The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.

Notorious

Hello, Thursday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Mony Mony

Wednesday.

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

One can but dream.

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

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

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

Perhaps for my book of essays.

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

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

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

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Head to Toe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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La Bamba

So, I’m experimenting with a new look for me: scruffy facial hair. I used to occasionally grow a porn-stache, more out of laziness than anything else, really, but I’ve never done the scruffy look. Primarily this week I was getting up too early on most mornings to take the time to shave–that extra five minutes in bed too alluring–but my co-workers have been complimentary about it, so I decided to see how it goes.

Of course, they could be punking me so I’ll allow myself to look ridiculous than usual, but that’s the risk I am taking.

The interesting thing is that my facial hair is coming in white. The mustache itself is still mostly dark with the occasional stray white hair, but my cheeks and chin are mostly white haired, which is also kind of interesting. I don’t have a problem with having white hair, really; I just don’t like gray and was worried it would come in gray more than anything else. But white scruff is kind of cool, particularly with my dark eyes and olive skin, so we’ll see how it continues to go. I’m sure I’ll get bored with it soon enough and shave it all off anyway.

LSU won yesterday, 66-38, which is an insane score for an LSU game. This new offense, built around our quarterback, Joe Burrow (or Jeaux Breaux, as they call him down here with great affection) is astonishing at how fast and efficient it is. I can’t believe I’m watching LSU sometimes–even with the purple and gold and white uniforms–particularly when they score in one play and in zero seconds (Vanderbilt opened the second halg attempting an onside kick; it was squibbed and picked up by an LSU player who took it down to the one yard line. The ball was snapped and a quick toss to a receiver in the end zone and BAM. Touchdown for LSU, with 14:54 left in the third quarter. Insane.). I am concerned that LSU has given up 38 points, respectively, to both Texas and Vanderbilt–you can’t play that can’t of defense and win consistently in the SEC, and you’re certainly not going to beat Alabama by trying to outscore them, even if that’s worked so far with quality opponents. I enjoyed watching Auburn take down Texas A&M afterwards, and then the evening was capped off with Georgia knocking off Notre Dame. All in all, a pretty good day for football watching, and a lovely and much needed day off from everything. I did nothing–no writing, no emails, no worrying, no nothing–and I have to say the down time was precisely what the doctor ordered. I went to bed after the Georgia game last night, slept well, and was actually awake and out of bed before seven this morning. The goal for today is to finish the laundry, clean the kitchen, and write a short story. I have to get this story finished today, so I can spend the next week or so revising and cleaning it up before it’s due on October 1, but I am certain I can get it done.

I started reading Lisa Lutz’ new novel The Swallows during the LSU game, and while I didn’t get very far into it, it’s quite good and amazing so far, and I love her main character. I am going to take some time this morning to read it as well–probably after I finish the laundry and clean the kitchen, and after I take a shower and get cleaned up.

I’ve also gotten more volunteer work to take care of, none of which I can be public about–ah, the veil of secrecy and subterfuge, how fun is that?–which at some point today I am going to have to work on, if my desktop computer ever decides to be functional (I’m writing this on my Macbook Air, as the spinning wheel of death continues on my desktop. I’ve restarted that fucking piece of shit at least five times this morning–thank you, Mojave update; I may never buy another Apple product again because you love to upgrade systems so that they kill your products and make them completely useless–and it’s better now, but still won’t load my blog webpage). I have, while waiting for the stupid thing to become functional again, spent the morning getting deeply involved in The Swallows. It’s truly a phenomenal book.

I’m also guessing I’ll have to work on the short story on here. If the desktop won’t fucking load a webpage, I can only imagine the reaction it will have if I try to open Word.

Heavy sigh. All right, need to try to get this all figured out.

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Don’t Dream It’s Over

Saturday, and LSU is taking on Vanderbilt at eleven a.m. on the SEC Network. GEAUX TIGERS!

I feel pretty good this morning. The massive volunteer project is now over but for the shouting, and I feel pretty damned good about it. I’ve been sleeping well, and starting to feel more rested–the emotional and creative hangover I’ve been experiencing has been absolutely horrific–so hopefully this weekend I can focus and get more work done. I am soooo far behind where I need to be with everything right now; but that also seems to be where I am at all the time, regardless of what else I am doing. I tend to always fall behind.

ALWAYS.

