Plaguepourri: 25 March 20

So the town remains quiet, as it likely will for quite a while. Still, it’s a writer’s compulsion, whether he writes fiction or poetry or something else, to tell readers, “Here is how the world looks today.”

Here is how the world looks today.

***

I had to pick up some prescriptions this afternoon, so I went to WalMart, getting there just before the pharmacists’ lunch break. One of them said hello. I returned the greeting, then asked if I should increase my regular apertif of aquarium cleanser. She laughed, and said I should probably stick with my usual dose.

A sign on the store’s door announced that they’ll be keeping shorter hours tomorrow. Under normal circumstances, they’re open 24/7, but I can’t remember the last time I had to make a run at, say, 3 a.m. — probably when the Spawn was little and we needed some over-the-counter remedy or another.

Meanwhile, although some Waffle Houses have shut down, the two here in Mondoville remain open as of this writing. The nearest closed one is about six miles away, in Prosperity. And a number of local eateries remain available for to-go or delivery orders. Me, I had leftover spaghetti tonight, and I likely will for the next couple of nights as well.

The people I see in the stores or on the street seem to be in pretty good humor so far. When I moved here seventeen years ago, I spoke to one of my professors from Ball State. She asked me how the students were, and I told her that it seemed to be a nice place. “Even the dullards,” I said, “are good-natured.”

“That’s good,” she said. “It’s the surly dullards who present problems.” Doubtless there are some surly dullards in the area, but they still aren’t in evidence. The myth of the friendly small town is the stuff of too many country songs, I suppose, but there is some truth to it, at least around here, at least so far.

***

I hope things are going well where you are as well. If you’re bored, or if you just want to hear my dulcet tones (which have been described as sounding like HAL 9000’s redneck brother), I invite you to check out the latest installment of Frank Zafiro‘s “Wrong Place, Write Crime” podcast, where Frank and I chat about loud, fast music, and the loud, fast fiction that it sometimes inspires. While you’re at it, you might want to check out some of Frank’s own work — he’s a retired cop, and he brings that experience to his work, along with his imagination.

And who knows? You might even want to go ahead and place an advance order for my forthcoming story, “Alt-Ac,” in the new antho from El Bee. There’s some terrific stuff in there — as always, I’m happy to be part of such a talented roster of authors. And in the words of Bartles and Jaymes, thanks for your support.

***

Whether I’m blogging, fictioneering, or doing academic stuff, I tend to have music going. Usually it’s stuff that I nearly know by heart, reassuring background sounds that please my ears without distracting my conscious mind. Every so often, though, I hear a song that makes me think I need to write a story, or that suggests to me that there is a story to be written. I’ve told the story of Broken Glass Waltzes origin before — driving on a rainy night in Lexington, KY, while listening to The Misfits’ “Die! Die, My Darling.” But a night or two ago, I heard this song — not for the first time, but this time its urgency connected with me in a way I wasn’t expecting. (By the way, the bassist on the track, Chris Carter, now hosts both the “Breakfast with the Beatles” and “British Invasion” shows on Sirius/XM satellite radio.) I’m trying to decide if there’s a story in there for me, but in the meantime, here’s the song. 

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Family, Literature, Music | Leave a comment

Waiting for My Man in Mondoville, and Other Adventures

Here’s your soundtrack.

I set my alarm for 7:30 this morning in order to score a fix. I was dressed within about five minutes, donned a hat in a halfhearted effort to conceal my bedhead, and made my way to our local supermarket, Food Predator. There were more cars in the lot than I expected, but I hoped my connection had been straight with me.

I had been there yesterday to pick up a couple of minor things, and when I had seen the desolation back there, I knocked on the door to the meatcutting room. A fellow came out, and I asked him when I might have the best shot at scoring some of what I needed. He said they were expecting to have a shipment come in the next morning. “If it’s on time, it’ll hit the shelves around eight. Be here then — I’d say ‘Be here before church,’ but since people aren’t going, you might want to be here early.” I thanked him.

When I got to the back of the store, where the coolers were, they were as barren as they had been the previous day, as empty as a politician’s promise. Three women stood near me, all of us with empty carts. I turned to the one nearest me. “Anything been brought out yet?”

