Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

holy crap, I wrote something.

Not GETHSEMANE, and I haven't gotten started on Sekrit Projekt No. 2 yet. But I started fiddling with a short story I abandoned months ago, and I am suddenly very happy with the way it turned out.

Zokutou word meter
6,134 / 6,134

It's also pure science fiction with a touch of fantasy, a step away from the usual horror. It's been a while since I finished anything salable, and I'm quite happy. A few beta reads and judicious editing, and off it'll go. I'll decide about GETHSEMANE tomorrow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

because some conversations deserve to be immortalized...

My friend and fellow author Jay Smith absolutely kills me with his blog, a perfect example of facing life with a sense of humor. He is also king of geeks, as this entry will attest.

Here's Jay trying to get his car repaired.

Me: “I see smoke.”
Mech: (nods) Well, that’s probably a forest pixie stuck in your flux capacitor.
Me: Make it go with no smoke? How much and when?
Mech: Weeelllllll, about $515 and half a day.
Me: Okay. Make fixed, no smoke.
Mech: Got it. We’ll call your cell when we’re done.
Mech: Okay, Mr. Smith. We removed the pixie from the flux capacitor, tightened up the transmat conduits and flushed the transwarp antimatter feeds. You should be good to go.
Me: Okay. Make fixed? No smoke?
Mech: That’s the end result, yes, sir.
Me: Good. What if pixie come back?
Mech: Just keep an eye on the front panel every so often, make sure the halogen matrix indicators line up and have the same lamination. If they fire out of sequence and you’re under 88mph, just stop and check to see if there’s a little crispy winged thing inside. It’ll look like a dragonfly almost. If you see one, just give us a call. Somehow forest fairies can get into the capacitors if the front panel is loose. They think the light of the induction manifold is another fairy in heat so they fly right in and, you know, “ZAP”. But the bolts are tight so you shouldn’t see any more problems.
Me: Uh. Okay. Me pay now.

To which I replied, "You mean they didn't set up a neutrino beam inside the Heisenberg Compensator? Those bastards!"

"No," he said. "But they reversed the polarity of the starboard power coupling and it caused a spontaneous plot device to malfunction. That was another $250."

Friday, April 25, 2008


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
11,704 / 60,000


Not sure what's bugging me about this. The fact that it's clear first-draft stuff, barely sketches of what I need? That for the first time in ages I'm flying blind, working without an outline? Or the fact that it just doesn't feel very good?

It's like there are peeks through of the book it could be, but not enough. Not near enough. And I feel the time pressure hard. It deserves better. But then I think that of all my books.

I've never tried to write two books at once. Some of my fellow authors do it regularly. I wonder if I can?

One-star reviews

The inimitable John Scalzi has issued forth a challenge to all us writers: post your one-star Amazon reviews. Go on. Own the hate.

Other authors have already begun to do so. After all, if you can't take the heat, pull a J.D. Salinger and hide in the mountains for forty years. Or something like that. The rest of us live and work in a world with fans, and you're not always going to please them.

I hadn't checked my Amazon pages for some time, which is funny considering how obsessed I was with them when my first book came out. Oh, I checked my rankings constantly. I obsessed over every rating. I didn't realize then that my book's "ranking" was a largely meaningless number determined by random sales occurring all over the world. But when I reached Number 17,000 on the overall site, I was (for about a half hour) technically outselling Brian Keene!

And I made the mistake of blogging same in my personal journal. Somehow he found this and congratulated me. Said we should raise a beer in celebration. That's because Keene is a classy guy who wouldn't puncture my new-author euphoria with, "You know, Amazon rankings are totally meaningless." And I followed through - when I next saw him at his release party for THE CONQUEROR WORMS, I brought him a chilled Schlafly microbrew I'd carried all the way from St. Louis.

Now I see my first book, SETTING SUNS, ranks at 1.3 million (ah, how the less-than-mighty have stumbled) and has eight reviews, all five stars save one four-star. The vampire book, NOCTURNE, is in the 600,000s and has six reviews - all five stars.

Hell, the smut antho is selling "best," ranked at 544,000, but has no reviews yet.

So, um, I have no one-star reviews to post?

Now I'm paranoid, because some out there will see this as a challenge: go slam Elizabeth's books! Such things are not funny. Repeat: NOT FUNNY. And yet, I'm surprised no one's jumped on me about the typos in the first edition of SETTING SUNS, or the three-way sex scene in the latter half of NOCTURNE... Or maybe my readers didn't mind the latter and never noticed the former.

