The More the Change, the More It Remains the Same

Clash practice. (NASCAR Media)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, February 10, 2019, 11:47 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The season is here. In just a few minutes, Fox will inexplicably place Daytona 500 pole qualifying on network TV while relegating the Something Something Something Clash, an actual race, to Fox Sports cable/satellite/etc.

Okay, officially it’s the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, descended from Busch.

Qualifying is often tedious, particularly in Daytona Beach and Talladega, which are known as “restrictor-plate” tracks, even though the latest round of rules changes have apparently been transacted with the intent of making most of the races that way.

Kyle Busch has criticized the changes. (NASCAR Media)

The Daytona 500, on February 17, and the Clash are unlikely to be much different. Have you noticed that when NASCAR changes rules, it rarely changes them in a way likely to affect Daytona and Talladega? Sometimes they do, but it’s not the plan. Changes are generally designed to make everything more like Daytona and Talladega. Even the playoffs (nee Chase) were designed to turn the season into a gigantic plate race.

NASCAR considers the Daytona 500 to be its ideal.

Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 last year. (NASCAR Media)

The season’s first and biggest race often has little to do with the rest of the season. Austin Dillon won it last year. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second. Both drove Chevrolets. Dillon, Wallace and Chevrolets were seldom heard from again.

Perhaps all that will be different this year. Plate races will be more important because there are going to be a lot more of them. Do the fans rally around races with closer finishes, or do the changes cost Daytona and Talladega their uniqueness?

In answer to fans who complain that more and more of what they see is just alike, NASCAR officials are making even more of what they see just alike. It’s been the master plan since the 1980s. It just took a few decades for it to really kick in.

They’ve got a lot of smart people working in Daytona Beach and Charlotte. Maybe too smart.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

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To Think, Sports Was Once Considered an Educational Experience …

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, January 6, 2019, 4:45 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

An alarmingly large array of life’s experiences are stupid, but that’s too broad a topic for a blog being written while watching NFL playoff games.

Sports is also too broad a topic, and this isn’t going to be comprehensive. It’s going to be limited to what occurs to me while watching NFL playoff games.

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Rules vary too much. Sometimes I write about a high school football game on Friday and a college game on Saturday, and then I watch a pro game on TV on Sunday. It’s confusing for no good reason.

“Touchdown!”

“No, it’s not.”
“Why not?”

“In college, you can’t advance that ball. You can in the pros.”

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“What about high school?”

“Uh, I don’t know.”

Some differences make sense, but the majority do not.

Why must there be a difference between how interference calls are assessed? Why must there be a difference between a running play that “crosses the plane” and a passing play, where the receiver must maintain control when he falls to the ground, even though he had possession, albeit briefly, when he caught the ball? Why is there a two-minute warning? That goes back to a time when there wasn’t a scoreboard, and time was kept by the referee. That time has passed.

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Why, in soccer, is there a scoreboard with a clock, and yet the game ends when the referee, who has allegedly been paying attention to all the time not adequately measured in front of everyone by means of said clock, decides it does?

Why is it one foot in bounds in high school and college and two in the pros? Is it because pros are more skilled? If so, they’d be even more skilled if they’d had to get two feet down in middle school.

The stupidity starts before the game even starts. A coin flip is a random event, but, for some reason, it’s too complicated for the captain of the football team to get right, so a team can “defer” to the second half. I don’t think the game is made any better by having an option to “defer,” thus postponing any decision to the second half, where it is elementary, my dear (Deshaun) Watson.

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It’s embarrassing that a grown man has to pay an even more grown man to yank him back to the sideline every time the more prominent grown man gets emotional. It’s embarrassing for state troopers to play Secret Service for head coaches of football teams. One day, if Holly Rowe asks a tough question, a trooper is going to haul her off to jail.

Almost every receiver and every player trying to cover him interferes on every play. The official has to determine how much is too much and which player did the most of it. “Son, I’m sorry, but you can’t play for us here at Soda Pop Tech. You don’t know how to interfere.”

For years I’ve heard it said that the referees could call holding on every play, but, in fact, they only call it on a quarter of them. Forty years ago, offensive linemen were allowed to use their hands in order to reduce holding penalties. Since that rule was changed, holding has at least doubled.

