Right on Track

I’m going to go vote as soon as I post this, as it’s run-off election day and the gubernatorial race is far, far too close for comfort, to be completely honest. It’s astonishing to me that this is even close, but hatred of Democrats runs deep in some sections of Louisiana. We have, despite our laxness in so many ways here, a deeply conservative streak running through the state; which is fine, a lot of states do, but here in Louisiana the fact that Bobby Jindal was so popular–even as his economic policies dismantled and destroyed the state while he used Louisiana as a launching pad for the White House–that he essentially ran for reelection unopposed, is absolutely terrifying. Louisiana has not completely recovered from the horrors wrought upon on every level by Jindal, whose desire for power and attention overruled any common sense approach he might have towards governing, and the thought we could return to those very policies that nearly bankrupted the state and could have resulted in our universities being shuttered, is absolutely terrifying. As I said, this shouldn’t even be close….and yet it’s going to be.

Tonight LSU goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Magnolia Bowl; the renewal of another storied SEC/Southern college football rivalry, perhaps best known as the rivalry that  featured Billy Cannon’s run on Halloween night in 1959, as the Number One and defending national champion Tigers took on third-ranked Ole Miss. The punt return for a touchdown was LSU’s only score and a goal line stand as time ran out–Billy Cannon made the game-winning tackle as well–and LSU won. (Alas, LSU lost a later game in the season and didn’t win a second national championship; and just like in 2011, the Sugar Bowl was a rematch of that ‘game of the century,’ with LSU losing the rematch–also like in 2011, only with Alabama–21-0–which was also the score of the Alabama rematch in 2011.) The first time Paul and I went to a game in Tiger Stadium was the Ole Miss game in 2010; we went to the Ole Miss game in 2012 as well. Ole Miss always, somehow, manages to play LSU really tough, even in years when they should be a pushover; they take the rivalry very seriously–more seriously than LSU does–and have pulled off the upset more than once. (LSU returned the favor in Tiger Stadium in 2014, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season and ending their SEC–and national– championship hopes 10-7)

I also want to break the habit of referring to the University of Mississippi as Ole Miss, which has always bothered me and I’ve wondered for years when it would be brought up. The University is in turmoil these days–and kind of has been for decades, really; you would be hard-pressed to find another university in the South with stronger ties to the Confederate/Jim Crow/racist/segregationist past. The team name in the Rebels; for years the mascot was Johnny Reb; a white-haired, white-mustached white man in a gray Confederate uniform, and the fans in the stadium inevitably waved, rather than pom-pons or towels like so many fan bases do, Confederate flags. That flag–which is really the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, so didn’t even really have a tie to the state of Mississippi other than as a symbol of racism and white supremacy–was also seen as a symbol of the school. Johnny Reb is no longer the mascot–it’s a black bear–and the fans no longer wave Confederate flags. But there’s some serious issues going on with the selection of the new university chancellor, and there’s also a movement to get Ole Miss removed as a designation/nickname for the school. It’s going to be hard to break the habit of shortening Mississippi to Ole Miss; but the nickname, sadly, also has its roots in the racist, slave-owning past.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for people to figure that out, or to think about it.

“Ole Miss” is what the slaves called the matriarch of the family that owned the plantation; whether she was the “master’s” mother or wife–there could, at times, be an “Ole Miss” and a “Young Miss.” It’s right there in the pages of Gone with the Wind; the Fontaines have an Ole Miss and a Young Miss; the slaves at Tara call the white women “Miss”–Miss Ellen, Miss Scarlett, Miss Carreen, Miss Suellen–and it’s a sign of deference; as an older white man living in a Southern city I still see signs of this from time to time with my clients; younger people of color always call me “Mr. Greg” while young white people call me by my first name only. I cringe a little whenever they do, and always thank them for their politeness, but insist they drop the mister. It also makes me sad when they find it hard to do so; continuing to slip and call me Mr. Greg.

Anyway, there’s a movement afoot to remove the nickname from Mississippi–but seriously, typing that out even seems weird, and calling them Mississippi seems even weirder. But I’ve decided I cannot call them by that nickname any more. It may not be much, but it’s the least I can do.