At any rate, as Scalzi says, it's better to embrace the ones who fail to love you - turn the other cheek, so to speak - than to go crazy and harass them or tell them they're just not smart enough to comprehend the wonder of your work, as certain authors have done, not that I'm naming any particular vampire author from New Orleans.

At any rate, it's nice to be loved by my small yet loyal band o' fans. Maybe if/when I hit the level of readership that Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette and others have reached, then I'll be big enough to hate. One can dream!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

following the crowd

A number of writers, including Elizabeth Bear and Mary Robinette, have been posting the chronology of novel-writing. You can't ask a writer how long she's been a writer, because it's just something you are, like having brown eyes. But every writer knows the first time she finished a book.

It's been gratifying to see how many writers started something years ago that never went anywhere, but later, they dusted it off and made it into something salable. I guess we all do that. Though, as Robinette says, some stuff in the trunk deserves to stay there. I have a feeling that's where Delenn is going to stay.

Without further ado....

Novel 0: SANCTUARY. It was written in my senior year of high school, inspired by a dream about a woman leading a band of insurgents to rescue a captured comrade from an unseen enemy. Being an enormous science fiction geek, I of course determined that it was an alien occupying force. I wrote it by hand in a series of spiral notebooks, and it was like nothing I had ever done before. While most writing was like pulling teeth out with a pair of pliers, this simply poured out as though I were taking dictation from someone else. That would be The Muse, and she's still bitching at me today. I turned SANCTUARY into my senior-year project, got an A, declared it finished. I rewrote it in college and gave copies to my friends and declared it finished. I rewrote it AGAIN in 2002 and put it away. It's still not ready.

Novels 00-0000: A series of novel starts, including GETHSEMENE and DELENN, which were my flailing attempts at horror and fantasy, respectively. The difference between SANCTUARY and these? A deadline and a work ethic. I couldn't give up on SANCTUARY, my teacher was expecting it. No one was expecting anything of me, so I stuck to my little short stories published in microzines.

Novel 1: NOCTURNAL URGES. I'd been kicking around the idea of a serial killer operating in the area of a vampire nightclub. I've told the story of how I got my break a dozen times, so I won't reiterate it again. When I got my shot at Ellora's Cave, NU became a vampire sex club, and the series was born. It's still the bestseller, winning the Darrell Award and an honorable mention for the Prism from RWA. Amusingly, there is now a bar in Memphis called Nocturnal. My friend Andy took pictures of me outside it, but alas, no one has had Fun with Photoshop yet. (Doesn't it just look like Brent should be standing outside, looking formidable?)

Novel 2: SETTING SUNS. Okay, not really a novel, but a book. It collected all my short stories into one volume under the masterful hand of Frank Fradella. As much as I love the novels, when someone asks about an introduction to my work, I hand them this one. It's a little bit of me, everything I like to write all bound up under a beautiful New Babel cover. It's my best paperback seller.

Novel 3: A MORE PERFECT UNION. The sequel to NOCTURNAL URGES, it introduces the idea of the kiss and the characters of Samantha, Diego and Cristoval, the wackiest trio to dance the Memphis streets. While I debated the wisdom of falling into that ancient trope, "older cop gets paired with brash rookie partner; wackiness ensues," the Freitas-and-Parker team instantly became tons of fun to write and was incredibly popular with readers.

Novel 4. ABADDON. The third book in the NU series, much of its premise came from a half-drunk brainstorming session at Dragoncon, and thus I named my vampire queen Zorathenne, after the marvelous Melodee Britt's netname. I knew before MPU came out that I wanted to take the vamps out of supernatural romance and into straight horror-mystery, and EC agreed to let me move the entire series to Cerridwen Press so I could do so. There's nothing romance about ABADDON. It's a straight slide right down into hell, almost literally, and no one's quite the same afterward. In it, I intentionally set up a bunch of fun stuff to do in the future, if I get the opportunity. But it can stand alone as a trilogy if there isn't enough interest in more vamp books.