“No,” she said, “but my sister works here and told me they thought there’d be a truck. So I’m waiting.” As was I. But I knew I’d have to — Lou had called it half a century ago:

He’s never early; he’s always late.

First thing you learn is that you’ve always got to wait.

So I did, but only for about ten minutes, when a fellow came out in his Food Predator uni, pushing a hand truck with cardboard cartons. Most had closed tops, but toward the bottom, I saw an open carton with ground beef patties, four to the styrofoam tray. “Looks like the hero of the day has arrived,” I said.

The guy used a box cutter to open the cartons, putting tubes of ground beef in the coolers. This wasn’t the stuff of parties on the Upper West Side, where it’s wasted on clowns who don’t know the difference between a barbecue and a cookout. It wasn’t the Chuck or the Round, but 73/27 was good enough for me. “I’m no hero,” the guy with the box cutter said.

“Maybe not,” I said, “But there are a whole lot of people glad to see you here. We appreciate what y’all are doing.” It sounds corny, I guess, but it didn’t feel corny when I said it.

“I’m just glad to see another day,” he said. Two African-American women a few feet away said “Amen”s to that, and one told the other that she couldn’t even visit her mom in the hospital, that visiting hours had been cancelled. I didn’t know how accurate that was — I still don’t.

I asked the boxcutter guy if he could just hand me a couple of the tubes; a sign asked customers to limit themselves to two, and I was fine with that. I got up early, but I wasn’t there to screw anyone else over. I just wanted to make my score and go home. So he handed me two 3-lb. tubes of ground beef, and I made my way toward the front of the store. I saw that the hoarders have moved on to eggs, and there wasn’t much left in the dairy section either. There were readymade breakfast pastries and such near the deli counter, and a few cans of bake-them-yourself croissants and cinnamon rolls, but I wasn’t in the market for those. Some biscuits might have been nice, but they were long gone already. I added those to my mental list of things for which to watch. I paid for my meat tubes, and came on home, stopping first to post on Twitter:

When I woke up again, there was a reply tweet from my cousin, Jack, in Nashville:

***

Later that afternoon, Mrs. M suggested that it might be wise to pick up some cans of food for the Hound of the Basketballs, so I went to the nearby rural living emporium, which is where we typically go for that. Sure enough, I got a dozen of the dog’s preferred brand.

The store was quieter than I expected it to be. From the dog food aisle, I could hear some of the baby chicks in a nearby pen. Signs discourage potential buyers from buying them as Easter gifts, but they’re always there this time of year. I took my purchase to the cashier, who was tending her station with a Clorox wipe. She said she had been doing that between customers, and that things had been crazy busy earlier in the day. Her fingers were red and chapped. “I’m glad you’re taking precautions,” I said.

“Well, I don’t want our customers getting sick, you know.” So I thanked her and left.

***

Since the rural living emporium is next door to WalMart, and I hadn’t been there in a few days, I thought I’d check to see if there were any biscuits. As it turned out, there were, although the meat section and such were as desolate as they had been at Food Predator.

The deli section seemed pretty well stocked, complete with the take-and-bake pizzas and the usual array of sub sandwiches. The bottled water was cleared out, but there were plenty of choices in the chip aisle, and quite a few frozen pizzas as well. I picked up a bag of tater tots because I have the appetites of a seven-year-old, and we were running low.

From there, I walked to the self-checkout, but as I stood in the queue, I saw people pushing carts with packs of toilet paper. I knew we had a few rolls at home, but not a ton, so I went to see if there were any left. There were. Limit: one package per customer. Most people were going for the packs of Angel Soft, but I opted for the house brand we typically use. The price was better, and it would likely last longer. And it was a chance for me to reply to Jack.

From there, I got a coffee at the Sixbucks drive-thru, and hit a low-end retailer, of the sort that are accused of creating food deserts in much of the rural South. But they happen to carry a snack that Mrs. M had wanted. I went to what seemed like the appropriate section, and while they had some different products of that ilk, I didn’t see the one she had requested. So I came home, showed her what I had found, and apologized for the store’s being out of her preferred snack.

