It is finished! Despite some setbacks with my health, I typed those all important words “THE END” on the first draft of “Trigger Warning,” the 3rd book in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, Friday morning.
It seems like “Trigger Warning” has taken a very long time to write, even though I think I only spent about two months cranking out the bulk of it. But I’ve been planning it for over a year, and at 112k words, it’s a bit longer than the previous books, plus darker and scarier.
But never fear! Not only is there darkness and fear, there’s also ludicrousness and farcical humor. My goal for the series all along has been for it to be a kind of chiaroscuro piece, with humor and tragedy intertwined.
The particular inspiration for “Trigger Warning” was a semester last year at my own college, when several students died, including one in a gang shooting incident at a party. (For the record, my college is an upscale, elite institution where gang violence is a huge shock. But it still happened). At the same time, the thing that really got the administration’s undies in a bundle was a blog post by an anonymous group complaining about injustices on campus such as the disgraceful pay for janitorial staff. Special walk-in counseling sessions were set up in case students felt threatened. Add in some stuff about sorting students into Houses a la Harry Potter, as one place I interviewed at did, and the controversy about having faculty act as bellhops when students move in, as various places have started doing, and voila! Instant laugh/cry material.
It’ll be a while before I’ll have “Trigger Warning” ready for release, even in ARC form, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of Chapter 10 to whet your appetite.
At 7:45 the next morning I was trotting across campus from the faculty parking behind the back quad to the main entrance in front of the front quad. In full regalia. It was a mere 75 degrees now, but temperatures were slated to rise another 20 degrees at least by noon. So a fine day to stand outside in ankle-length polyester robes and a velvet tam.
I stopped to adjust my hood. A purely ceremonial item, it was supposed to drape across my shoulders and hang down below my waist in the back. There was a little claspy thing in the front to hold it together and in place. But the little claspy thing was totally inadequate for the brisk pace I was setting, and the hood kept twisting around and slipping off.
“Rowena, right?” A middle-aged man in green Tulane robes stopped beside me to do some similar adjustments.
“Um, Keith, right? History?”
“You remembered! We must not be working you hard enough yet.”
“I suppose by some standards, standing around in academic regalia and welcoming incoming first years to their Hogwarts House wouldn’t count as ‘work’ at all. Not compared with cutting timber in a Siberian labor camp.”
Keith looked startled. “Oh, right, you’re the Russianist, aren’t you. I suppose that gives you a very…unique take on a lot of hardships. And you’re right, but my God. I voted against this nonsense when it came up last semester, and so did everyone else with even a grain of sense, but somehow we got overruled. I don’t even know how. I don’t know any faculty members who thought it was a good idea. But seems like our power is being eroded more and more every year. I’m sure a fiat came down on high from Recruitment and Admissions or Student Development or the Office of Babysitting and Spoonfeeding or whatever it’s called now, so here we are. I don’t see any of those people out here at the crack of dawn, prepared to spend the morning humiliating themselves and getting heatstroke.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Funny thing. And thanks, by the say. For agreeing to be Slytherin.”
Keith shrugged. “Whatever. I’ve never actually read the books, although my kids made me take them to one of the movies. But I have no emotional involvement in this BS.” He looked at me sideways. “I suppose you’re going to tell me they’re your favorite books in the world?”
“I’m a Russianist,” I said. “My favorite books in the world were all written in Russian. If you’re looking for something with magic in it, I recommend Master and Margarita. But these books are pretty good too, and the kids might get a kick out of this.”
“Yeah,” said Keith. “Too bad they’re here for a rigorous liberal arts education, not to get a kick out of seeing their professors cavort around in garish costumes. Oh, hey. Is this all of us?”
Mel, in her sky-blue Tar Heel getup, and Daniel, a gangly man from Political Science in bright yellow Johns Hopkins robes, were hurrying towards us. Mel had a stack of posterboard in her arms.
“Call me an overachiever, but I thought if we’re gonna do this, we should do this,” she said. “So I stopped by the store last night and got posterboard and markers. I figured we could make posters for each of the houses, with—and this is why we want to do this—instructions for how to find the correct entrance to the dorm that they’re supposed to use.”