Novel 5. YELLOW ROSES. Written first as a novella right after NU, I set it aside because it sucked. I started over with it as a novel after I finished ABADDON and during the looooong wait for ABADDON to come out. It was my first experiment with writing with the door open - creating a select group of First Readers who would read the chapters as I wrote them. I found it immensely helpful, listening to them debate what would happen next, getting their input on what was working and what wasn't. I did the rewrite with the door mostly closed, but I'd be lying to say I wrote YR all by myself. It is currently subbed to a New York publisher.

Novel 6, 7 and 8: All in preproduction, with contracts pending on one and tentative offers on the other two. I think they're going to be kickass. I've never tried to write three novels in a year, but this, I think, is the year I do it.

Will there be more NU books? Will the Sanctuary series ever see print? Will I do sequels to YELLOW ROSES? The answer to the last is, I gotta sell YR first.

As to the rest... Magic 8 Ball says ask again later.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Midsouthcon, Part IV


Oh, the morning-after regret. Sara was bemoaning her sprained groove thing. I'm not entirely sure where her groove thing is located on her body, but apparently she sprained it and we're not close enough that I'm gonna go looking. Me, I was regretting the lack of sleep. I am too old for this shit.

Still, we meandered downstairs to have breakfast, all four of us Memphis Belles. As always, the food in the Holiday Inn restaurant was a sad disappointment for the price, but in this particular case, the price was "free." Ah, the value of being a Priority Club member.

My anxiety was building again, so I volunteered to be the one to leave breakfast early and go open the booth. It was the Day of Holy Commerce, as everyone realizes they have twenty bucks left from the boozing and paying off the sucker who put the hotel room on his credit card, so why not blow it in the dealers' room?

My Belles relieved me in time to make my reading, which was maybe the highlight of the convention after the Darrell.

Upon arrival, only Sabrina was there. I've read to a crowd of one before, but it's depressing. So I held off for a minute, setting out my Dove dark chocolates on the seats. A few minutes later, three people came in, including one who had a plate of breakfast stuff. So I began to read.

I hadn't looked at THE COLD ONES in months, as it's currently sitting on an editor's desk awaiting approval or rejection. I'd forgotten that it starts with an exceptionally gory scene. Okay, it didn't seem that gory when I started, not when you compare it to goremasters like Brian Keene or Bryan Smith. But when I read the line about shreds of armflesh hanging out of Parish's mouth, the poor woman on the left stopped eating her breakfast. I felt like apologizing.

THE COLD ONES, I found, is excellent for verbal reading. Some pieces work very, very well verbally, like "Sisyphus" and A MORE PERFECT UNION. Other pieces only work on paper, like "Wonderland" and, I'm afraid, much of ABADDON.

THE COLD ONES has snappy dialogue, is extremely fast-paced and has a high action quotient. It might just be the perfect piece for readings, except that it's about twice as long as a standard one-hour reading.

People began to drift in, and for a wonder, they stayed. In fact, they were frozen. I was reading extra fast, because I wanted to get at least through the redcap fight before I had to stop, and still they hung in there. At one point, people came in and hesitated.

"Come in, we're fighting zombies," I said.

"And you don't wanna be eating," said Breakfast Woman. I laughed and apologized. Mmm, armflesh. But she didn't leave.

At the five-minute mark, I saw Beverly Hale, the next author, standing at the back. So when my timer-person told me the hour was up, I stopped. It was halfway through the redcap scene. Immediately they mobbed me.

"It's gonna be zombie Vaughn and Stover in a smackdown at the end, right?" one of them asked.

"Wouldn't YOU like to know," I snarked. They all wanted to know where they could read it, and damn, I wished I could have said, "Coming soon as a novella from Mumblety Press." Instead, I told them it's on an editor's desk right now, and I'll be announcing it on the web site.

The funny thing was, I fell back in love with THE COLD ONES at that reading, even though Tyree Campbell cracked that it sounded like it was about beer. Thanks, Tyree. I forgot how much I loved that story, and I'd have given anything to be able to say, "Hey, anyone wanna go to the empty room next door and finish it?" Or better yet, to have a stack of copies beside me, ready to sell.

It's a dynamic thing, reading your story with an audience in the room. You hear them snickering when you said something funny, you feel them getting caught up in your world, and you want nothing more than to go all the way to the end and see what they think. Writing is often an isolated occupation, which is why Eric Flint is absolutely right: you gotta get out in the world and be with people you didn't invent, or you'll just end up talking to yourself.

