Ever since reading The Sea of Lost Girls several years ago–I think after we met at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg at the Harper Collins party?–I’ve considered her one of our best current novelists in the crime genre. The more of her canon that I read, the more convinced I become (The Lake of Dead Languages, The Night Villa, The Uninvited Guest), and so naturally I was very excited to listen to The Night Visitors on my drive this past weekend. I finished listening somewhere around Satsuma, Alabama (Alabama really has the most interesting town names), and loved every minute of it.
Oren falls asleep at last on the third bus. He’s been fighting it since Newburgh, eyelids heavy as wet laundry, pried up again and again by sheer stubbornness. Finally, I think when he nods off. If I have to answer one more of his questions I might lose it.
Where are we going? he asked on the first bus.
Someplace safe, I answered.
He stared at me, even in the darkened bus his eyes shining with too much smart for his age, and then looked away as if embarrassed for me. An hour later, he’d asked, as if there hadn’t been miles of highway in between, Where’s it safe?
There are places, I’d begun as if telling him a bedtime story, but then I’d had to rack my brain for what came next. All I could picture were candy houses and chicken-legged huts that hid witches. Those weren’t the stories he liked best anyway. He preferred the book of myths from the library (it’s still in his pack, racking up fines with every niles) about heroes who wrestle lions and behead snake-haired monsters.
The Night Visitors has two point of view characters; Alice, an abused mom on the run with her son, Oren, and Mattie, a social worker in a small town in upstate New York. This is an excellent example of differentiation between voice; while the authorial voice never falters and you never doubt you’re reading a Carol Goodman novel, the two voices are clearly that of two very different people. Alice and Oren arrive in the town, where they are greeted by do-gooder Mattie, and then begins the dance of the story. Both women take the other’s measure, and both women are hiding horrific secrets that their close relationship is going to bring out over the course of less than thirty-six hours. Mattie is a social worker who lives in an enormous if crumbling house; that first night–even though it’s against all the rules–Mattie decides to bring Alice and Oren home with her, rather than leaving them at the safe house, Sanctuary. And that’s when the strange things begin to happen.
Thirty four years ago, Mattie’s entire family–early onset Alzheimer’s mother; hanging judge father; change of life baby brother Caleb–all died from carbon monoxide poisoning from their faulty furnace. Mattie found their bodies, and her life–already severely off-course and altered–runs aground against the rocks. She has thrown herself into her work–even though she sometimes thinks her social work training is bunk (which I, as a counselor, sometimes think myself in weary frustration; it’s easy to see how social workers burn out from their jobs)–and has never completely gotten over the loss of her little brother. She sees a lot of her lost brother in young Oren–which alarms and worries both women. Alice is also being chased by her abuser, and everything–the past, the present, the futures–all come crashing together one night during a blizzard and power failure at the crumbling house, as all the secrets from the past slowly start coming out, with both women forced to face not only their own truths but the other woman’s as well, as they fight for their lives in a blizzard in the dark against a killer who wants them both gone.
The book is simply extraordinary. The suspense and tension once the power goes out is almost unbearable and are impossible to turn away from; it was incredibly difficult waiting two days to finish listening to it, and it was hard to get out of the car yesterday at the Civic Center in Wetumpka and stop listening. I highly recommend it, as I do anything by Carol Goodman.
And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.
I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.
I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.
Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.
I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!
College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.
As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.
I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.
Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.
I really wish I had discovered how marvelous audiobooks are for long drives years ago. My God, listening to audiobook rather than music makes the drive so much more enjoyable; sure, I do zone out every once in a while when I am driving and listening–I always go off on some kind of mental tangent at some point or another when I am highway driving for a long time, which means I sometimes have to rewind because I missed something–but my old fears of audiobooks in the car (I would get so involved in the story I’d stop paying attention to the driving, or the driving would require so much attention I wouldn’t be able to listen to the book anymore) also proved to be for naught. The drive is still the worst part of the trip (other than the not-being-able-to-sleep thing), but audiobooks have dramatically improved the entire experience so much that I almost don’t mind the drive anymore….almost.
I also wish I’d started reading Carol Goodman a lot earlier. I don’t recall how or why I first discovered her work, but I am a big fan and I was delighted, after reading (and enjoying the hell out of) The Lake of Dead Languages recently to go ahead and download The Night Villa for the trip.
It may just be my favorite Goodman to date.
When the first call came that morning I was with a student, so I didn’t answer it.
