Such Strange Little Birds
(title from "Even Though Our Love Is Doomed" - Garbage)
"Oh! You Pretty Things" - David Bowie
"That’s My Boy" - VAST
"Perfect" - Alanis Morissette
"Paper Planes" - M.I.A.
"Add It Up" - Richard Cheese
"Rich Kids Blues" - Lykke Li
"I Think I Found the Culprit" - Jack White
"Lurk" - The Neighbourhood
"Oh, You Pretty Things!" is where the book's title came from (you know, Nietzsche by way of Bowie), so that's a crossover tune, and the ones on repeat as I wrote:
"Birds of Hell Awaiting" and "Killing Strangers" - Marilyn Manson
"Pups to Dust" - Modest Mouse
SO: now I have a few new songs to go interrogate until they're memorized. What a wonderful chore!
Highly intelligent Noah and Ray are quintessential "frienemies" in this gripping modern day retelling of Leopold and Loeb.
My favorite part of this review is that it realizes the boys are equals; not everyone understands that each part of this duo gives up as much as he demands, but this analysis does. They don't really trust or even like each other that much, yet they depend on each other, desperately. That's the trick to them, yeah.
The fresh, witty albeit perverse dialogue between Noah and Ray keeps the pages turning, and while it's easy to sense their story will undoubtedly end badly, you can't help but wonder what deplorable act they'll come up with next.
Originally posted by charliecochrane at post
Delighted to have fellow Lethe author LA Fields here today, having my author questions inflicted on her.
What inspired you to start writing?
It was a whim a time or two when I was young, but once I hit about twelve, I found fanfiction and have been writing ever since. I quit fanfiction by age sixteen and started writing original stories, but then again one of my more recent books is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and just because it’s a fancy word doesn’t mean it’s not still fanfiction. The most recent book is a thinly veiled real-person fanfiction at the most basic level: a retelling of the infamous Leopold and Loeb crime. Again, in-depth research doesn’t save it from being fanfic. The writing matures but the drive behind it never does: I like something, I want to spend a year reinventing it, I don’t know where that compulsion comes from, but I don’t fight it; it’s my favorite thing about me.
Do you have another job (paid or otherwise) apart from being an author? If so, how do you juggle your time?
Yeah, right now I’m basically a secretary (I’m A.E. Housman in the Patent Office after getting burned out of school; he failed his final exams, I had to leave a PhD program because it gave me nothing but an abusive poverty stipend, and required more pointless work and endless teaching than would ever pay off with the horrible adjunctification of higher ed). I do some copywriting for this job, I’ll segue myself into better-paying copywriting gigs when I can, but the job I have now has a lot of free time trapped at a computer, so I get in daily writing quotas at my desk.
Right now I also spend three weeks a month ghostwriting smut stories for someone else’s Amazon self-pub penname, and I’ll do that until I’m out of debt from the den of thieves that was grad school. I spend the fourth week of each month writing a chapter of my next book, my eighth. If I factor in the word count of the ghostwriting gig, I’ve written at least two more books, but the filler-foam-peanut writing I do purely for money doesn’t count to me the same way, not for copywriting or ghostwriting. I’ve got these pesky principles about the difference between what is profitable and what is valuable, and I can’t seem to shake those things off.
What did it feel like watching your first book fledge and leave the nest?
I have felt irrationally immortal and superior ever since! It changed me from a wannabe into a writer, and I’ve never felt like a fraud for even a minute since then when it comes to writing fiction. Now that book is ten years old, and it’s like having a diary from childhood that I can unearth and treasure whenever I think something from my past is lost or unrecorded. Nothing is lost because I put it into a book; I love that thing. And I love who I was when I made it: so unaware of what life would bring, but still with the weird power of pattern and prophesy. I knew myself pretty well, I just didn’t know what that would do to me once I got out into the world. That first book was written when I was 18, I plan to finish writing the series before I’m 30, so I can seal up my extreme youth in that time capsule I call The Disorder Series.
Are you character or plot driven? What do you do if one of your characters starts developing at a tangent?
Character driven; I don’t even like plots, I skim them in other books; plots are only devices to reveal and showcase character for me. If a character starts developing weird, I either don’t have my head in the game and I’m not really invested in who or why they are, or they’re right and they’ve just surprised me (which is the best—only Pygmalion and Gepetto know how amazing that feels better than I do). It’s happened to me recently, in fact, with the intended end of The Disorder Series; it’s not going to end like I thought it would when I was a teenager, but then the characters aren’t teenagers anymore either, and they’re also a little disturbed by what’s happened to them, and how they’ve adapted to it. That series has always been about weird adaptation and survival, so it’s fitting.
What inspired this book?