Back to the dealers' room, where we grabbed a random stranger to take our picture at the booth. Ian had joined us, and hovered over us in an amusing suspension of gravity. We sold many books, and annoyed everyone in the dealers' room with our raffle drawing. When the room shut down, we packed out the stuff with all swiftness and bid our farewells.

Of course, it was hours before I left Memphis. I visited my friend Patrick Stubblefield, whose family had just increased by one. Baby Joshua was adorableness incarnate, and I got my baby fix while Ian managed to break a knickknack in five seconds. I console myself that it's likely a good warm-up act for when little Joshua is running amok.

Then to the airport, to say goodbye to my mother and stepfather, about to fly back to California. She was meeting some old friends for dinner at the airport, and I got to hug some folks I haven't seen since before I was married. Which meant another hour and a half before beginning the six-hour drive home that would put me in bed after midnight. Old home week.

You see, home isn't just a concept about where you rest your head, or even where your heart is. My heart is wherever my son is. But "home" is the place you see in your mind's eye, the place where you know every street and sidewalk no matter how many years have passed. "Home" is where, when you go there, they gather around the table and talk over old times and call you by nicknames you've protested since you were a teenager.

And you wonder why they don't gather when you're not there, why your annual visits are their only excuse for getting together. Whether they realize what a dear and precious gift it is to have a family of choice, people who mean the world to you to matter how many years have gone by.

A gift that should never be wasted or taken for granted, because life is just too fucking short.

Midsouthcon, Part III


Somehow I had managed to piss off Carlin Stuart, because he put me on a 9 a.m. panel. At 9 a.m. on Saturday I am not conscious enough to speak coherently. I have the sneaking suspicion that panel was about strong women characters in the Harry Potter universe and I kept trying to drag us to other universes as well because strong women characters are my favorite rant, but there was no caffeine in my system and therefore I have no clear memory of it.

Then off to commit commerce, huckstering folks in the dealers' room. I'm happy to say we had absolutely no rude patrons. I've worked booths at conventions without number now, and it floors me how rude people can be. I could never work retail again, it's just too hard not to punch some asshole's lights out.

We came up with the quasi-brilliant idea for a raffle – tickets were 50 cents each or three for a dollar, and we sold quite a few. We also let people get free raffle tickets at the party. Future reference: ixnay on the eefray. Cough up, you cheap bastards. We had free booze, cake, a shiny person-eating curtain and tarot readings, we didn't need anything else to draw people to our party. Also, next con the price goes up. The take was low enough that no one's going to break even on their donation, much less make a profit off it.

Also, somebody told me my raffle might have been illegal in the state of Tennessee. Mental note: Look that up before Hypericon in Nashville. I have an aversion to handcuffs.

Anyway. Now came the moment of the convention that I feared the most. Not the Darrell Award banquet. The Darrell Award READING. Someone had the great idea that maybe we shouldn't bog down the banquet with reading from each nominated work, but instead make it a separate panel. Because there were so many of us, we each got about five minutes.

I'd been killing myself trying to find five minutes of ABADDON that a) didn't require five minutes of explanation, b) wasn't so depressing people would be slitting their wrists in the aisles, and c) was funny. There is no funny in ABADDON. Okay, the Christmas party has snark, but that's about it. Seriously, from then on it's gut-wrenching agony and grief du jour, so I had to give up on the funny.

By that morning I had narrowed it down to a) the scene where Ryan wakes up in the hospital and is told Isabel is dead, b) the swordfight between Ryan and You-Know-Who*, or c) Parker's encounter with You-Know-Who* in the car.

The hospital scene violates the aforementioned wrist-slitting prohibition, as it's pretty much Grief 101 up close and with fangs. I wanted the swordfight, but it gives away damn near everything in the mystery, and if there's something that's been made clear, it's that the population of People Who've Read Abaddon is fucking small. So I settled for Parker's attack.

What I didn't realize, even as the panel was going on and others were reading their excellent works, is that I am a potty-mouth of the first order. Okay, all my books have a high level of profanity. You have to double that when you add in Parker, who actually THINKS in profanity. She's a cop who grew up on Memphis inner-city streets, whaddya want?

So I'm reading my bit, and Parker thinks the glorious line, "Oh fuck it's Diego he's back and Samantha didn't sense it fuck I'm fucked it's fucking DIEGO…" This is a perfectly understandable panic reaction given what happened to Parker in A MORE PERFECT UNION. It also made the entire room laugh, including Selina Rosen. And as the scene went on, the sense of "oh shit he's gonna break her neck" that seemed so taut, tense and fearful on the page was met with nervous giggles at the profanity.