“Don’t worry,” I told Agnes Hancock, one of my most promising classics majors, “the machine will get it.”
But it stopped after the third ring.
“I guess whoever was calling changedhis mind,” Agnes said, relacing her fingers to conceal the ragged cuticle on her right thumb. She’d been gnawing on it when I found her waiting outside my door–ten minutes early for my eight o’clock office hours. Most of my students were sound asleep at this hour, which was why I held my office hours so early: to discourage all but the most zealous. Agneswas definitely a zealot. She was on a scholarship, for one thing, and had to maintain a high average, but Agnes was also one of those rare students who seemed to have a genuine passion for the material. She’d gone to a high school with a rigorous Latin program and gotten the highest score on the national Latin exam in the state. Not shabby for a state as big as Texas. She wasn’t just good at declensions, though she had the ability to translate a line of ancient poetry and turn it into poetry again, and the agility of mind to compare the myths from one culture to those of another. She could have a successful academic career in classics or comparative literature. The only problem was that her personal life was often chaotic–a result, I suspected, of her looks.
So far, the majority of the Goodman novels I’ve read all have to do with private schools and usually involve a Classics professor; just as in The Lake of Dead Languages, our main character in The Night Villa is a professor of Latin, who can actually sight-read (translate as she reads), but unlike the others, (set in Ne England) when The Night Villa opens we realize our main character is actually a professor at the University of Texas and lives in Austin. The others also were more Gothic in nature; brooding old buildings that used to be family mansions, now converted into schools and dormitories, slightly older heroines with dark secrets in their past that come back to haunt their present, the “woman in danger” trope replayed and revamped beautifully, with poetic writing and vivid settings you can see in your head (had Goodman published back in the 1970s and 80s, I guarantee all the books would have a young woman with long hair and long nightgown running away from a creepy mansion with a light on in one window). Our main character is Sophie Chase, a young woman teaching at UT with a sad backstory–orphaned young, raised by her grandparents and her aunt (M’Lou); she also had a long term relationship with a young man named Eli that ended up badly after she lost their baby in a tragic fall and he became involved with a mysterious, cult-like group. The opening of the book is a lot more violent and in-your-face than what I’ve become accustomed to with Goodman’s work; Sophie and some other professors are interviewing students for a possible internship with an archaeological dig going on in Herculaneum (a city which suffered the same fate as Pompeii and by the same volcanic eruption, but didn’t the press Pompeii did). During Agnes’ interview a troubled young man she used to date comes into the interview room with a gun and starts shooting–Sophie is shot in the chest and loses a part of her lung, but she ends up going on the trip to Italy as one of the other professors who was supposed to go was killed by the gunman. They are being hosted on the island of Capri in the bay of Naples by a billionaire software designer with an interest in archaeology. He has built his own villa on the island as a replica of the villa they are excavating in Herculaneum, the Villa della Norte, the Night Villa. A discovery of some papyrus scrolls in the ruins that reveal some information about an ancient slave girl from the time also has intrigued Sophie, which is part of the reason she has agreed to go–as well as wanting to get away from Austin for a while. (Sophie wrote her dissertation on the slave girl; this discovery offers to give her more insight and information about the girl for the book she is writing.)
The book is, if you’ll pardon my language, fucking amazing. Not only do we have Sophie dealing with the aftermath of a massive emotional and physical trauma (getting shot and losing part of your lung is a serious fucking trauma), but also the fallout from the end of her relationship many years earlier; a kind of feeling of responsibility for Agnes and how she is dealing with the guilt and trauma of the boyfriend going nuts and on a shooting spree (it ended with him shooting himself); and of course the mystery of the scrolls. The scrolls also give a beautiful insight into life in ancient Herculaneum and in the Roman Empire and also tell a story about the slave girl. It’s an exceptionally good novel, literate and smart and complex and multi-layered; and I haven’t even covered everything in the story here. Sophie is strong and likable and vulnerable; she makes for a great heroine, and she also has so much empathy for other people you can’t help rooting for her.
The book, set mostly on Capri, reminded me a lot–in a good way–of Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic with its Corfu island setting; Goodman is also exceptional about setting and place. I could see the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius; the ruins of the city buried by the eruption; and I also love how she weaved mythology and the ancient mysteries as an integral foundation of the story. I would even go so far as to say Goodman is the modern equivalent of Mary Stewart–which is high praise indeed.
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.
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 naïve? When they put their upturned hands in mine–so light-boned and delicate—it 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.
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.
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.