Automatically Sunshine

Monday, and my body clock–which had finally adjusted to me getting up early for work–is now all messed up again. Thanks, Daylight Savings Time, thanks a lot.

I woke up yesterday determined to get things done but that eventually didn’t happen, sadly. I started off the morning thinking, ah, I’ll read for a little while and then I’ll get going on my day but instead I got sucked into the book I was reading, and by the time I finished The Twelve Jays of Christmas, it was around three in the afternoon and I was… not fatigued or tired, but the malaise kind of set back into my day and it was rather unpleasant. I wound up getting sucked into war coverage, and finally caught up on Superman and Lois before eventually going to bed. I slept deeply and well and woke up this morning reluctant to get out of bed and get my day started. My body’s natural tendency–Greg’s natural tendency–it to default to laziness and doing nothing; a body at rest and all that, and my body and mind definitely wanted to stay at rest this morning. In fact, even as I sit here drinking my coffee and listening to the washing machine run, the bed is calling for me to return and burrow back beneath the covers and close my eyes, even though I am awake. But I have work-at-home duties to do, and later on I have to finish this final edit on my manuscript and start working on editing another one for someone else. I am getting closer to being caught up and getting big projects out of the way, which is lovely on the one hand, but on the other hand it is still incredibly daunting to have so many other things still hanging over my head.

I don’t know what it would feel like to not have something hanging over my head, though, so I am not sure how I would feel were that to ever happen. Knowing me, it would cause me stress and make me worried that no one is interested in any work from me anymore.

The weather has gotten cold here again, which isn’t conducive for me wanting to get out of bed in the mornings, either. It’s not as bad, obviously, as it is other places–we didn’t have a snowpocalypse, at least, for which I will be eternally grateful–but I do love how we always get sucked into thinking winter is over because we have a really warm week of sun and high temperatures, only to get it right between the eyes. March is indeed a cruel month–wasn’t March the month they used to say “in like a lion out like a lamb” about? (I’ve not heard that phrase since I was a child) That reminds me–speaking of odious chores hanging over my head–I need to get my taxes together. Ugh, indeed an odious chore, and once again, like an idiot, rather than keeping track of my deductible expenses all year I need to compile them now. *head desk*

I never learn, do I?

I guess that is the one constant in my life.

So, this morning I need to make this week’s to-do list. I have the weekend’s sitting here in front of me, and I managed to get three of the seven tasks crossed off; I never ran the errands, which is why nothing else got crossed off. I should have done them when I finished reading my book yesterday but I was, as I said earlier, very apathetic once I finished reading the book. Then I need to get my work-at-home duties taken care of, and then I will run those errands to get them out of the way once and for all. I think I am going to read Robert Jones’ The Prophets next; that or Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets. I also have the new Lisa Lutz sitting on my coffee table, which I am sure I will enjoy a lot as well–she’s never disappointed me yet. (I also found out over the weekend that the story I thought was due in early April isn’t actually due until April 30th; a bit of a respite that might help me simply spin the story out rather than try to write the damned thing in a massive rush the week it’s due…at least in theory, right?)

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am putting my miner’s helmet on and heading down into the spice mines. Have a happy Monday, Constant Reader.

Time Changes Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I Know About You

Well, home again and back to reality. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone

I finished the book and emailed it off to my editor yesterday. ENORMOUS SIGH OF RELIEF. It still needs some work–there’s a few things that need to be changed, methinks, and of course there’s probably lots of my usual sloppy errors (changing character names but not catching them all; repetitive writing; clunky sentences, etc.) but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was two days ago–my moods swing back and forth; one day I think it’s really good, two hours later I think it’s the worst piece of shit I’ve ever written–and I think letting it sit for a few weeks while my editor comes up with her thoughts and advice is going to be very good for it. Now I just have to get this pesky short story written and I can breathe a little bit.

For a very little bit, of course. It never ends around here, you know.