Hey, I'll take a laugh over yawns and glancing at the watch any day. And it was hilarious afterward, as our moderator declared, "Elizabeth just won the Selina Rosen Award for profanity." Still, it clearly shows that some pieces work well verbally and some work well on paper, and the two don't always gibe. Even so, I was glad to have it over with.

Some commerce-time later, Angelia and I fled upstairs to change into our ballgowns. Okay, a simple low-cut black-lace cocktail dress for me, and a lovely 1920s-style turquoise-and-gold gown for her. We got ourselves all prettied and went downstairs, pretending we weren't nervous. I stopped by the booth one more time and bumped into Tim Gatewood, chairman of the Darrell Award jury, who was chatting with Sara.

ME: Give me a hint!
TIM: No!
ME: Give me a hint!
TIM: No!
ME: Give me a hint!
TIM: No!
ME: He just likes to torment me. He enjoys it.
TIM: I'm just glad this year it's Selina tormenting you.
ME: Yeah, I saw that she's the emcee. I'm afraid.

On to the banquet. Last year, I accidentally ended up sitting next to Terry Pratchett. This year I was across from Tim and Selina, with Loren Damewood. I was glad to have a moment with Loren, because I wanted to tell him a story.

ME: Do you remember the bracelet you wove on my wrist the first time I met you?
LOREN: I didn't weave it on your wrist, did I?
ME: Sure did. We were drinking Carlin Stuart's chocolate martinis and you were weaving a bracelet out of cotton on my wrist while we talked.
LOREN: That's dangerous. The last time I did that I almost wound up married.
ME: *grin* No offense, but not a chance.
ALL: *laughter*
ME: Anyway, I still have the bracelet. And a few months ago, my nine-year-old had a very rare attack of the night terrors. He's usually pretty steady, but he just could not get to sleep, very afraid of monsters. Nothing was working and I was desperate. So I went into my room and got the cotton bracelet. I told him, "This is a very special bracelet woven for me by a very special man. It'll keep you safe while you sleep."
ALL: *awwws*
ME: I put it on his wrist, and he was asleep ten minutes later.
LOREN: That is great.
ME: On occasion, if he has the night terrors, he'll even request the special bracelet of protection. It's magic.

And after all, what is magic but belief? What is the force that repels vampires from a cross around your neck, if not belief? If you believe a thing has power, it has that power. It doesn't matter if the monsters are real – my son believed the cotton bracelet would protect him, and thus he was able to sleep in safety. It is a far simpler, more comforting thing than trusting Mommy will protect him, the walls will protect him, the police and fire department and society itself will protect him… no, it's a magic bracelet, and it's all he needs. The blessing of childhood.

By now it was time for the banquet, and Selina was a hilarious choice as emcee. Not only can she entertain a room, but she managed to go almost to the end of the ceremony before letting slip a curse. That's a massive effort for her, and we applauded. She also stumbled on some of the truly impossible names and titles, which provided us with no small amusement. I wanted to tell her how the chancellor of a major university mangled the name of a future governor not once, not twice but three times in the course of introducing him, but I was too nervous.

So this is what you're waiting for, right? What happened when the novella category came up? I had utterly forgotten how many nominees there were, and Selina listed them all and I didn't count. So she read off the runner-ups, and the honorable mentions, and then Angelia grabbed my hand.

"She must be keeping count," I thought. "Does that mean I win?"

Sure enough, Selina turned with a smile and said, "Of course, that means the Darrell Award goes to Elizabeth Donald for ABADDON, which I've probably mangled."

I stepped up and told Selina, "Actually, a Hebrew scholar told me it can be ah-BAH-don or ah-bah-DON, so either way you're fine." After the laughs died down, I realized I really should have prepared a speech. "Wow," I said, looking at the plaque. "You know, I've been gone from Memphis so much longer than I lived here, and yet I have been so floored by the response to this series and your support for it. Thank you." Or something like that. It's funny, when you're up at a podium, your brain turns into a hissing white void and you don't realize what you're saying until you sit back down and think, "What did I say?"

At any rate, I'm pretty sure I forgot to thank anyone who was actually involved in the writing of the book. So a bit late, THANK YOU!!!!!