But even that had a happy ending. Mrs. M went back to the store, and sent me a text: “Seriously?” There was a picture of the stuff she had wanted. I had looked in the wrong part of the store. So I apologized again.

Hey — even mighty hunters miss their shots from time to time.

 

Posted in Culture, Family, Music | 1 Comment

Saturday Night Potpourri: Asymptomatic Edition

Like my colleagues here in Mondoville, I’ve gotten the ball rolling on the transition to online classes for the time being. By month’s end, we should have a better idea of whether we’re going to finish the term this way (SPOILER: Yeah, probably), but I feel pretty comfortable with how we can make this work.

One of the things I’ve suggested to my freshpeeps is that they keep a “plague diary,” on the grounds that one of these days (if there is a “one of these days,” ha ha….) their kids or grands may want to know what this was like. But it seems wrong for me to encourage that without making some effort in that direction myself. So here we go…

***

I was telling my friend William (a college friend and math prof back in Kentucky, who also has an interesting music blog) that I’m feeling weirdly Zen about things at present. There is really very little I can do about things. I do those things, and I try to be decent to other people (which I try to do anyway), and then I let the things I can’t do anything about happen, because well, they will anyway. I don’t know if that’s serenity or fatalism.

Of course, I’m not engaging the public very much these days. I go to my office most days — I’m frequently the lone inhabitant of the classroom building, or I share the three floors with our custodian —  and sometimes I’ll get some coffee at a drive-thru, maintaining distance while doing a little for the local businesses and the folks who work there. I’ve been to the grocery a couple of times this week, including this afternoon/early evening. Yes, some sections are cleared out — meat, eggs, dairy, paper goods — but Mrs. M and I are doing OK. Not having our preferred brand of bread isn’t the same as doing without, is it?

Likewise, up in Terpville, the Spawn and Main Squeeze seem to be perking along. They’re pretty much homebodies anyway, so this isn’t a terrible hardship for them — as long as the internet holds up.

As I mentioned last week, though, the energy around here is different. As Mrs. M noted a little while ago, it feels like a summer before the summer, and for those of us who live by the rhythms of the academic year, it’s an odd feeling.

My personal rhythms are changing a bit as well. During an ordinary semester, I get up at six in the morning, and am in my office by seven or a quarter after. I try to go to bed around 9:30 at night, but that isn’t always viable, and sometimes I just lie awake as I’m thinking about the days just passed or those ahead. Now, however, I find myself up til around midnight, and I get up around 8 or 9. So I’m a couple of hours out of phase already, on a schedule much more like the one I kept when I was writing my dissertation, with a preschooler in the apartment. I suspect the change will be even more pronounced by fall, as my sabbatical begins. That’s fine by me — my office is a comfortable place to write, and the further out of sync with the rest of the world I am, the less likely I am to be distracted by it.

***

I also wonder a little how my experience of the loss of my parents and the subsequent four years before my brother’s trial affects my current. . . well, affect. The initial devastation, and the slow grind of the years after toward the New Normal brought me their own lessons about pain and about patience. I pray that I never have to have another experience of that intensity, and I pray that you never have to, either. But it has given me a perspective, anyway. I survived that; I now know that it is survivable. And I know that things will remain survivable until they no longer are, but again, that’s outside my control, just as so much of that earlier experience was.

Occasionally friends will ask me “But isn’t it frustrating?” or “Doesn’t it upset you?” when something untoward happens at work or in life. But what I’ve told them is that I now look at things on a scale of “zero to having my family killed,” and on that scale, the vast majority of things cluster at the scale’s left end.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not the stoic philosopher Johnson incorporates into Rasselas. I still feel passions, joy, and dismay. I still worry about individuals in my orbit and in the larger spheres of community. But I also know that there is much beyond my control, and recognizing that offers a kind of comfort.

And for some reason, all this reminds of a late poem from Thomas Hardy.

He Never Expected Much

Well, World, you have kept faith with me,
Kept faith with me;
Upon the whole you have proved to be
Much as you said you were.
Since as a child I used to lie
Upon the leaze and watch the sky,
Never, I own, expected I
That life would all be fair.