I went up to Oxford for an event a couple of years ago; The Radical South–got put up in a gorgeous hotel on campus, paid a rather lovely honorarium, taken out for a lovely meal by the organizer who’d invited me (Theresa Starkey, who co-edited Detecting the South, the academic book of essays on Southern Crime fiction I contributed a piece to, that recently was released; one of my proudest career moments–not the least of which meant sharing a table of contents with Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins), and I actually rather fell in love with Oxford. It’s a charming little old Southern town, complete with a picturesque Town Square, with a courthouse on one side of it; my immediate thought was oh my God, Mayberry DOES still exist. As I walked around the town and explored, I was inspired, particularly because I kept finding places that were perfect for disposing of bodies (the crime writer mind is always active), and I began putting together a novel in my head; a series of rapes on campus with the serial rapist escalating, as the university and town desperately try to keep the rapes quiet until a body is found. Obviously, that couldn’t be set at the actual campus of Mississippi; I’d have to fictionalize it. I took tons of pictures and, as is often my wont, think about that book every once in a while.

What’s also interesting to me is that there’s no airport in Oxford–LSU flew into Memphis last night, and I would imagine bussed from there to Oxford, which is about a little under an hour away and just over the state line from Tennessee–and Oxford isn’t even on the Interstate; you have to take a state highway for about twenty minutes or so before you reach Oxford. (Mississippi State’s hometown of Starkville is also not on an interstate highway; the only major universities in the SEC that are in towns not on an interstate, at least that I’m aware of. Lexington, Knoxville, and Athens are off I-75; Vanderbilt’s in Nashville, etc etc)

Hopefully, we’ll keep our streak going tonight. A lesser team without the amazing offense we are running this year buried the Rebels last year–LSU has won three straight game in the rivalry; has only lost five times this century and one of the Rebels’ wins was forfeited. But as I said, the Rebs have always (I cannot tell you how hard it is to not default to calling them Ole Miss–Mississippi seems weird, as does calling them the Rebels or the Rebs–although in all honesty, if they changed their mascot to a Minuteman or a Revolutionary War soldier or  general it would make calling the Rebels or Rebs less fraught) played tough against LSU–those games we attended in 2010 and 2012 came down to the last minute before the Tigers prevailed.

Okay, I am going to finish this and go vote. I am going to come home and read The Ferguson Affair (it’s taking longer to read than it should, and I do have a serious problem with the main character, which I’ll talk about when I talk about the book), do some cleaning, brainstorm on the book and maybe even sit down and do some writing. I’ll probably put the Auburn-Georgia game on, but will try to keep myself occupied rather than just sitting in my chair and blowing off the entire day.

I also have to get the campus serial rapist/killer book out of my head for now, too.

FOCUS.

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Funkytown

And we’ve made it to Wednesday. It’s also Pay-the-Bills Day, and I have errands to run this morning before I head into the office. I hate Pay-the-Bills Day, seriously; it’s the worst part of being an adult, I think. I’m self-absorbed enough to think my paycheck should be mine to do with as I please, rather than simply utilized to pay the bills. Heavy heaving sigh. But I do get an enormous sense of satisfaction–primarily because of completion–from paying the bills. It’s lovely to check them off as they are paid, make a new list of how much is owed, etc etc etc. It’s a little shocking how much money I actually do owe–particularly since I hate nothing more than I do owing money–but it’s also nice to see the numbers go down–if not as quickly as I would like them to.

It’s cold in the Lost Apartment and New Orleans this morning; so much so that I’ve got a hat on my head and the space heater going. I slept beautifully again last night–it’s so lovely to be getting used to sleeping well consistently and nightly–and it’s amazing to feel rested every day, rather than tired and cranky. It really does make a difference, a significant one, and I’m glad to be feeling more myself these days. I still haven’t gotten any writing done this week yet–it really is disgraceful, frankly–but we were busy at work yesterday, and my actual day job does, sometimes, drain me emotionally. It did yesterday, but I also provided good counseling services to people who desperately needed a friendly, non-judgmental person to listen, advise, and console. It is a rewarding job–which is why I have it and why I have lasted so long there. I do love helping my clients.