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Yet too many rules are made to make the games easier to officiate. That’s why the only jump ball in basketball is at the beginning. Jump balls are fun to watch. The obvious reason jump balls aren’t held is so referees don’t have to throw the ball straight up.

In baseball, a player with a bat in his hand is a batter, unless he’s hit by a pitch, at which point he becomes a “batsman,” which seems to me a ridiculously archaic use of the language. He ought to be a hit batter, for gosh sakes.

“Hey, batter, batter, batter, suh-wing, batter!”

“Hey, batsman, batsman, batsman, get hit, batsman!”

Sports events have too much dead time. The officials started huddling and the offenses stopped. Between reviews, huddles and TV (or, if there is no TV, “media”) timeouts, it’s a wonder the athletes don’t start smoking again. There’s plenty of time to catch their breaths …

If they must have “media timeouts,” hey, let me have one. “Hey, ref, how about a timeout? I’ve fallen behind on my stats.” Everybody gets a “media timeout” except the media. And a 30-second timeout always takes more than 30 seconds.

“Hey, the games are too long!”

Wonder why?

I just looked up at the Eagles-Vikings game. Here’s what I just heard.

“Since the rule change this year, that third step makes it a legal catch.”

In a game played between professional football players making millions of dollars, they just had a fumble no one bothered to recover. So, naturally, it became an incomplete pass. Why?

Because it’s stupid. That’s why. I could go on, but this is a good place to stop.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

This Was the Week that Wasn’t

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 29, 2018, 9:52 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. That’s the slogan of my week. It could be the motto, but it would have to be in Latin.

Interdum res non solum viam vestram.

The week has been an adventure that wouldn’t sell because because the protagonist never gets a break. He feels like a ticking clock … and remains that way.

All a blur. (Monte Dutton photos)

The period between Christmas and New Year’s is full of crummy bowl games on TV and holiday basketball tournaments for the high school teams. Laurens County teams fanned out to Clover, Greenwood, Summerville and Chesnee, with one staying home to host a tournament, the Raider Rumble, of its own.

As best I knew, they all began on Thursday. On Wednesday, I was talking to a friend on the phone when he told me the Clinton boys were up 12 on Calhoun Falls. That’s when I found out the Emerald Classic was Dec. 26-28, not 27-29. I hated that because had I known it, I would have driven across Lake Greenwood to write about it. These things happen. As I worked at home on other things, the First Responder Bowl, matching Boston College and Boise State, was on.

Check that. For the first time ever, a bowl game, albeit a small one, was canceled by too much electricity in the air.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The Clinton coach, Eddie Romines, sent a text to the effect that he had thought he sent out something – an email or a text, maybe, or smoke signals, because the high school is only a couple miles away – when the dates had been changed. He might have, though the other media outlets in the county missed it, too.

Since I set up a composite schedule, I’ve had to adjust it quite a few times when notified of changes. Snow cancellations forced numerous moves. For instance, the Laurens Academy girls canceled a game against the Upstate Bearcats, then couldn’t play a game against Southside and wound up playing Easley Home School, a team from Easley aptly consisting of players being home-schooled. Each week, I check my schedule against those on the various athletic department websites before I publish the weekly list on GoLaurens.com. The Clinton website still listed the Emerald tourney as Dec. 27-29. If I had changed it, I changed it back. It’s all a blur.

While I waited for the results from Greenwood – Clinton won 69-47 – I watched a splendid football game between Minnesota and Georgia Tech. I’m kidding. It was a stinker. The Gophers won 34-10.

Evidence that Ninety Six has a girls’ basketball team. The Wildcats have played Clinton twice. (Monte Dutton photo)

On Thursday, the Raider Rumble began at Laurens District High School. The Raiders were scheduled to play at 2:30 p.m. and 7:50. I decided to attend the night game because I didn’t have time for both, and I could get some information about the former game before the latter started.

Little did I know that fate had intervened. Soon after I ordered a hamburger steak at The Hub, my favorite pre-LDHS-ballgame hangout, someone mentioned that the Raiders were playing … then.

