Time Changes Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I Know About You

Well, home again and back to reality. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone

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

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

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

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

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

I do learn, eventually.

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

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

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

Going Down for the Third Time

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

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

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

Well, never say never.

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

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

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