I also had gotten my email inbox under some sort of control yesterday, but I woke up to a ridiculous amount in there again this morning. It may not all need to be answered, but it all needs to be read. Sigh–that’ll teach me to  keep being a volunteer.

Today is a half-day at the office as well as being a cold day in New Orleans. Paul will be home later tonight; hopefully we can get caught up on Catherine the Great and American Horror Story: 1984 also airs its season finale this evening. I hope to get the writing done before Paul gets home; I really need to sink my teeth back into the manuscript. It also occurred to me last night that part of the reason the manuscript doesn’t feel quite right is that I may not have the best grasp of my character, and so today, between clients, I am going to start constructing his bio and figuring out who he is, so I can make him seem real. I was trying to make it more of a distant first person point of view, which can be quite effective (see everything written by Lori Roy), but it’s not working for me and so it needs to be overhauled, as does the Kansas book. But week after next is Thanksgiving, I will have the week off, and I am going to do some serious work that week–I know, I know, I always say that, and then it never happens–but I am going to focus on getting this shit together over the course of that week. I’d still like to have Bury Me in Shadows in better condition so I can get it turned in and be done with it once and for all.

And while I am yes, indeed, still walking in the clouds from the LSU win over Alabama this past weekend, I have to say I am a little surprised at how sportswriters and sportscasters have essentially buried the Alabama program and erected a headstone on the grave as a result of the loss. Um, they’re Alabama, and if you think Nick Saban is finished, think again. Alabama was beaten pretty badly by Clemson in last year’s championship game–this is certainly true–but no one wrote Alabama off as dead after that game, and I am not certain why the loss to LSU has had this effect on people. Maybe it was the twenty point deficit going into half-time? I mean, sure, it was the most points scored in the history of the series, it was the most points scored on a Nick Saban team since he went to Alabama, it’s the most points scored on them since a 2003 quadruple overtime loss to Tennessee, and all the rest of that. I guess maybe it’s the combination of last year’s Clemson loss and this year’s LSU loss? I don’t know, but it’s strange, and it’s certainly bulletin board material for the Tide for the rest of this year and for next season, to be sure. Don’t be surprised if the Tide come roaring back–you heard it here first. ANd LSU has to be ready for Ole Miss Saturday; they’d love nothing more than to spoil this amazing, magical season for the Tigers–kind of like we did to them in 2014.

I have to run some errands this morning before I go into the office, so I’d better start getting motivated to get out there into the cold–which I really don’t want to do, but have no choice. So, it’s off to the spice mines with me–have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay warm!

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Break Out

I am trying not to get too stressed out about the LSU-Alabama game today; it is what it is, after all, and my getting worked up or stressed out about it isn’t going to change anything about the game. I am constantly amazed at how worked up I can get over football games; it really accomplishes nothing and whether LSU wins or loses has no real impact on my day-to-day life; I try, from time to time, to understand why I get so emotionally invested in being a football fan; there’s perhaps a decent essay in there somewhere for my collection of essays that I hope to pull together someday. I know that the essay about my fandom of LSU–and Southeastern Conference football in general–will be called “It’s Saturday Night in Death Valley,” and I’ve already sketched out some ideas for it. The phenomenon of games in the stadium–that wild crowd psychology thing–is also fascinating to me; I still get chills when I fondly remember how amazingly fun the LSU-Florida game was a few weeks ago in Tiger Stadium.

I still get chills thinking about it.

But to be the best, you have to beat Alabama–which is the truth of college football since around 2008. You have to, even if you don’t like them, admire what Alabama has done under the guidance of Nick Saban in the last past twelve seasons. Their worst season was a three-loss season in 2010; I don’t think they’ve lost more than one game in a season since then; but I could be wrong. Only LSU and Ole Miss have beaten Alabama in consecutive years under Nick Saban; and after those two back-to-back wins, LSU has lost to Alabama eight straight times. Obviously, I am rooting for LSU to win, and will be disappointed should they lose; but there have been seasons before (last year, 2015, 2012) when it looked like we had a shot at taking them down only to lose.