Uh-oh,” I said.

See, Ninety Six didn’t show, and they didn’t find out till this morning, so Laurens played a game against Hillcrest that didn’t count, and the game tonight was moved up to 6. They’re playing Carolina now.”

You want the hamburger steak to go?” the girl who had taken my order asked.

I was a bit miffed.

Nah,” I said. “What? I’m going to try to eat a hamburger steak while it’s sitting in my lap and I’m taking notes? I’ll just go take some photos of the second half.”

At the moment, I was thinking, for the second night in a row, I could have seen Clinton play in Greenwood. As it turned out, Laurens won big, and Clinton lost big, and I took some photos of the Raiders’ romp in the Raider Rumble.

I didn’t go to a game on Friday because the District 56 school board called a special meeting that consisted entirely of going into executive session to discuss a personnel decision. A key personnel decision in Clinton is the hiring of a new football coach. I spent over an hour chatting amiably with Rosanne Braswell in her nearby office while the board deliberated in private. When they came out of executive session, they adjourned.

Once again, and for the third straight day or night, I could have been in Greenwood, where the Clinton boys’ basketball team was finishing third by defeating host Emerald in overtime.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Back home, with Washington State and Iowa State providing the backdrop, I cranked out basketball stories and selected photos until the wee hours of late-night talk.

The Clinton girls are 11-0 entering Saturday’s game in far Summerville. The Laurens boys played this morning for seventh place in Clover. The girls are playing someone at LDHS, where the Raider Rumble seems almost theoretical. Laurens Academy, a small private school, went 1-2 against the large public schools in the Lowe’s Roundball Classic in Chesnee. Georgia predictably handled the Presbyterian College women Friday afternoon in Athens. The men are at Jacksonville on Sunday.

I’m about to watch South Carolina play Virginia in the Belk Bowl, which I once attended. Then the eyes of the recently Precipitation, but normally Palmetto, State and Catholics everywhere are upon the game in Arlington, Texas, between Clemson and Notre Dame. My nephew is both a Clemson graduate and a Catholic. I suspect he would be undismayed if the Tigers won by 50. Then there’s the game the late Keith Jackson should have pronounced: Oke-luh-HO-ma! vs. Al-uh-BAM-uh!

I don’t think there’s any more basketball to miss until Friday. I think I’ll fix breakfast. It’s 12:17 p.m.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Less Room to Wiggle

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 15, 2018, 9:31 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Earlier today, I came across a quote from the great Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who once walked out to the mound to counsel an ineffective Ross Grimsley.

“If you know how to cheat, now’s the time,” Weaver is alleged to have said.

I remember Weaver, and I remember Grimsley. He was a lefthander famously slovenly in appearance. I think of him as a Cincinnati Red and a Cleveland Indian as well as an Oriole.

I’ve been thinking about how attitudes have changed. Once upon a time, it was considered the business of the umpires or referees to keep athletes from stretching the rules.

When I played high school football, I was aware that I wasn’t very good and needed every advantage I could finagle. I was painfully aware that I wasn’t exactly lightning-quick, and I tried to get every advantage I could. I had read Jerry Kramer’s books on life with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, and, like Kramer, when I was outfitted for pads, I tried to get the smallest shoulder pads I could, though the coaches often stood in my way. I also went on the field on Friday nights without any hip pads on, which, by the way, was madness for an offensive lineman. One night I didn’t get away with it, and the referee made me go to the sidelines for hip pads. This meant my teammates had to stand around me on the sideline while I took my uniform pants off, stepped into a set of girdle pads and pulled my pants back up. My coach didn’t care for my stunt. The next week I didn’t play. At all.

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No one ever thought about protesting to the High School League, or the conference office, if he suspected someone from an upcoming opponent was spying on practice. If a coach thought someone was watching practice through binoculars from some fortuitously placed nearby deer stand, he’d start rehearsing some outrageous trick play he had no intention of using.

When stock car mechanics devised imaginative ways of injecting extra horsepower into an engine or finding room for a little extra fuel in the tank, many of the officials and mechanics alike thought the game of tricks was great fun.

