.

You were in the minority that day, you were in our neighborhood and almost everyone there would have picked me. Maybe even your husband, Milton. Part of the reason I first noticed you was because you were next to him. He now looked exactly like his father, a man I remembered with some affection. I can’t say the same about Milton. I guessed, from the way people gathered around him on the temple steps, patted his back, clasped his hands in theirs, that it must have been his father who had died. And I could tell from the way that people waited to comfort him that Milton was a big shot.

Laura Lippman’s latest novel owes the same kind of debt to Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar as her Wilde Lake did to To Kill a Mockingbird (and Thomas Thompson’s Celebrity); in some ways, her heroine, Maddie Schwartz, has a lot of the same history as Marjorie; the close strictures and mores of the 1950’s for a young Jewish woman in Baltimore molded and shaped her much as they did Marjorie. The book opens with Maddie walking out of her marriage and away from her young son; she just has a general sense of malaise and an unshakable sense there has to, needs to be, more in life for her. Maddie is beautiful and knows she is; she knows how to manipulate men and get them to do what she wants them to do. Needing money, she pretends her engagement and wedding rings were stolen for the insurance; one of the responding cops, a young black man named Ferdie, soon becomes her illicit lover. Maddie’s discovery of a missing young girl’s body is soon parlayed into a job at a Baltimore paper; she becomes interested in another murder–that of Cleo Sherwood, the so-called “lady in the lake”; a young woman of color murdered and dumped in the fountain in a park. Maddie eventually, in her careless way (one of the strongest character traits Maddie has is carelessness; she seems to just blunder her way ahead without giving a thought to the repercussions and fall out her actions might cause) she starts investigating Maddie’s death, using her position as a clerk at the paper to fool people into talking to her. SHe wants to be a reporter, you see, and this Cleo case–no matter how many people try to dissuade her, no matter how many roadblocks get put up in her way–is a way for her to get upgraded to reporter, and she doesn’t care what damage she might leave in her wake as she goes for what she wants.

Lippman has long been one of the leading lights of the crime fiction community; her Tess Monaghan series is one of the best, and her switch to stand-alone crime novels has firmly established her reputation as one of the best writers of our time. One of the great things about Lippman is how she pushes herself into new directions, new perspectives, and new approaches with every novel; each stand-alone is particularly distinct and exceptional in its own way. She explores in her work what it means to be a woman, whether in today’s world or in the recent past, and how societal mores and expectations can stifle a woman’s needs and ambitions. Her characters struggle against those strictures, but at heart her novels are about the complications, complexities, and layers of being a woman in American society. She’s explored love and marriage, the fallout from lust, what it means to be a mother, and above all else, the complicated relationships between women–whether it’s sisters, mother/daughter, or just friends. Maddie doesn’t regret walking out on her marriage for one moment; she doesn’t even seem particularly concerned that her teenaged son wants to stay with his father and her regular dinners with him are uncomfortable. She knows her leaving has damaged her relationship with her son, but she doesn’t really seem to care too much about that. Maddie is sometimes downright unlikable, yet what she wants, her confusion about who she really is and how to go about building the kind of life she thinks she wants make her sometimes unlikable actions and behaviors forgivable in the reader’s eyes; Lippman has constructed her so carefully the reader can’t help but care what happens to her.

Lady in the Lake is also a departure from other Lippman works in that it’s told in a vast array of points of view; when we are seeing things from Maddie’s point of view, it’s a remote third person pov–but everyone else is in a tight, first person present tense point of view. We even hear from the ghost of Cleo Sherwood from time to time. Multiple points of view are a hard row to hoe for even the best writers; Lippman somehow manages to imbue all these minor and supporting characters with unique voices and perspectives that make the reader regret, just a little, that we don’t get more than just a glimpse of these characters. In that respect, Lady in the Lake is a tour-de-force; a masterwork from a great writer at the top of her game. It’s one of the most unusual crime novels I’ve read, and its originality, along with Lippman’s cool expertise at her craft,  will result in it being one of the top books of the year.

It’s already been an exceptional year for readers–I’ve read so many amazing books this year so far, and am looking forward to reading more.

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me-oh-my-oh.

Now I want jambalaya.