I am in that weird lull period of uncertainty; creatively and emotionally drained a bit from the big push to get the manuscript finished–along with the bipolarity of is it good or not writerly insecurity–and with my batteries drained so much, I didn’t have the energy to actually focus on reading anything, so I went onto Youtube and fell into a wormhole about the bubonic plague for a bit before I got rather fed up with myself and made myself do things. I emptied the dishwasher and did another load of dishes, did a load of laundry, and then sat down at my computer and started organizing the horror that is my back-up hard drive. I made some very good progress, but it was barely a scratch on the surface. I will never understand why I am so careless and/or lazy about computer files and their storage, really; would it kill me to take some time and carefully name files, check for duplicates, and file them away properly so they are easy to find again? The file search function on Macs has a lot to do with this; oh I can just do a file search later to find it–but the problem is really my memory; I will completely forget about something once it’s lost in the horror of the back-up hard drive. Last night, for example, I found a lovely word file with a single sentence in it that was so beautifully written and evocative I was certain I couldn’t have thought it up myself and written it…so I tried to do a google search to see where I’d originally found it–and if I couldn’t find anything, well, maybe I can use it. I didn’t find anything, but I am still not convinced; it sounds like something one of the great Southern writers–Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor–would have written.

More research is clearly needed, but DAMN I hope I thought that sentence up.

I’ve also been asked to write a story–or submit a story–to a market I’d never heard of before; it was an unsolicited email (I get those from time to time) and the offer of payment is actually pretty substantial (it’s not a guaranteed publication, but they’d like to see something from me and it’s not like I don’t have a gazillion stories and fragments of stories and ideas for stories lying around, right?), so I think I might actually take some time and dig through the files (now that I think of it, this was how the clean-up of the back-up hard drive began last night; me looking through the files and realizing that finding anything without doing the afore-mentioned search–if you aren’t looking for anything SPECIFIC–is well-nigh impossible, hence the start of the cleanse…) and see if I can find something. I have an idea for a weird story–I’ve had the idea for quite some time–and while I was thinking about this last night while I was going through the files, moving and rearranging and sometimes deleting, a great sentence came to me that could easily be the opening of this weird story I want to write. I opened a Word document and wrote it down, but unlike the gorgeous sentence I was talking about earlier, THIS time I gave the file the name of the story and added “sentence” to the title and saved it to the proper file for the story.

I do learn, eventually.

Tonight I want to do some more clean-up. I also have to pack, since I am driving up to Alabama tomorrow for the weekend–I may take the back-up hard drive with me so I can continue working on the clean-up, or I might not; it’s been a while since I have had a weekend of just listening to writers talk about craft and writing and books they love and authors who inspire them; why not simply bask in that environment and find inspiration from others who are passionate about writing? I am going to listen to Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger in the car (if you’ve not read her The Swallows, get on it and thank me later), and I am going to take something to read with me, too–not quite sure what; maybe Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey–to help me fall asleep every night (not that the book will put me to sleep, just that reading before sleeping helps me to relax). The weather is going to be frightful on the drive–thunderstorms the entire way–but the lovely thing about the drive is there is rarely traffic on I-59 between New Orleans and Birmingham other than when the highway passes through a city, and the majority of the cities I will be passing through (if not all of them) are all significantly smaller than New Orleans or Birmingham and the highway pretty much seems abandoned once you reach the Mississippi state line. (See: Jake driving to his grandmother’s in Bury Me in Shadows)

God, I have so much organizing to do! Maybe next weekend, when I am at home without a book deadline looming.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader.

Going Down for the Third Time

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

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

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

Well, never say never.

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

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

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

You Can’t Hurry Love

No, you’ll just have to wait.

Friday morning and working at home. My new in-office schedule, if you haven’t been paying attention, has been shifted to Tuesdays thru Thursdays, so now I work at home on the bookends of the weekend, Fridays and Mondays. I have data to enter and condoms to pack, ZOOM work meetings (no offense, day job, but ZOOM is the bane of my existence and has been since March 2020)–technically it’s Microsoft Teams, which is kind of the same thing, and then later, chapters to write and clothes to launder and filing to do. It’s non-stop glamour around here at the Lost Apartment, right?