This new book, Homo Superiors? A pointless murder inspired this one. I got interested in Leopold and Loeb when I was fourteen, the age of their victim, and it’s been an interest I’ve held for more than a decade since. They’re part of the reason I moved to Chicago for a few years, so I could visit the case-related graves in Rosehill Cemetery, and know the place where they lived. By the time I was experienced enough at writing and research to do justice to my obsession with these two killers, the full transcripts of the trial and psych reports were online, and that’s about 4,500 pages of prime source material (without the moral or social slants all the other treatments of the case often bring to the L/L canon).
That infamous case, with so many points of scandal and outrage, has always been treated more for its courtroom spectacle than its origins. The big question with such a senseless ‘thrill kill’ is why. I know why, and that’s the reason I wrote my book. No one else has thought of it quite like I do. For example: I had to dig deep to find out what exactly killed Nathan Leopold’s mother when he was sixteen; that’s not irrelevant when it comes to how a young man’s life takes such a horrifying turn. The best representation so far is John Logan’s Never the Sinner—that play (though I’ve only read it and never seen it performed) does an amazing job of dicing the public and private aspects of the case into a tight story, giving equal time and importance to both sides. My book goes way far in the private direction; I don’t even touch the case or the fallout. My book is about how two boys went from wunderkinds to killers. That’s my fascination, and so that’s where I’ve focused.
If you had no constraints of time and a guarantee of publication, what book would you write?
I kind of do have that. I have as much time outside of work as I want to spend on writing, and my publishers rarely turn me down. The next idea I’m excited about is a collaboration with my best friend (all we know about it now is that it’ll be a Murder Book of some sort); it would be nice to really invest in something like that, with all the research and refining and revising that I usually do in very minimal, organized amounts when I’m the sole author. What happens to that when I’m working with someone else? I want to find out, and for sure it’ll produce a unique kind of book that I could never accomplish alone.
Is there a classic book you started and simply couldn't finish?
The first book I ever quit was Great Expectations, and I know enough after two decades spent as an English major that it’s a pretty ironic one to ditch. BUT: Dickens was paid by word quantity, and so am I with my ghostwriting gig, so I know good and goddamn well how much of those Dickensian behemoths are filler for the sake of paying bills. I’m okay with Dickens, writer to writer and shill to shill, but I don’t like his work and I won’t try to read any more of it.
What’s your favourite gay romance/other genre book? And why?
I love books with gay characters, but almost never pure romance. I think most fictional romance is boring, happy endings are boring, but I do have an answer: Poppy Z. Brite’s Exquisite Corpse. You want genre, we’ve got horror: there are serial killers targeting gay men; some of those killers are other humans, but one of them is a plague. You want romance, we’ve got that too, kind of: with one couple we have murder husbands the likes of which mere Hannibal fans have barely seen (talk about real-person fanfiction—what if Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen had met? They’d certainly have a lot to talk about), with the other couple you get nothing but the B-side of romance, the passionate aftermath (they’re broken up from page one to done, but the relationship was so intense that neither man is truly out of it; they can’t stop thinking about the other). That’s the kind of romance I like to see: intoxicating, destructive, undeniable. True love! Not at all a guarantee of happy endings, but worth it every time.
What's your next project?
Finish my youthful Disorder Series, then an annotated edition of America’s first gay novel, then the Murder Book collaboration with my friend, and then an existential crisis because I don’t know what comes after that. Probably a break-down or an overdose or a mid-life crisis; I’ll worry about that if/when I actually run out of projects and can’t come up with any more.
- You can shrug more than shoulders, you can shrug eyebrows, and hands, but I've taken enough creative writing classes to know that a lot people are insisting on grammar rules that don't need to be insisted upon, so c'est la vie.
- The order of the stories has turned off more than one reader, this is true, but I like to lead with my strongest (i.e. most disturbing) foot.
- In grad school an interconnected short story collection is called 'a novel in stories.' Regarding this book, by whatever name we call it, the reviewer says, Fields’ ability to write these little vignettes with the same men and women popping up here and there and allowing personal growth is incredible. I agree, I'm a huge fan of myself.
- The reviewer has picked an excellent favorite line, go see what it is! It sums up the feel of the collection pretty well; that line is what it's all about.
A result of knowing these characters so intimately is that the reader is able to make a few concessions when the boys act up in their teens. Normally in literature, it’s quite a challenge to get a reader to support protagonists who commit crimes, especially as casually as these two do, but Fields woos the reader into the characters’ court quite successfully.
The short version: Those who enjoy a good psychological drama should be satisfied.
Points of interest: true crime, Chicago, homosexuality, abnormal psychology, fictionalized and updated historical events, and one of the boys was an ornithologist, so there's quite a bit of twitter about birds too.