‘Twas then you said, and since have said,
Times since have said,
In that mysterious voice you shed
From clouds and hills around:
“Many have loved me desperately,
Many with smooth serenity,
While some have shown contempt of me
Till they dropped underground.

“I do not promise overmuch,
Child; overmuch;
Just neutral-tinted haps and such,”
You said to minds like mine.
Wise warning for your credit’s sake!
Which I for one failed not to take,
And hence could stem such strain and ache
As each year might assign.

***

And with that, I’ll wrap up this installment with a bit of music. Here’s a piece from Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ Uncle Meat album.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Literature, Music | 1 Comment

Sunday Potpourri: Everyone Out of the Pool Edition

I’m in my office. I’m frequently here on Sunday afternoons, taking care of odds and ends, because it’s quiet and I can get work done. Typically, I’m the only one in the building.

And so today, but while I know it’s my imagination, the energy in the McClurg Center for Teaching and Learning (Both? In one building?) feels a little different this afternoon. As I noted yesterday, we’ve canceled classes for the first three days of the week, and we on the faculty will do what we have to do to move our classes online, at least for the rest of the month, and (I suspect) for the rest of the term. So today, the feeling reminds of when I worked at Sears many years ago. On the nights I would help close, I would leave anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour after the mall had closed. Walking through the deserted stockrooms and on rare occasions, through the mall proper, my footsteps echoed and I always had the sense that this was not how the space was meant to be experienced. There were supposed to be other people there — coworkers, shoppers, people just hanging around. But (if I wasn’t walking a female coworker out), it was just me.

Likewise, there’s an emptiness on campus this afternoon that doesn’t feel right. There are still some students on campus — international kids or folks who haven’t left yet, or maybe don’t really have a place to go. But there’s a sense — or more accurately, perhaps, I have a sense — that the campus is like those old stockrooms at Sears.

I hope the steps we (and many others) are taking will help abate some of the risks of the weeks to come. Campus shouldn’t feel this way in the middle of March.

***

I visited a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while yesterday: Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective. A few months ago, I had picked up a copy of his 2003 adventure, Bleeders, but got distracted and set it aside. I remedied the matter yesterday. This one was darker than I remember a lot of them being, but again, that could be because it’s been a few years since I read most of them.

A blackmail case goes pear-shaped, and Nameless — now around 60, with a wife and adoptive daughter — has a very close encounter with violent death. This drives him to unravel a knot of creeps, and the bodies pile up.

Pronzini has been writing these books for decades, of course, and the first-person narrative voice is assured. There’s a nice balance between the crime story and Nameless’s developing role as a family man. In its own way, this raises the stakes for him, and therefore for the readers. It’s a solid, satisfying book, and for me, it’s a nice reminder that I should catch up on the series.

***

I mentioned El Bee’s sneak preview of Dead Girl Blues at Thursday’s N@tB, and how it left the audience poleaxed when he had finished. As it happens, Mr. Block has a post about the book at Mystery Fanfare, and it’s worth your time. He acknowledges that the book was challenging to write, and that for many people, it will be challenging to read.

He’s right — but I would suggest that it’s challenging in the same manner as Lolita or American Psycho. Yes, the subject matter is vile. The narrator is a horrid person in some very important ways. But at the same time, Block presents him to us in a way that forces us to acknowledge that, misshapen as the protagonist’s soul is, it remains a human one. And that may be the most terrifying aspect of the story.

But for me, one of the most impressive aspects of the book is the fearlessness LB shows as an artist here. We live in an artistic age where epater les bourgeosie is less a credo than a nihilistic cliche, an opportunity to rehash Duchamp’s Fountain with the whore’s bawdy wink at the audience. Being “shocking” is the easiest buck in the world these days.

But being genuinely disturbing without the wink, daring the audience not only to be shocked, but to confront those shocking elements as part of a human condition, and doing so without blinking, even as it discomfits the artist, even as it forces some of the audience to turn away, even as it defies the market? That’s fearless, folks, and its the fearlessness of this book that is one of the things I dearly admire about it, and about its author.