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday–just routine maintenance to get my prescriptions refilled–and then came home to work on the book. I am very pleased with how it’s shaping up so far (of course, as always, I go back and forth constantly between this isn’t terrible and this is going to ruin my career, which is essentially what I do with every manuscript, so everything is normal. Realizing that I am going through my usual emotional journey with this one eased my mind significantly). We watched the first episode of the new season of Resident Alien last night, which was rather fun, and then the new Peacemaker, which I am glad we stuck with. The first episode was okay, but we weren’t sold completely on the show; I love John Cena, so obviously we were going to keep going but I didn’t have high hopes; the show seems to be hitting its stride and this week’s episode was probably one of the best. I went to bed early and then slept deeply and beautifully; so whatever it was that was bothering me earlier in the week and keeping me from sleeping apparently eased off yesterday, which is always a plus.

I also got a copy of Lisa Lutz’ The Apprentice this week; I can’t wait to dig into it. One of the primary reasons I am looking forward to finishing this manuscript is because, as always when I am going into the final stretch, I am too nervous to read another writer’s work, particularly Lutz’, because I will inevitably feel like why do I bother when there are authors like this putting work out into the world? How can I possibly compete with these incredibly smart and literate writers? Then I have to stop feeling sorry for myself and sulking to get back into the right mindset for writing my new book; which is a process and I can’t spare the time for that right now, so the books continue to pile up (this is exactly what happened when I took a break for “just an hour” to indulge myself in Alafair Burke’s Find Me and then couldn’t put the book down until next thing I knew the book was done, and I’d (I can’t say wasted; reading Alafair is never a waste of time) lost an entire day of work. I know the new Lutz will have the same effect on me; so I need to not give into temptation and even crack the book open. (I may allow myself a Laura Lippman short story later on today, as a reward after the writing is done and before I crack open the wine.)

I also have a lot of other work to do over the course of the weekend; I have emails to answer as well as some writing to do for my friend’s website, which should be a lovely distraction from all of the other things I am (always) doing. I can’t wait for you all to see the cover for A Streetcar Named Murder; it’s absolutely gorgeous (I may have to get it made into a poster). It looks like I will be doing a “cover reveal” with a book blogger, which is a new thing for me. But this is actually a mainstream book (which is an offensive term on its face; but more on that later); my main character is a straight woman who lives in the Irish Channel, is widowed, and her twin sons have just gone away to college (LSU, of course) and suddenly finds herself (and the twins) as the beneficiary of a bequest from a relative of her husband’s that she didn’t know existed; and this is the heart of a mystery she (Valerie) finds herself in the middle of trying to figure out…and of course, it eventually leads to murder. I am doing something different here–I don’t think I’ve ever done something that could be called a cozy before; although in some ways the Scotty series is precisely that (but that can be a topic for another time)–and so am not sure if I am following the established rules for the sub-genre; but I also have to tell the story that I want to tell within that framework. It was a challenge to me as a writer; and one of the things I had been feeling as a writer over the last few years was that I was getting stale; that my work was in a state of stasis and I wasn’t growing within my work. In 2015 I felt that way, too, and so I took some time away from the writing and the grindstone I’d been pushing my nose against steadily for the preceding five or six years. This was when I wrote the first draft of #shedeservedit; this was when I decided to start taking more risks with the Scotty series, and when I decided to not continue the Chanse series. I am kind of looking at 2022 through that same lens; I decided to write this novel (possible first in a series) as a challenge to push myself to do something different, take a chance, and force myself to stretch my abilities and skills.

I think Chlorine is another step forward for me as a writer; writing a historical novel set in the recent past (although I suppose the 1950’s isn’t that recent past, really–which really makes me feel horrifically old) is going to push my talents and ability as a writer, and will require a lot more focus and research (which, while I love really history and reading it, the problem is that I can never really focus my interests in solely reading and researching what I actually need to look into for what I am working on–that ADHD problem) as well as writing in a different style than what I usually do; that rat-a-tat-tat pacing and use of language that keeps the story moving and says something about the times, the culture, and the characters themselves and how systemic homophobia can affect the lives of those with same-sex attractions; in addition to the toxic culture of sexual harassment and assault that was so prevalent in old Hollywood; the 1950’s were a transitional period for Hollywood as the old studio system began to crumble in the face of a new, changed society and the challenge of television.

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

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.

Notorious

Hello, Thursday!

I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows last night, and I am still processing the experience. There will be more to come on this score, but for now, suffice it to say you all need to buy this book, everyone. It’s extraordinary. The voice, the characters, the story, the setting, the plot…and it’s wickedly, darkly funny, too. It’s one of those books that makes me question myself and my own work, and makes me want to do better.