Moonshiners and revenuers. Cops and robbers. Raiders and Chiefs.

I’m not suggesting anything goes. I’m saying the culture has changed. They don’t even allow umps to blow calls anymore. I’m also not claiming it was better when cheating was condoned or winked at. It’s just fundamentally different. It’s probably a bit hypocritical in areas. It’s unlikely the folks throwing all those stones are all without sin. Even if they are, that’s not the way it will look.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Will to Win

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 8, 2018, 7:47 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I love the Army-Navy Game. It doesn’t matter if both teams have losing records (which Army doesn’t this year). It’s always hardfought. It always comes down to the end. Navy won 14 in a row, and now Army has won three straight. My late Uncle Cas was a career Army man, and that’s the reason I always root for Army. I like Navy, too. It’s just the American game.

A few days ago, I was at a nearby hamburger joint, talking about football, and a fellow said nobody cared about the Army-Navy Game.

I said, “I do. I love watching that game.”

He said, “I mean, nobody cares to bet on it.”

That’s when I noticed he had a stack of cards to be used for amusement purposes only.

Duh.

Andrew Webb

It’s been a busy week. The football coach at Clinton High School is out after four years. The Red Devils went 2-8 this year. Folks around here expect to win. I hate it came to this. Andrew Webb is a fine man and a great example to the young men who played for him. He is Clinton born and Clinton bred, and was gracious and classy in accepting the news. I wrote Andrew a note expressing that I was sorry it happened, and he replied to the effect that he wanted to continue coaching and would try to catch on somewhere else. I wish him the best.

In 2009, Clinton won the most recent of its eight state championships, and the head coach, Andy B. Young, was forced into retirement. It’s been one, long, downhill spiral since, and two young coaches have been caught in the tailspin. Both Scott King and Webb are models for American youth. At the same time, when I hear people say that this all-encompassing emphasis on winning takes the fun out of sports, I think what kind of sport is it that you mean? I once played football, and nothing is more fun than winning. I’d like to believe I see both sides. Winning is worth it. Losing isn’t. God loves the ones who persevere.

I left Clinton High School believing I could do anything. I found out I couldn’t, but I still have a good attitude. If anything has tempered my mindset, it is that a man (or a woman) should learn to live with himself if he never realizes his dreams, but should never give up on them. I hope to be aspiring to greatness right up to my last breath.

If I hadn’t played on championship football teams, I don’t think my perseverance would be so great.

I hate it’s come to this – in more ways than one – but I recognize that it has.

The worst kind of journalist is one who thinks he knows more than he does. I have tried to recognize that, while I may know a good bit about football, or baseball, or NASCAR, I don’t know more than the coach who watches his players every day. I don’t know as much about engines as the men who build engines. But I try to know as much as I can and seek the perspective of those who know more than I.

I just try to go somewhere and write what I see, whether it’s a great victory or an inglorious defeat.

Knowledge never runs out. I remember when I thought it was hard to write a story about a great event. Comparatively, that’s easy. What’s hard is to write a good story about a bad event.

Last night Clinton visited Laurens in basketball. The competition is intense when our county’s two public schools get together. The Raiders are two classes higher than the Red Devils – 5 A’s to 3 – but one school doesn’t react with arrogance and the other doesn’t accept subservience. It’s always hardfought. It’s always a slog.

It took me well into the wee hours – the late David Poole used to call it “oh-dark-30” long before there was a movie with a similar name – to crop and process the photos, type up a box and write a story. Then, after only a few hours’ sleep, I rose, dressed without shaving and showering, and took a mug of coffee along to watch 84 people run up and down Main Street in Laurens for five kilometers in the 19th Reindeer Run. No one was shocked that a man named Matt Shock won. He crossed the finish line 55 seconds ahead of someone named Garrett Sponenberg. I didn’t talk to either. I was more interested in shooting cute photos of kids dressed up as reindeer … and running in the rain. A week earlier, I shot photos of a Christmas Parade in the rain. The South is getting washed away. The West is getting burnt up.