I am being interviewed for a radio show later this morning; I am dropping Paul off for an appointment afterward and then going to pick up the mail. In the meantime I am going to try to get the kitchen cleaned up and maybe do some writing; at least get the files open. I love to write, but it’s also amazing to me how when I get out of the habit of doing it every day how easy it is to keep not writing, even though I enjoy writing and always feel an enormous sense of accomplishment and pride when I’ve finished writing for the day. I also want to finish reading The Ferguson Affair this weekend, which shouldn’t be too terribly difficult; Ross Macdonald is always a quick, easy read, and I am curious to see how this case–which is not an Archer–turns out. One of the reasons I enjoy reading Ross Macdonald is because he is such a terrific writer, one, and two, because the cases are always so intriguing and I am never really sure where they are going. They are also impressive time capsules for the period. After I finish the Macdonald, I think I’m going to give Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys  a whirl; it seems to be based on the same case/incident that Lory Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing was built around, and it’s also a case that has interested me enough to consider writing about it.

We’re almost finished with season two of Netflix’ It’s the End of the Fucking World, which is quite as interesting, strange, and thought-provoking as the first season. I had wondered how they were going to do a second season but I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined the insanity that this second season would fully embrace. I have to  hand it to the show. Very creative.

I can hardly wait for the next episode of Watchmen, either.

All right, I suppose I’d best get back to work this morning. I have limited time–since I have the interview this morning and then errands to run from there before the game–so I had best make use of the time wisely, rather than just sitting here and scrolling through social media.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and GEAUX TIGERS.

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Little Lies

Thursday, or as I prefer to call it, Friday Eve.

Yesterday was a lovely mail day. I received my contributor’s copy of Detecting the South In Fiction, Film & Television, edited by Theresa Starkey and Deborah E. Barker. It’s from LSU Press, and I think this might be (I could be wrong, my memory is a sieve) my first appearance in an academic-type tome. I can’t wait to start reading the other essaysm, but especially the ones by Ace Atkins and Megan Abbott, two of my favorite writers as well as two of my favorite people on the planet. My essay is titled “Down These Mean Streets (Whose Names No One Can Pronounce)”, and I’ll also have to reread it–I don’t remember a damned thing about it (see: sieve-like memory). Theresa, one of the co-editors, is also the person who invited me up to Ole Miss to speak at the Radical South event either last year or the year before; when I was completely charmed by Oxford.

I still might set a book there. The campus and town are gorgeous–although I would, obviously, have to fictionalize both.

I slept fairly well last night. I had dinner with a friend, and after a pre-dinner glass of prosecco followed by another glass of Chardonnay with dinner–apparently that was enough to send me off into the arms of Morpheus to my best night of sleep of the week thus far. Dinner was lovely–we went to Saba, a Middle-Eastern place on Magazine Street in Uptown, and the hummus was magnificent, as was the lamb kebob. Conversation was lovely–gossip as always, and catching up, and lots of laughter. It was quite lovely, and then I came home to watch this week’s American Horror Story: 1984, to see how far off the rails it was going this week. The answer: pretty far. It no longer makes the slightest bit of sense, and I’m not even sure what it now has to do with anything that happened earlier in the season. I’ll keep watching, primarily out of curiosity more than anything else–to see where it winds up going finally.

And wonder why I ever worry about my plots not making sense.

I’ve not written anything fictional this week, which is, frankly, disgraceful. But between this annoying low-level whatever it is that is still wrong with me–my throat is still sore, my sinuses are completely in revolt, my nose is rubbed raw again, and I’ve been achy most of the week–and being so tired and distracted the majority of the week, yeah, it’s no wonder I fell behind yet again on my goals. But I did get some of my other writing finished, including a short interview with Crime Reads (again about being an Anthony short story finalist, for which I am getting a lot of attention and more traction than I did as an anthology finalist two years ago–not complaining, just an observation…writing versus editing are pretty different), and I got my Sisters column finished. Also, as I said to my friend at dinner last night, I’ve been getting some positive reinforcement about my writing lately–lovely reviews and compliments, emails about the most recent book, compliments on my nominated short story–and that’s been really lovely. I actually sat down and skimmed through Royal Street Reveillon the other night as well–Paul got home late from the office that night, and while I waited I started reading it over again. As I always do when I reread published work I questioned decisions I made with both language/sentence choices, as well as plot decisions, but overall, I was pretty pleased with it when I finally set it aside. Someone did direct message me while they were reading it a few weeks ago, asking me how many car accidents has Scotty been in?, to which I replied, why do you think he hates driving so much? Scotty of course not only gets into a lot of car accidents, he also gets kidnapped or taken prisoner pretty frequently as well, to the point that it’s almost an in-joke between me and the reader.