***

I’ll wrap this one up with a bit of music, as is my habit. The Outsiders (not the Cleveland group that did “Time Won’t Let Me,” terrific as that was) were a Dutch beat/psych group most popular from 1965-67. They never released anything in the U.S., but subsequent listeners and critics have ranked them among the best bands of the period from outside the Anglosphere. They may be best known for their 1966 track “Touch,” which has been enshrined on the Nuggets II boxset, but their final album, CQ (1968), has built a reputation as a psych masterpiece. Here’s a track from that album, which transposes a very familiar chord progression into a minor key, and gives us a charming little story of matrimony and murder. Ah, the things we do for love.

Oh, and by the way — here’s a live version!

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Poetry Corner: Whistling Past the Graveyard Edition

Thomas Nashe (late 1567 – ca. 1601) was an Elizabethan poet, playwright, pamphleteer, and controversialist. He co-wrote the lost Isle of Dogs with Ben Jonson, and is credited with The Choice of Valentines (also known colloquially as “Nashe’s Dildo”), an interesting example of Elizabethan erotica. I would suggest that this is his most famous poem.

A Litany in Time of Plague

Adieu, farewell earth’s bliss,
This world uncertain is:
Fond are life’s lustful joys,
Death proves them all but toys.
None from his darts can fly:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade,
All things to end are made;
The plague full swift goes by:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower,
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air,
Queens have died young and fair,
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave,
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds ope her gate.
Come, come, the bells do cry,
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Haste therefore each degree
To welcome destiny;
Heaven is our heritage
Earth but a player’s stage,
Mount we unto the sky:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

***

William Dunbar (ca. 1459 – ca. 1530) was a late medieval Scots poet, sometimes identified with the Scottish Chaucerians, though that’s not entirely fair. Incidentally, Dunbar is credited with the first printed use of the word fuck, so a lot of us crime writer types owe him our respect. This poem was about his poetic predecessors in Scotland (the makaris, or “makers”, a term itself connected to the Greek poetes, “maker”) but it seems appropriate these days, and I appreciate the note of faith in the conclusion.

Lament For The Makers

I that in heill wes and gladnes,

Am trublit now with gret seiknes,
And feblit with infermite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Our plesance heir is all vane glory,
This fals warld is bot transitory,
The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
The stait of man dois change and vary,
Now sound, now seik, now blith, now sary,
Now dansand mery, now like to dee;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
No stait in erd heir standis sickir;
As with the wynd wavis the wickir,
Wavis this warldis vanite.
Timor mortis conturbat me.
On to the ded gois all estatis,
Princis, prelotis, and potestatis,
Baith riche and pur of al degre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He takis the knychtis in to feild,
Anarmit under helme and scheild;
Victour he is at all mellie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
That strang unmercifull tyrand
Takis, on the moderis breist sowkand,
The bab full of benignite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He takis the campion in the stour,
The capitane closit in the tour,
The lady in bour full of bewte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He sparis no lord for his piscence,
Na clerk for his intelligence;
His awfull strak may no man fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Art-magicianis, and astrologgis,
Rethoris, logicianis, and theologgis,
Thame helpis no conclusionis sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
In medicyne the most practicianis,
Lechis, surrigianis, and phisicianis,
Thame self fra ded may not supple;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
I se that makaris amang the laif
Playis heir ther pageant, syne gois to graif;
Sparit is nocht ther faculte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes done petuously devour,
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bery, and Gower, all thre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
The gude Syr Hew of Eglintoun,
And eik Heryot, and Wyntoun,
He hes tane out of this cuntre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
That scorpion fell hes done infek
Maister Johne Clerk, and Jame Afflek,
Fra balat making and tragidie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Holland and Barbour he hes berevit;
Allace! that he nocht with us levit
Schir Mungo Lokert of the Le;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes Blind Hary and Sandy Traill
Slaine with his schour of mortall haill,
Quhilk Patrik Johnestoun myght nocht fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes reft Merseir his endite,
That did in luf so lifly write,
So schort, so quyk, of sentence hie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes tane Roull of Aberdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphin;
Two bettir fallowis did no man se;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
In Dumfermelyne he hes done roune
With Maister Robert Henrisoun;
Schir Johne the Ros enbrast hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
And he hes now tane, last of aw,
Gud gentill Stobo and Quintyne Schaw,
Of quham all wichtis hes pete:
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Gud Maister Walter Kennedy
In poynt of dede lyis veraly,
Gret reuth it wer that so suld be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Sen he hes all my brether tane,
He will nocht lat me lif alane,
On forse I man his nyxt pray be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Sen for the deid remeid is none,
Best is that we for dede dispone,
Eftir our deid that lif may we;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