“Oh, right,” said Keith. “We’re supposed to working as traffic cops as well. Does anyone remember where the little buggers are supposed to go?”
I pulled out the instructions that had been emailed to me, and which I had printed out on my own dime, since the email had come in after dinner the night before and I didn’t have access to the department printer/copier yet anyway. Somehow I had ended up in charge of this ill-advised venture, which was probably supposed to make me feel good about myself as a go-getter who was fitting in well with the campus community, but actually boded very ill for me as someone who was going to get press-ganged into doing this kind of stuff every semester, while getting harassed about my lack of productivity, or something like that.
“All first-year students are housed in Jackson Hall,” I said. I wondered if Jackson Hall was named after Andrew Jackson. So not a Confederate general, just a slave owner. Of course, in the US, as in Russia, pretty much anyone who had done anything worth naming a building after had been a slave owner. I wondered what future generations would say about us, and which of our actions would trigger outrage and furious revisions of history. I had my guesses, but there was just so much to choose from.
“Yeah, poor little kids,” said Keith. “That place has no air conditioning, and there are constant complaints about mold. But it’s tradition. Plus the college doesn’t have the money to renovate anything. It’s all going to hiring more Deans of Donations. Oh shit. Is that our first customer of the day?”
A car was pulling up to the entrance. It was decorated in crimson and cream streamers and balloons. A teenage face, barely visible behind all the braces and acne, stuck itself out the passenger side window.
“Whoa, this is awesome!” he said. “I’m Michael. Wait, am I supposed to tell you my House? That’s sooooo cool. Gryffindor.”
I bounded forward. “Great to meet you, Michael! I’m Professor Halley, the head of Gryffindor House, here to welcome you to Crimson College. First years are housed in Jackson Hall, and Gryffindors should check in at Entrance A. Which is, um…” I looked over at the others.
“Drive straight ahead and take a right at the T,” said Keith. “There will be signs leading you straight to Jackson Hall from there. Entrance A is the first entrance you’ll come to. There will be people there to direct you and help you unload your things.”
“Wow, really? This is incredible! Thank you guys so much! I think this is the best day of my life! Hey, are you professors? Any of you from Math?”
“No, but when you get to the dorm, ask around for Professor Irving and Professor Arlington. Oh, and I think Professor Li will be there too. They’re all from Math,” Keith told him.
“Whoa, thanks so much! Man, college is overfulfilling all my expectations already! Did you get that, Mom?”
Michael’s mom nodded, and, with an almost equally manic grin as her son, pulled past us and headed in the direction of Jackson Hall.
“Does anyone else feel like Goofy welcoming the kiddies to DisneyWorld?” asked Keith.
“Maybe a little,” I said.
“The sad thing is that this isn’t even the most humiliating thing I’ve ever done,” said Mel. “Not by a long shot. And hey, as I was telling Rowena yesterday, at least it’s not actual panhandling, which was what I thought I was going to be doing this fall. Still got me some extra posterboard, though, just in case I need that ‘Homeless Iraq Vet, Please Help’ sign after all. I figure if nothing else, this’ll be good practice for that. Okay, who likes to draw?”
It was quickly ascertained that the only person who liked to draw, or was even able to draw, was Mel herself. In short order she had turned out four very creditable posters, with the House logos and directions for check-in on each one.
“Yeah, whatever,” she said, when we remarked on how good the posters were. “I’m lefthanded and a lesbian. Of course I have artistic talent. Oh shit. Is that another student?”
An SUV large enough to raise the global temperature by at least half a degree all on its own was pulling through the gates. It, too, was decorated with crimson and cream streamers and balloons, but the excited teenage face looking out the passenger window was holding up a Ravenclaw sign that was almost as good as Mel’s.
“Guess this one’s mine,” she said. “Wish me luck!” And she danced up to the side of the car, waving her poster with enthusiasm that almost seemed real.
Stay tuned more more updates!
And now, this week’s selection of giveaways:
Check out a wide variety of free thrillers, suspense, fantasy, and horror in the Summer Thrills & Chills Giveaway, and register for a $25 gift cart to your favorite online retailer!
Pick up some humorous women’s/contemporary fiction in the Sunshine & Smiles Giveaway!