This has been a particularly exceptional year for crime novels, so much so that I can’t even recall all of them off the top of my head.

The women are killing it, guys. Up your game.

I’m also greatly enjoying the campy ride that is American Horror Story: 1984. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not–no matter how off the rails a season of this show goes, I always end up watching it; the only season I bailed on was Hotel–but I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I was wondering how they were going to manage to get a season out of a slasher style tribute–after all, the main cast can’t be killed off from the very beginning, because you’d soon run out of cast–and last night I realized, ah, yes, every new character who is introduced in each new episode is going to die horribly. And yes, that’s what we have going on with this season, but it’s amazingly camp and funny and witty, and very much done in the style of the slasher films that were so popular in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s (have they ever gone out of style, though, really?).

Today I have to really get back on track with things. It looks like other than a nudge here and there, the massive volunteer project is finally over; just in time for some new volunteer projects, but none of those will be as time-consuming or all-encompassing as this one was–which is a very good thing, because I will need to use every minute available to me to get some things done before the end of the month. Hello, weekend–no rest for the wicked this week, alas. But it’s fine; primarily what I need to do is get these two stories finished. I also need to get back to the Diversity Project; next up is Michael Nava’s Lay Your Sleeping Head, which is actually a rebooted revision of his first Henry Rios novel, originally published as The Little Death. 

I am also moderating two panels at Bouchercon next month in Dallas, and so I need to start getting my shit together to be prepared for that, as well. I also have to write my column for the Sisters in Crime quarterly. Heavy sigh, it never ends, does it?

Make a list, Gregalicious, make a list, or you’ll never get any of this back under control.

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I also got an idea I didn’t need to have. I’ve written a noirish short story about a teenaged male figure skater–it needs work–and last night it popped into my head how to turn it into a novel, and that the story would work far better as a novel than as a short story. While it’s an excellent idea, this presents another problem for me. First of all, when on earth would I ever have time to write such a novel,  and secondly, I made a decision quite a while ago that I needed to stop thinking about stories in terms of novels when they would work as a short story. Maybe this is one that would be better as a novel rather than a short story; it’s hard to say, and the more I think about it this morning, the more I am leaning toward leaving it as a short story. Maybe I should just take another look at it again this weekend, since I am devoting the weekend to short stories and articles and essays, and decide then.

I made shrimp ‘n’ baked potatoes last night, so the kitchen is a horrific mess this morning, which I should get cleaned up before I head into the office–I hate coming home from work to a filthy kitchen–and then I’m going to try to get all my emails answered.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Mony Mony

Wednesday.

So, the short story is coming along, which is a good thing as it is due in a week. I just wish I could find a good three hour break to just sit down, listen to Stevie Nicks, and get it finished.

One can but dream.

I’ve been very tired this week. Not sure what that’s about; my sleep might not be deep but it’s been restful. I’m trying to wean myself off sleep assistance, and have cut back even further on my daily caffeine intake, but there it is, you know? I think it’s mostly because I work the long days on Monday and Tuesday, plus I’m always tired when I wake up to an alarm as opposed to organically. Today is half-day Wednesday, and I get to make groceries and run some errands when I get off at three-thirty this afternoon before coming home to make dinner. I still need to get my short story written; after I finish this and answer some emails I’m going to see if I can get some work done on that before I have to get ready for work. It is, after all, due a week from today.

I also want to spend some more time with Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows. I’ve been too tired the last few nights to read, so have been watching television when I get home from work. But I think tonight I’ll have some time. My primary concern is the reluctance to put it down and do other things I need to get done. The Lost Apartment is a disaster area, to say the least. Since there isn’t an LSU game this weekend, maybe I can spend some time writing and editing and cleaning this weekend. One can hope, at any rate. The windows around my workspace are filthy, I don’t even want to look at the baseboards and the floor, and as always, there’s a sink full of dishes. I’m doing some laundry this morning, and maybe can get those dishes and some other things here in the kitchen taken care of before I head in to the office.