As Selma Hamrick used to say, whatever floats your boat.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Up on the Hill

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, August 8, 2018, 11:38 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It seems there’s always a hill. It might be a plateau above a practice field, with a town’s young men busily preparing to represent their school and town in battles for football supremacy, scattered a week apart throughout the fall. It might be a manmade hill, fashioned of concrete, or steel, in the local stadium.

It’s the place where people from town stop by to see how the lads are progressing. Not as many are there as years before. The world has more to do these days. More is on TV. There’s something called the Internet. The net catches people who might otherwise wind up elsewhere. Fewer drop by the practice field, but the word spreads as fast as ever. It’s that Internet. It’s a double-edged sword.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Walk into a store uptown. Small towns have hangouts. The barber shop. The hardware store. They aren’t as common. Filling stations are gone. It’s hard to make Great Clips a hangout. Walmart, too. They’re still there, though.

“You watched the ball team any, Fred?”

“Ah, I dropped by there for a few minutes Thursday.”

“How they looking?”

“They ain’t there yet. I reckon they’ll be ah’ight.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Me, too, Alvin. Me, too.”

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Day Was Entirely ‘Justifiable’

I wanted to draw a sketch of Justify, but I don’t seem to be able to find much time for art these days. This book cover of my sixth novel is my only “horse art.” (Design by Steven Novak)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, June 10, 2018, 10:12 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The plan was to write a racing column, but complications arose.

Automobile racing, that is.

Several months ago, attempting to shave a few dollars from my extravagant satellite bill, I changed packages, one consequence being that I no longer have access to Fox Sports2. Or FoxSports2. Or Fox Sports 2. Or FS2. Whatever it is, officially. At the time, I noticed that the NASCAR coverage on that channel seemed to be nil.

Naturally, the upshot is that rain has delayed the past two Xfinity Series races, and they have been switched to FS2. I am aware that I could stream the race, but I don’t like watching big races on itsy-bitsy screens. I passed.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

I still watched racing. Justify won the Belmont Stakes and completed the Triple Crown. I probably would have watched it, anyway. It takes less than two and a half minutes.

I love horse racing. I don’t know much about its current state. I grew up around quarter horses and Appaloosas. As a teen-ager, I watched thoroughbreds work out early on Keeneland mornings because my father was an auctioneer, and he used to pack up the whole family and take us for a “vacation” so that he could watch the yearling sales. He wasn’t there to buy horses but rather to watch auctioneers.

My brother and I took the car and drove to Cincinnati to see baseball games, but we also visited Calumet Farm and Darby Dan, stared at the Man ’o’ War statue, and watched famous horses gallop around in meadows.

I fell in love with Justify on sight. He’s such a big, muscular horse. He reminds me more of a quarter than a thoroughbred. He has what we used to call “a blaze face,” and so did the reliable and beloved family stallion, Sunglow Fisher, who (which?) matched him in color, too. The hue is popularly known as chestnut, though we called it “sorrel.” Sorrel is, according to a dictionary, “a plant or flower of the genus Oxalis,” but also “a horse of a brownish orange or light brown color,” so we didn’t make it up, and it matches both Sunglow in my memory and Justify on my TV.

Sunglow played a small role in raising me. He lived to a ripe, old age and died either while I was in college or working as sports information director at Furman, my alma mater. Sunglow was the most docile stallion I’ve ever known, though I haven’t known any in well over 30 years.

In my mind, Justify won one – or, actually, three – for Sunglow.

I confided in Sunglow. He listened to me sing. He never required catching. If I wanted him, he’d trot over amiably, knowing I’d never mistreat him. My sister was more adept at more challenging steeds. I’ve been thrown by many horses. Never by Sunglow, whom I rode more than all the rest of the horses who came through the farm combined.

In lieu of rain-shortened Michigan, I watched baseball – the Red Sox won, the Gamecocks lost, the Longhorns lost, Vanderbilt won on a ninth-inning home run – and the Indy-car race from Texas.

Today I will play close attention to the Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan Speedway. Afterwards, I’ll go on Facebook Live to talk about the race, answer questions, encourage guests to buy and patronize my writing, and play a few songs on my guitar.

Justify and Sunglow Fisher might come up, too, because I still feel warm and touched at the base of my memory.

 

(Steven Novak cover

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.