***

Meanwhile, here in Mondoville, we’ve canceled classes for a few days, and are transitioning to an online format for the next couple of weeks, after which we shall see. Hang in there, everybody, and stay safe!

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Medievalia | 1 Comment

Noir in the Time of COVID-19, or SARS at the Bar

Newberry’s Bar Figaro welcomed Noir at the Bar back to its event room last night, and a mix of new and familiar faces took the stage to share tales of murder, mayhem, and merriment, although of a rather grim sort. But by the evening’s end, a good time appeared to have been had by all.

As is the case around the nation and the world, we here in Mondoville have been alternately concerned and unnerved by the COVID-19 pandemic, and earlier in the week, David Rachels, El Bee and I had conferred about whether or not we wanted to go ahead with last night’s scheduled event. But since none of us were expecting an SRO crowd, and since the virus has not yet made detectable inroads into this part of the state, we agreed to take our shot.

In this respect, I want to drop a word or two about Mr. Block’s physical courage. As a man of a certain age, he is in a high-risk group for the virus and its consequences. However, when I broached the idea of bagging the event, he immediately said that he thought we should go ahead and do it, not least for the audience who were willing to travel a significant distance to get here. If someone with his level of skin in the game was willing to go for it, I certainly couldn’t demur.

I showed up at the venue an hour before go time, but it didn’t take long before I was joined by my former office mate at Kentucky, Chris McGinley. His “Appalachian noir” short story collection, Coal Black, was published not long ago, and I traded him a copy of Broken Glass Waltzes for a copy of his book. We got to chat a few minutes about some old haunts and long-time friends, and then the other authors came in, as did local stand-up comic (and longtime friend of The Berries) Rae Bradley, who served as MC for the evening. I hadn’t seen her in a while, but she remains as lovely, enthusiastic, and delightful as ever.

Marshall Maddy, of Mondoville’s PR department, ran the sound for the night, and we started on time. I took the stage, welcomed the audience (there were just enough chairs to go around), and introduced Rae, who got things rolling by introducing David Rachels.

David did a fine job batting leadoff, reading a couple of short-shorts that I would class as a kind of screwball noir, where a thug’s accomplice is a cat named Mr. Sparkles, or where a baby’s big brother makes a list of things one should “never, never, never” do to his new sibling (such as putting the baby inside a piano, or throwing the baby higher than one would throw a cat.) I figured he would set a fine tone for the evening, and he lived up to his keynote role.

Next up was Raegan Teller, who had a funny, first-person story about a funeral home’s unscrupulous owner, and her willingness to drum up business while simultaneously taking full advantage of the deceased’s last wishes. The audience responded quite nicely, and she may have drummed up some interest in her Enid Blackwell series. I hope so.

She was followed by John Carenen, a former Newberry prof (and current friend) who has authored the Thomas O’Shea series of crime novels, set on the mean streets of a small town in Iowa. He read a passage from the second book in the series, A Far Gone Night, in which the hero relies on some serious scare tactics while interrogating a suspect.

Chris McGinley wrapped things up for the first set, with a pair of short-shorts — the first a story of buried treasure and doublecrosses in the Eastern Kentucky hills, the second a period piece about a gangster and his moll, each of whom has a separate agenda. It was Chris’s first N@tB, and I was delighted to introduce him to a Mondoville audience. We also talked a little about setting a N@tB up in Lexington — I’d love to return to my old stomping ground (not to be confused with another Central Kentucky community.)