But hopefully I’ll be able to get back to writing this morning, and tonight after work; so I can get back on track and get things back under control–some sort of it, at any rate. And hopefully, around the LSU and Saints games this weekend I can get almost completely caught up.

One can hope, at any rate.

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

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Time Has Come Today

I arrived home from a second trip in less than a week about an hour ago. I made fantastic time from Oxford; I made it back to New Orleans in slightly less than fice and a half hours, including two stops for gas. I had the best time there, as well. I have lots of things to talk about regarding both trips, but right now I am decompressing and trying to get organized because I have to work tonight…and am already running out of steam. Whine. Ah, well, I can sleep late tomorrow. I did fall in love with both Montgomery and Oxford, though, and feel strangely reconnected to my Southern roots.

But I  also want to talk about this fantastic book I read on the trip, Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll.

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For the record, Constant Reader, anything blurbed by Megan Abbott is generally going to turn out to be fantastic.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wusthof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly getting humid in my grip.

“I think that design is better suited for someone of your stature.” I looked up at the sales associate, bracing for the word people always use to describe short girls hungry to hear “thin.” “Petite.” He smiled like I should be flattered. Slender, elegant, graceful–now there’s a compliment that might actually defang me.

And so we meet Ani FaNelli, engaged to a successful businessman from old money, and she herself has her dream job at The Women’s Magazine (read: Cosmo). Ani had a horrific experience in her ritzy private high school in Philadelphia, which her social climbing mother forced her to attend, and after this event, focused on reinventing herself and doing whatever she had to in order to get the great life she felt she deserved after that horrific humiliation. But the facade of pretending to be the perfect fiancee is starting to wear thin…and as the book flashes back and forth between her wedding planning in the present day and what happened to her back at the Butler Academy, the edges begin to wear a little thin and she slowly begins to remember who she is beneath her carefully constructed facade, and the unraveling begins.

Ani is probably one of those characters male reviewers like to talk shit about–you know, the “unlikable woman”, which has apparently become so prevalent in suspense thrillers since the enormous success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and this one has the obligatory “girl” in the title, even–but the title phrase does come up during the course of the book, and as the story of Ani’s high school experience unspools…it’s so much much worse than you think it could have been.

This was an Edgar Award nominee for Best First Novel (she lost to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, which also won the Pulitzer Prize), and it’s riveting. Highly recommended.

Bottle of Wine

Oxford, Mississippi is a beautiful little town. I arrived here yesterday afternoon–the drive didn’t leave me nearly as exhausted as the one to Montgomery did, even though it was longer; I suspect it was because I worked late the night before doing bar testing so was already tired. I checked into the Inn at Ole Miss, and then went foraging for dinner as well as exploring.  I had a lovely dinner at City Grocery; shrimp and grits, similar to the dish I make but slightly better–but I also was able to spot the spice differences, as well as the obvious addition of sautéed mushrooms, so the next time I make it I am going to make those alterations and see if it turns out the same way. I washed it down with a lovely glass of a Napa Chardonnay, and then wandered back down to the Inn, taking lots of pictures and getting all kinds of inspirations and ideas for a campus crime novel.I am not sure what the situation here is as far as campus crime, but I am making notes and a file, and perhaps some other time I can come up for a few extra days, talk to some more people, do some research and figure out how to get the story whipped into shape.