Here's the book jacket's copy:
Two college seniors: Noah, frail like the hollow-boned birds he enjoys watching, caged by his intellect, and by his sense that the only boy as smart as himself is his best friend; Ray who has spent years aping leading men so that his every gesture is suave, but who has become bored with petty cheats and tricks, and now, during summer break in Chicago, needs something momentous to occupy himself.
Noah’s text says, I’ve found some candidates for murder. Ray chuckles and knows that Noah sent the message to cheer him. Both boys realize they stand apart from others their age. One lacks social graces, the other has perfected being charming. Both are too willing to embark on a true challenge of their superiority but neither realizes what such a crime will do because no matter how they see themselves, how they need one another, they still possess the same emotions of H. sapiens.
- First read The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson (or see the movie if you're just a tourist about it), and anything else you can think of written about writers and drunks (especially when they are authored by drunken writers--Hemingway, Bukowski, you know the drill), and then congratulate yourself the whole time just like the protagonist for knowing so much more than will ever be appreciated by the mind-dead zombies of the world.
- Have a good idea of just how awful men can be in an apocalyptic scenario, then compare that marauding rapist to Billy the Greek over here, and then don't even pretend you wouldn't be happy to know this drunken dork at the end of the world (the end of America, actually—the world’s probably better off after the US gets wiped out).
- Get the concept of zombies but don't be married to any preconceived notions about how they should emotionally impact the living (like there's a right way to deal with zombies? Doubt it).
- Know that government jobs without regulation or rigor will totally survive any mass-scale disaster (like roaches, bureaucracies will survive unchanged), and get that people who do the most vital jobs are often the least vital living (next step down is a reanimated corpse).
- Know anything about California demographics, stereotypes, and neighborhoods, or at least try to enjoy the breeze of jokes flying over your head (if you're like the protagonist you'll be from a flyover state anyway, and pretty used to that feeling).
- Love gender equality enough to appreciate that men and women alike will all be selfish, reckless, and bat-crap crazy if they’re the kind of outlier who can survive a sudden zombie awakening.
- Want to read a zombie book for those who are not and don't even care to be heroes, know that tools are better than guns even when neither one is likely to save you, and trust that you'll like this book if you want to.
I get more reading done on my bus to and from work than I did as a student scrounging for food stamp money and trying to learn how to teach (they chuck you into the deep end with that job--your undergrads are going into crushing debt just to watch people like me scramble and flail); I get more writing done blogging for myself, writing copy for my employer's websites and publications, and even working on my fiction during snack breaks and downtime; I made 60% of a monthly TA stipend in one week at a real job, and soon I'll have employer provided healthcare, a debt-free savings account, and marketable skills (UT Dallas couldn't promise me any of that, and it charges the highest public tuition in the whole state of Texas). I'm smarter than I've ever been for quitting teaching and dropping out of school. As my new boss said on my first day while we cleared out the remainders of the office's former tenants, and I hesitated to let something go over the trash can: "Don't be precious." Higher education is a pretty idea, and being a doctor of anything certainly sounds nice, like prestigious, and valuable, but in reality it isn't: a lot of higher education is ugly, and wasting so much time and energy for nothing but a title is foolish and vain, and the lesson contained in the mantra 'don't be precious' is the hardest one I had to learn in school (it taught me by way of bad example, like a 'scared straight' program).
So here are my official reasons for leaving, as I told every advisor I could think to email. Writing English papers isn't hard, but poverty is; there are a lot of sorry people in higher education, and I'm not one of them anymore.
Yes, I'm comfortable letting you know my reasons for leaving over email. The reasons are largely financial. The stipend for a TA isn't enough to live on without going into personal debt, relying on public assistance like food stamps, and living in poverty. With no guarantee of summer employment, and no healthcare provided to me as a student or an employee without monthly payments I can't afford on the stipend, it's impossible to be frugal enough to be healthy while pursuing this degree, especially since even attending full time, it would take me four years to complete the coursework (let alone a dissertation).
The fact that I personally have a Master's degree (and outstanding student loan debt) from another institution doesn't mean I can complete the coursework at UTD any sooner, it just means I'm qualified to teach as an Instructor of Record. The fact that being a TA for another professor and being an instructor (responsible for my own lesson plans and grading) provides the same stipend amount is extremely hard on morale. It feels like the qualifications I've already earned aren't valued.
With the academic job market so unreliable (the MFA in Creative Writing I already have is a terminal degree I took to qualify myself for college teaching, but I was unable to find a full-time placement before arriving at UT Dallas), I cannot invest so much time and money in getting a higher degree at this institution. It would be financially ruinous to do so.
Thank you for the information you provided,