I’ve been watching a documentary series about Southeastern Conference football on ESPN, Saturdays in the South, which I highly recommend. College football is huge in the South, and always has been; the series is doing a great job of exploring the reasons behind that as well as the history of college football in the region. The episode I watched last night took a look at the conference from the 1970’s through the early 1980’s–and these are the games I remember watching, all those years ago. It was kind of fun seeing the “Punt Bama Punt” game explored, as well as the great Alabama goal line stand against Penn State that won them the 1978 national championship. I’ve always wanted to write about SEC football–maybe someday I will, mainly from the point of view of being a lifelong fan of the sport and the conference.

Perhaps for my book of essays.

I’m also still reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, and it’s spurring a lot of interesting thoughts. I’m greatly enjoying the book, even as I am appalled by the horrors of white supremacy in New Orleans over the rich, dark history of the city; as I always say, I am not, by any means, an expert on New Orleans–what I don’t know would fill a library–but it’s a lot of fun to become more knowledgeable about the city’s dark, bloody, and violent history…which of course only inspires me to want to write more about the city’s past. I’m so behind on everything writing related–this volunteer project has really knocked me for a loop, delaying everything and pushing everything further back, and it never seems to end–but I am going to focus on writing and cleaning this weekend. I want to get all my errands taken care of before the weekend so I can have yet another weekend–like last weekend–where I don’t have to leave the house other than to take out the trash. Errands drain me of energy and leave me with no desire to write, for some reason.

Maybe because I am getting close to sixty. Who knows?

All right, perhaps it is time for me to head into the spice mines for a while. I’m on my second cup of coffee and the clouds in my head are starting to clear a little bit.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Head to Toe

I don’t necessarily hate Mondays so much as I’m not fond of them, really.

I generally dislike waking up early on principle; I firmly believe you should be able to sleep until you organically wake up in the morning. Anything else makes you feel like you didn’t get enough sleep–I woke up, in fact, before the alarm this morning–and it’s a mental thing. You’ll feel like you didn’t get enough sleep all day if your sleep was interrupted by an alarm. As such, I’ve taken to going bed earlier on the nights when I have to wake up early in the morning, and sometimes it works, you know?

I had computer issues again yesterday morning, which ended up taking a few hours to sort–at some point this computer is going to have to go back to the Apple Store, since on-line support is essentially useless–and as such I retired to my easy chair to read Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows, which is remarkably good. I got sucked right into the story, and before I knew it I was halfway through the book and had to stop myself so I could get back to the computer and do some work once the issues had sorted themselves out. The book is extraordinary, and set in a second-tier boarding school, which has some issues with teenage sexuality and sexual abuse; the deliberate rating of girls’ skills with blow jobs, and humiliating them publicly. There’s a new teacher this semester who is discovering all of this slowly; she’s kind of a badass but also cool, with some dark secret in her own past. The book is wicked and clever and sly; and I really can’t wait until I finish reading it.

The Saints game was interesting yesterday as well–I kept thinking all the way through that they were going to blow the game and the lead, and seriously, the Seahawks simply ran out of time for their comeback. But it was also nice to see the Saints pull together and win a game without Drew Brees playing quarterback; as they said during the game, it’s the first time that’s happened since 2005, before he joined the team.

This week, the last full week of September, I need to focus on two things: finishing a short story that’s due on the 1st of October (a week from tomorrow) and preparing to work on another two month project. LSU has a bye week this weekend, and the AIDS Walk is also on Saturday; I need to get how that’s going to work into my schedule figured out and sorted this week. The weather has finally changed and turned a bit cooler here–granted, that means temperatures in the low eighties instead of the high nineties, but I will take it. I’m not fond of cold weather, nor am I fond of it getting dark earlier. But at least our winters here are relatively mild for the most part, and even better, short.

Sigh. The one drawback to football season is it inevitably leads to winter.

It’s also a little hard to believe that in just over a week we’ll be entering the final quarter of 2019, and before we know it, it’ll be 2020. That’s just insane. It’s scary to think that it’s been almost twenty years since the turn of the century; even scarier to think I’ll be fifty-nine and only one year off turning sixty. Sixty. Considering the fact I never thought I’d make it to thirty, let alone forty, that’s something,  I suppose.

Ah well, I guess I spoke too soon about the desktop; it’s frozen right now and nothing seems to be working as far as unfreezing it. Macs aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing; that’s partly why it’s so frustrating.

And on that note,…back to the spice mines with me.

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