Stay Awhile

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

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

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

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

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

That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Know How to Love Him

Tuesday morning, up again before sunrise and heading back into the office for the first time since last Monday. Yesterday was a good working at home day; I managed to get quite a bit accomplished and even managed to get Scooter (the Lost Apartment certainly feels like the Lost Apartment again now that the cat is back and in full-throated you’re not paying enough attention to meeeeeeeee mode again) and the mail and even made a bit of groceries as well (I forgot things, of course, which means stopping on the way home from the office tonight, hurray) which is nice; I also made a very (relatively) thorough to-do list for me to work on for the rest of the week. I also finished a (very) rough first draft of the short story, which I am going to let sit for a day or so before marking up the fuck out of it before turning it in. I also spent some more time with Carol Goodman’s quite marvelous The Lake of Dead Languages, which really is magical–I don’t know how she manages that melancholy Gothic tone she pulled off in this book, but it’s really a master class–before making dinner and collapsing into my easy chair.

It did feel good to get the draft of the story done. It was at 2300 or so words, and now it is sitting at about 5500; and some of the original 2300 bit the dust, so I managed to write maybe about 4000 words yesterday in a couple of hours? It’s good to know that I can still do that I suppose; that’s always a part of the malaise I experience whenever I finish writing something major–the fear that the ability to write will go away in the future and can no longer be counted on. But it felt really good to write yesterday–when will I ever learn that writing, or rather, forcing myself to actually sit down and do it–always is the best way for me to alleviate stress. It’s the not writing that inevitably is at the root of all my anxieties and stress, and actually writing–no matter how bad the thing I am writing might be–always makes me feel better, always centers me, and is always the best cure for whatever ails me at any time. The secret is to write, of course, always.

Bearing that in mind, of course after I get home this evening I should spend some time writing before spending some more time with the Goodman before shutting my brain off and watching television. Paul and I started watching Minx–I’d only watched the first few episodes before stopping–and those earlier episodes were much funnier the second time around; but I think there’s still some issues I have with the show’s depiction of the main character, but I know I’m enjoying the show a lot more this time around. than I did the first time I tried to watch. I just have an issue with the entire trope of the fierce woman with no sexual experience (or much to speak of, at any rate) finally learning the joys of a vibrator or having really good sex to “lighten” up her point-of-view; the show really leans into the idea of the angry feminist trope and all the baggage that comes with it. On the other hand, it was an incredibly sexist and misogynist period (spousal rape was still considered not a crime at the time this show is set), and as the Supreme Court leak from yesterday showed…misogyny runs deep in this country. (I am still too filled with rage to go down that particular path right now, but I am deeply, deeply, furious about this prospective ruling.) But I like the show overall; and it’s good to have a reminder of just how fucking bad things used to be as a reminder of what the right wants us to return to…

I’ve also started looking over my story this morning and the opening is actually…not bad. Maybe this story isn’t going to need nearly as much work as perhaps I may have thought. This is, naturally, very exciting.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader–I’ll check with you again tomorrow.

I Love You For All Seasons

I really really love my life.

Sunday morning in the Lost Apartment, and my sleep schedule appears to have snapped back to normal. I slept decently last night–not as decently as I was sleeping in New York, for some reason, but at the same time I was worried that my sleep patterns were going to need to be reset once I got home and that would be problematic–and feel pretty decent this morning, although my coffee doesn’t taste right (which is concerning, obviously; loss of taste is a symptom of the dreaded COVID-19 but I decided to snack on something and I can taste it, so I’m not sure what the deal with the coffee is this morning; it tastes watery to me). I started doing laundry last night (unpacking the suitcases directly into the washing machine) so I have to get that finished today, and there are some other tedious chores I need to get done. I also need to make groceries and go to Costco at some point.

The flight home was uneventful, but you could see the differences between the red and blue parts of the country in evidence: LaGuardia Airport almost everyone was masked, no one was in Nashville. But everything was on time, our bags arrived, the shuttle to the parking lot came almost immediately, and we were able to get home within slightly more than an hour after our flight landed. I miss Scooter, of course; we can’t pick him up until tomorrow from the kitty spa so the Lost Apartment feels very strange not having him bitching at me for food or cuddles every so often. After the inevitable re-acclimatization to being home, we watched two episodes of Ozark, which is heading for its finale before retiring for the evening for bed. I am going to hate finishing Ozark, a show I’ve loved from the beginning for its intricate plotting and exceptional character development. Today I’ve got to dig through the emails and start making lists and getting shit done. I need to finish this short story, I need to make a lot of plans, and I need to get my life and career kickstarted. New York was lovely, as always, and it was probably one of the best trips I’ve had in a very long time. (Not much competition, I have to confess, but still.) Because I slept so well the entire time I was gone I didn’t come home exhausted, and all I am really experiencing this morning is “I flew yesterday” fatigue of a bit. But I am feeling just as motivated as I was feeling while I was up there, and it is lovely to be back staring at my enormous computer screen again (note to self: make eye appointment stat) with something other than dread and that horrible overwhelmed feeling. Sure, I have a lot to do, but let’s face it–I can do it.

I finished reading Mango, Mambo, and Murder on the flight from LaGuardia to Nashville (chef’s kiss, Raquel; more on that later) and then started reading Carol Goodman’s debut novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, originally published twenty years ago. I’ve become a big fan of Carol’s and need to read more of her canon; I’ve loved everything she’s written that I’ve read and this book is no exception. (If you’re not reading Carol Goodman, shame on you and correct that immediately) She is also as delightful in person as she is on the page–I met her at St. Petersburg Bouchercon at the HarperCollins cocktail party, and I fanboyed all over the place and I regret NOTHING. I’m also looking forward to digging into more of the TBR pile as well as some of the new additions I picked up off the book table after the banquet. I also read Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not while I was on this trip (more on that later), so my reading mojo seems to be back; I think I am going to try to have at least an hour set aside every day to read. I also have to read Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief before our bookstore event in a few weeks. Such an odious chore! Anyway, the Goodman is fantastic, as I knew it would be, and am enjoying the hell out of it.

But as I reflected in my easy chair last night while watching Youtube videos about Heartstopper (more on that later; but I am obsessed with that show; and want to watch it again), I’ve been incredibly lucky with my life and last week was a very strong reminder of that. I think, in some ways, this past week in New York snapped me almost completely out of the pandemic funk I’ve been in since the beginning and as I said the other day, I feel like me again. This trip had a lot to do with it, for sure. It’s lovely when you can get some clarity, and it was lovely that I was able to travel and get some rest and not be tired all the fucking time while I was away. I am hopeful that will be an exciting new trend for me going forward: sleeping well while not at home. One can hope and dream, at any rate–but that’s not the right attitude to have, and I think that’s been a lot of the problem over the last few years; my attitude has been negative about everything and that’s not helpful or workable. Here’s hoping those days (well, years) of a poor attitude are in the rearview mirror.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. I have a lot on my plate and I need to start cleaning it so I can make another trip to the buffet of life and load ‘er up again. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.