After a short break, Rae brought us back together and passed the mike to Newberry sophomore Josh Bookbinder. He’s an English major, but he’s also one of the starting pitchers on our baseball team. It hadn’t been the best day for him — about half an hour before the reading began, he learned that the remainder of his season had, like so many other sporting events, been canceled. But he came in with a brand new story about a young man who finds some rather. . . unusual spectacles one day while walking his dog. The story was interesting, entertaining, and ultimately sweet in a manner that reminded me of the occasional episode of The Twilight Zone. As soon as he finished, Lawrence Block (who was sitting next to me) and I looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “That was really good.” Josh has been a student of both Mr. B and Your Genial Host, and it’s terrific to see how quickly his work is developing. It’s a treat to get to work with him.

Next up was Paula Gail Benson, whose stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies. Paula shared “Ghost of a Chance,” a historical tale of piracy, cruelty, and a bit of the supernatural. The work was richly detailed, and made it easy to see how she has managed to place her work in as many competitive markets as she has.

Then it was my turn. My story, “Alt-Ac,” will be appearing soon in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, LB’s forthcoming anthology with an academic theme. My story is something of a cautionary tale about what passes for the job market in the humanities these days. Suffice it to say I raised the atrocity bar for the evening, but I hope I did so with a certain panache.

But then it was time for the headliner as Mr. Block delivered the first 3000 or so words of Dead Girl Blues, which will come out this summer. Folks, this one is not for the squeamish. The section he read was brutal, horrifying, and disturbingly fascinating, kicking one of the last taboos in the slats along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to read the entire novel, and I think it is both brilliant and extremely difficult to endure, in the manner of Lolita or American Psycho. When he had finished his reading, the audience sat stunned for a moment before exploding into applause. Afterward, an attendee I had clued in said to me, “I mean, you had told me, but… I mean… Jeez.”

Poor Rae had to come back up and wish us all a good night after that, but she did a lovely job before reminding us to wash our hands. It may take more than that before the audience feels clean again.

Afterwards, we gathered for a few pictures, and here’s one from Raegan.

N@tB 12 Mar group shot

L-R: LB, Josh Bookbinder, Chris McGinley, the Prof, John Carenen (partially obscured), Paula Gail Benson, David Rachels, and Raegan Teller

Once again, despite the grimness the outside world seems to offer us these days, a few fictioneers managed to distract ourselves and an audience from all that for a couple of hours. It was time well spent, and it appears that we once again managed to convince the venue of that, as we’re already invited back for Noir at the Bar: Chapter Three. I hope to see you there!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Literature | 2 Comments

Lenten Devotional: 10 Mar 20

Here at Newberry College, we sponsor series of devotionals during the seasons of Advent and Lent. The installments are written by faculty, staff, alumni, students, and/or friends of the college. Typically, the devotional takes the form of an assigned passage of Scripture, followed by a brief reflection and a prayer. I wrote the devotionals for this past Friday, yesterday, and today.

Gen. 3: 14-24 (KJV)

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

 

A few days ago, as we heard the story of the Fall of Man, we realized that if the story ended there, it would be tragedy. And on first reading of the chapter’s end, it does seem tragic. Adam and Eve will labor, and suffer, and die. They are sent out of the Garden to begin that long process.

But our faith is not a tragic one. Tucked into the sentences God pronounces on the participants in the Fall, we are told that while evil may cause us pain, some future generation will overcome that evil once and for all, trampling the Serpent and its ilk into the dust forever. This, of course, is the miracle of Christ’s Incarnation, when God becomes Man and takes on the deadly punishment for sin despite being sinless Himself. The scales will be balanced, and the world made right.

Yes, Lent is a time for reflection on our own wrongs and Christ’s suffering to redress those wrongs. But it should also be a time in which we reflect on the hope God gives us – that the darkness of Lent will be replaced by the empty tomb and the brightness of an Easter morning.

Our Father, we know we have earned the sorrows we face. But thank You for reminding us that they are not everything. Thank You for telling us that You will triumph over all our sorrows, even to the pain of death. In the Name of Your Son, Amen.

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