But I am taking today as a day of rest from everything–don’t worry, I’ll still be cleaning during the football games today (LSU-Vanderbilt, Georgia-Notre Dame, Florida-Tennessee) and maybe get some reading done; I also will have my journal perched on my end table so whenever an idea or thought comes to mind, I will be able to jot down notes whenever ideas come to me–and they almost always do, without fail. It really is a good idea, for the record, to write stuff down. I often go back through my journals and find jewels I’d completely forgotten about secreted in there.

And I have a veritable plethora of choices for my next book to read. The TBR pile around here has been out of control for quite some time, and I’ve got to start reading some of these books. I have some more reading to do to prepare for Bouchercon–I’m moderating two panels–and of course, there’s the Diversity Project, but I think I am going to read Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows next. I’ve also got to start preparing for those panels, thinking up good questions that will stimulate a healthy, vibrant discussion. Moderating panels is a lot of work, but I always try to think of them in terms of being like talk shows; like as moderator I’m Oprah and they are my panel of guests to talk about books. Loving books and authors as much as I do, it’s not much of a reach for me, and I am moderating some panels with some pretty smart, amazing, and talented people.

I seriously know some of the most amazing people. I have the most fantastic friends. I am so lucky.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines–LSU kicks off in half an hour.

GEAUX TIGERS!

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Papa Was a Rolling Stone

Wherever he laid his hat, was his home…and when he died…..all he left us was alone….

I do love that song. It’s always fun when a song title pops up for use that’s a song I really love.

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning. I’m not sure what it is. I had another not-good night’s sleep last night–two days in a row, actually–and this morning my stomach is really bothering me. I’m not sure what it is, but yesterday was terrible. I was so tired and blood sugar was ridiculously low most of the day, which also didn’t help very much. I did manage to get the major project done, and this morning I am glumly looking at about a gazillion emails in my inbox that must be dealt with. I’d hoped that tired as I was yesterday, I’d sleep well–and was very sleepy throughout most of the evening, until, of course, I went to bed.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I was so tired yesterday I forgot it was the anniversary of the evacuation in 2005, which makes today the Katrina anniversary. Lovely, particularly as there’s a storm in the Atlantic targeting Florida–just the same way Katrina did fourteen years ago, before crossing over into the Gulf, speeding up and heading for Louisiana. My thoughts are naturally with everyone in Florida; but I am also keeping a wary eye on this storm’s progress. We may have tickets for the LSU-Georgia Southern game on Saturday night (GEAUX TIGERS!), which is another reason I don’t want to be sick for the weekend. A conundrum, really, and a quandary; should I stay home and rest today, dose myself liberally with–I don’t actually know what, to be honest. It’s my stomach, combined with exhaustion; what do you take for that? I guess one could simply lie down and read, or something. I don’t know. I also hate to use up my sick-time this way; but I need to decide sooner rather than later, don’t I? But all I have to do tomorrow is pass out condoms for four hours tomorrow night, which means I have the whole day free to sleep in and rest and all of that; and then it’s a three day weekend.

Decisions, decisions.

Okay, well, now that I’ve eaten something we’ll see what happens next. I’m personally hoping my stomach settles down, because I would rather go to work than stay home, to be perfectly honest.

Since I finished the big project again yesterday–some more work from it will show up, in dribs and drabs over the next week, I suspect–I can now focus my energies on these last two chapters of Bury Me in Shadows’ first draft, which I would like to be done with by Sunday, which is September 1st. I also want to start reading Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, and Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows.

Well, I’m still feeling terrible and it’s about time to start getting ready, so I think I’m going to stay home. I hate skipping work for sickness; I also hate being sick in general. As I’m getting older that’s one thing I’ve noticed–I’m more susceptible to being sick than I was when I was younger, to go along with all the newfound aches and pains; it seems like every morning there’s a new one. I honestly don’t mind getting older–I certainly never thought I’d make it this far–other than being betrayed by my body and my health. About the only thing I’d want back from being younger is energy and the ability to sleep deeply and well every night. I know that my body is changing–and not for the better–but every time something happens–like when my back wrenches from picking up the laundry basket wrong, or I turn my head too quickly and my neck gets sore–I think to myself, yes, you really can’t fool yourself into thinking you’re still a young man anymore, can you?

Sigh.

Well, I’m going to go lay back down. Hope you have a better day than me, Constant Reader.

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