I also finished reading Jessica Knoll’s sublime Luckiest Girl Alive, which was absolutely amazing, and I intend to discuss that wonderful novel in more depth once I am home and at a computer rather than writing this on an app on the iPad (don’t get me wrong, this is very cool, and this is the first trip I’ve taken where I’ve not brought the laptop–and I will most likely never bring it again, as the iPad basically can replace it completely, and it weighs significantly less. I also started reading Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman, which I am enjoying and focuses on two women who have always fascinated me: Cleopatra’s sisters, Berenice and Arsinoe, and whom I myself have always wanted to write about.

My panel is this afternoon at four; they are picking me up at 3:30 in front of the Inn and I am really not certain what the discussion is going to be about. It’s a month-long event called the Radical South, a counter-event to Confederate History Month (in a moment of irony, I am here at a counter-event to Confederate History MOnth while the Confederate monuments in New Orleans are being taken down; which is also a subject for another time as I have very strong feelings about that myself) and after that I am being taken out to dinner. Tomorrow I intend to rise early, avail myself of the complimentary breakfast here at the Inn (it was sublime this morning), and then check-out and head home, as I have to work tomorrow night. But that also gets me a short day on Thursday, which is also lovely.

The weather is also sublime; rather cool for late April, but not humid, which is always a plus.

And now, I am going back to the spice mines.IMG_1725

 

I Say a Little Prayer

Today I venture north to Oxford, Mississippi, home to one of my literary heroes, William Faulkner, and also home to Ole Miss, aka the University of Mississippi. This isn’t going to be a quick ‘in-and-out’ like Montgomery; I am spending two nights there (the event is tomorrow night) and will drive back down to New Orleans on Wednesday. I have to work later that evening, which is daunting and will make for a long, exhausting day, but I feel like I will sleep rather well that Wednesday night, if for no other reason than pure exhaustion. I am feeling rested this morning, but not quite awake; I am going to continue with coffee-swilling before I shave and shower and depart. I am already packed; all I have left to do is put the current book I’m reading (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll) and my iPad into my bag. I believe the event is tomorrow evening, so I will have all day to explore Oxford. I will be taking the camera with me, and I plan on making a pilgrimage, at the very least, to Faulkner’s home. (In an aside, sometimes when I mention that Faulkner is one of my literary heroes I get mocked, or get called pretentious; but I truly enjoy reading Faulkner. He isn’t easy to read, or follow, but the language! The way he builds the story! I still think The Sound and the Fury is the greatest American novel, no matter what–but I have been thinking lately I should, as an adult and more mature reader, give both Hemingway and Fitzgerald another try.)

I did finish reading Thirteen Reasons Why yesterday afternoon, and no, it didn’t end in the same was as the television series, and yes, it’s ending was just as dissatisfying to me, although it made sense. The book makes no judgments of the characters, including Clay, although the relationship between Clay and Hannah wasn’t as developed or as evolved in the show; I didn’t get a sense of why Clay would care as much as he did from the novel. But it was a fun read, and let’s face it–as I said on the panel Saturday, what could be more noir than high school? All of my young adult fiction, frankly, is based on that principle.

We also finished Feud last night, along with the rest of the country, and Jessica Lange was absolutely heartbreaking. Sarandon really was great as Bette Davis, but for some reason, I just think Lange was better as Crawford. The whole cast was terrific, really, and it was horrible what happened to both women as they aged, how the industry turned their back on them, what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood–and how that hasn’t, really, changed. Ryan Murphy is an interesting writer/producer. American Horror Story seems to go off the rails every season; I never got past the second episode of Scream Queens; and I never watched Nip/Tuck–but really enjoyed Popular. But with American Crime Story and Feud he’s done an extraordinary job; but then again, in both instances he didn’t have to really come up with a plot or an ending to the story he was telling: both were based in reality. I also am terrified of his Hurricane Katrina season of American Crime Story. It could be terrible, absolutely terrible; all I can do is hope that filming in New Orleans–as he did with American Horror Story–made him fall in love with the city the way Jessica Lange did (she now lives here).

Obviously, I’ve not written a word since I left for Montgomery on Friday (other than here), and hope I’ll have both the time and the energy while in Oxford.

And now, back to the spice mines.6f72d89ae05ea0959513f24176fd12e5