Afterward, I went over to Tim Gatewood to thank him. Before I could even get it out of my mouth, he said, "You didn't really think we'd make the same mistake we made two years ago, did you?"

Two years ago, my second book in the Nocturnal Urges series had been nominated and failed to win. "Well, that depends on whether you and the jury thought it WAS a mistake," I said, grinning.

"Well, I sure did," he said. It was like winning two awards. I thanked him and proceeded to text my parents and others who had requested immediate notification.

On to the partying. I shed the cocktail dress and was going to wear a simple black skirt and red silk shirt, but Sara declared it made me look like a secretary. This is why we're friends, folks. Ordinary humans would say, "Oh, you look nice." Sara says, "It makes you look all conservative, let's get you into something else." For the first time in my life, I underpacked for a con. I ended up back in the Vampira Cleavage Dress of Doom, and nobody noticed, I hope.

We dolled up and Jesse took pictures of us. Four women ready for fun, and he was our male escort. First we took our beverage tickets to the bar and ordered up. We drank and talked – I find I like amaretto sours – but unfortunately Angelia and I had to stay mostly sober, as we had been scheduled for 11 p.m. panels.

Surprisingly, people actually showed up for the panel, which was about comics for grownups. I was woefully underqualified to be on this panel, as everyone there a) actually worked in comics and b) had been reading comics for decades. I've been reading comics for five years and I just snark about them for money.

Still, it was a trip to meet Martheus Wade, creator of JETTA. I actually had the very very first JETTA comic from a con eons ago, before I was a reviewer or even an author. Mostly what I tried to do was contribute the point of view of the newbie, and the way the Big Two keep doing their level best to discourage new comic readers with their Crisis on Infinite Crossovers. I'm about to send this whole thing spinning into "fiction or comics, independents are where you find the good stuff," so I'll just head myself off at the pass.

The best moment for which I was not present: Sara, who had squeezed herself into a corset shirt and was nearly overflowing, was climbing the stairs with Sabrina and there were young men about. Sabrina was dawdling or something, and Sara called out, "So are we going to your room or what?"

A young man immediately shouted, "YES! OH GOD YES!" and began fumbling for his room key. Sara was allegedly thrown off-balance, a state I've never seen, and realized Sabrina was entirely hidden from the young man's point of view, therefore it seemed she had been propositioning him. "Oh! No.... uh, thank you! But... no." I have a hard time believing Miss Sara M. Harvey is ever thrown off her game, but ever since, "YES! OH GOD YES!" has become our catchphrase. You may all snicker now.

Finally done with the "work," I had a nice long chat with Jesse before he vanished into a puff of smoke. Then Sara and I hit the dance floor.

To be more specific, Sara hit the dance floor and I watched. My dancing is not an aesthetically pleasing event. Sara shook her groove and I clapped a lot. We both laughed our asses off as two young men gyrated around each other to "Total Eclipse of the Heart," and we all started waving our arms in the air as if we had lighters, and a half-dozen people turned on their cell-phone lights and waved those. Talk about something that didn't exist when I was a lass!

I love music and dancing, and I love soaking the atmosphere of people having a good time, and I can't dance to save my life. So I shifted my weight from one foot to the other in pretense of dancing so no one would notice I was just being near people.

Then a tall, dark-haired man danced out of the shadows and grabbed my hands. "Elizabeth?" he said.

Okay, not a crazy-ass stalkerboy, as I was not wearing my badge. "Do I know you?" I asked. The shadows were deep, and I couldn't quite see his face.

Being a smartass, he kept giving me hints as he "danced" me around the room. Mostly I just kept my feet moving and he twirled me a few times, which was fun. Finally I figured it out… okay, no, I didn't. He gave up and told me he was Jimmy James, who was part of my circle of friends from college a century ago. Once he said it, of course I recognized him. The whole trip had been like diving back into college.

Alas, it was nearly 4 a.m., and I hauled Sara back to the room by the scruff of the neck, since we had a wakeup call in three hours. Or fifteen minutes, as my mother texted me at 4:15 a.m. and woke us all up again. There may have been threats of violence.

Believe it or not, I was sober nearly the entire time. Except for that bit with the Southern Comfort.

Next: Day of Holy Commerce.

* Not Voldemort. And if you know whodunit, please don't ruin it for the 99.9999 percent of the population that hasn't read the damn book.