Former WSC professor Lisa Sandlin, versatile Hawley read fiction Thursday

Steele Giles, Staff Writer

WSC’s Language and Literature department will be hosting the Plains Writers Series on Thursday starting at 2 p.m.

But wait, didn’t that just happen right before Thanksgiving break?

Yes, it did, but those were poets. This time we’re hosting fiction writers Lisa Sandlin and Luke Hawley. Depending on your view of poetry, this could be an exponential improvement or a dismal development.

Lisa Sandlin is a name familiar to anybody who has spent some time hanging around the English department of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She will be reading from “The Do-Right,” a noir mystery set in Texas that grew out of a short story she was commissioned to write four years ago.

If you heard noir and thought, “Oh boy, here we go, this one fancies herself the new Raymond Chandler,” you would be completely wrong. If one goes into it expecting something cut from the same pattern as “The Maltese Falcon” or “The Long Goodbye,” one would be sorely disappointed.

Sandlin herself says, “I wrote ‘The Do-Right’ because I wanted to reverse the detective story convention. To create not a grizzled P.I. but a novice taking a flyer at the job and a secretary who’s lived the dark side of life.”

That said, it does use the same proverbial cloth as the noir classics. The friendly Cajuns of Beaumont have just as much to hide as the bustling New Yorkers and Los Angelites. Secrets abound and man’s inhumanity continues to lurk in the damp places of the soul.

The story begins with the reader meeting Tom Phelan, an oil field worker turned P.I. after deciding that losing one finger was enough, and Delpha Wade, a woman on parole after murdering the man who raped her. Their personalities jive well and they make a good team.

Phelan and Wade handle several cases over the course of the book, but think twice before accusing any of them of being pointless. Their importance can be far greater than what is initially apparent.

Our other reader, Luke Hawley, will be reading from his book “The Northwoods Hymnal.” If you think it sounds like some kind of songbook, you’re half right. The book is linked with an album that adapts the stories into songs, a technique Hawley first developed in graduate school to beat writer’s block.

“The Northwoods Hymnal” is a bit tricky to explain, since it is a collection of stories that don’t share characters or situations. According to Hawley, “They’re all Northern stories—lots of snow and quiet Midwesterners. . . . I sometimes say that they’re stories about coping.”

His selection will be “A Pretty Good Gig” and he will play the song version of it, too, since it’s actually a part of the piece.

When all is said and done, though, is it worth your time to sit through the readings?

Ask yourself: do you want to listen to awesome people read awesome stories? Do you want to beat back the impending despair of finals week with some interesting new experiences? Do you want to ask aforementioned awesome people about what makes them so awesome?

For those who are less inclined to the existential, Luke will be playing guitar at the end of his part, so if you want to come listen to a cool guy play cool music, there’s that, too.

I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to get him to play “Free Bird,” though.