Yesterday kind of sucked over all. I wasn’t in the least bit sorry to go to bed last night and bid the shitty day adieu. The energy of the day was off from the moment I got up yesterday, and just never got any better than that, sadly. The drive from the office to the grocery store was an endless annoyance of stupid drivers and their senseless, dangerous behavior. The grocery store was full of thoughtless trash who seemed to think they were the only people in the store, and then I almost got hit by another idiot driver who wasn’t watching or paying attention as I took the turn off St. Charles to my street–had I not been paying attention or been five seconds later, I definitely would have been broad-sided. I got home and the house was a disaster area, so bad I couldn’t get organized enough to clean because somehow I’d allowed the kitchen to get so bad that I had both sinks full of dirty dishes, the stove and counter were filthy, and a dishwasher full of clean dishes that I had to put away before I could start doing the rest of the dishes–which turned out to be more than one load. The shrimp creole turned out delicious, though, and when it was finally time to relax and watch some television, when we opened the Netflix app on the television, the third season of Thirteen Reasons Why had dropped. The second season wasn’t very good–and the first had its moments of nonsense–but as we watched the preview, it looked interesting–and of course the cast is all very young and appealing, so we decided to give it a whirl. The third season is, so far, the best of the three, to be honest; I enjoyed the first season, was surprised by its twists and turns, but ultimately the gimmick that tied the first season together–the tapes Hannah left behind after her suicide–was a bit outdated. For one thing, can you even buy blank cassette tapes anymore? Even when the book was originally published, sometime during the second Bush administration, the cassettes were outdated–but it was important to the story that it had to be cassette tapes–digital recordings wouldn’t work for the necessity of the story–and the one big plot hole that was never resolved was how did all the kids have the means to listen to cassette tapes? Clay had to borrow Tony’s ancient Walkman–and let’s be serious, Walkmans didn’t last very long, even when babied. To use cassette tapes in this decade was absurd on its face; why not videotapes, if we’re using obsolete technology?

But the third season is off to a really good start, and it appears that the third season is going to follow the story-telling methodology of the earlier seasons: the present, the recent past, and the distant past as timelines. The first season’s question was why did Hannah kill herself? The second season concerned itself with will Hannah get justice?, and it appears that the third season is going to be a lengthy, lazily unfurling murder mystery, in which the show’s villain has been murdered and of course, everyone in the cast has a motive. It will be interesting to see how they proceed with this, and I’m actually hopeful it will be a better experience than the first two flawed seasons. And yes, I am very well aware that the entire notion that the group of friends are helping out the poor bullied kid who almost became a school shooter last season by taking care of him and watching out for him, while getting him psychiatric help, is a bit much…but then again, teenagers often think they can solve problems that are beyond their scope.

Juggling multiple time-lines is not something I’ve tried in any of my works; Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman both are masters of the varied timelines–so if you’re looking for a tutorial on how to structure a novel this way I highly recommend Gaylin’s What Remains of Me and Lippman’s After I’m Gone–but it is something I’ve always wanted to try. My novels are always linear–A to B to C–and it might be a fun challenge sometime to do the multiple timeline thing.

While I was cleaning yesterday some ideas for “Never Kiss a Stranger” popped into my head, and I’m hoping I’ll remember them today so i can add them in. I have some errands to run today, and definitely to spend some time with the new Lippman novel–which I may just finish today–and have some other work to do in addition to cleaning and doing some writing. I feel good this morning; awake and lively and functional, so here’s hoping it will last through the day–and going out into the heat and humidity, which I am rather dreading as it is so draining. But I have prescriptions and mail to pick up, groceries to make, and  I’m hoping I’ll be able to make some serious progress on projects. There’s college football games today–of all things, they are calling it “Week Zero”, which is insane–so I may watch the Miami-Florida game tonight before queueing up Thirteen Reasons Why.

I’m not really sure what I’m going to do about dinner today–and I’ll need to make up my mind before heading out to make groceries, you know? I’m also considering going back to taking salads to work for lunch every day–one of the reasons I stopped was because salads would turn brown if I made a big bowl, and it was too much trouble every morning to make a salad, plus it wasn’t helping me lose weight or anything–but now I’m thinking it’s probably not a bad idea to go back to salads again. Of course, I also have the shrimp creole. Maybe I’ll wait and get the salad fixings on my way home from work on Wednesday, which is my new short day.

Decisions, decisions. Maybe I’ll just wait till Labor Day weekend, and start then.

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

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