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  1. Yesterday
  2. New Orleans, 1958. Licensed under CC0 4.0. In our new Fall issue, no. 241, we published Nancy Lemann’s “Diary of Remorse.” To mark the occasion, we asked writers to reflect on Lemann’s remarkable literary career. In the early years of the revived Vanity Fair, I happened to be in Tina Brown’s office when the conversation turned to a dispatch Nancy Lemann had just filed from the trial of Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, which Nancy, a child of New Orleans, was covering for the magazine. Tina was dissatisfied, borderline exasperated: Nowhere in the article, she complained, did Nancy specify what the trial was about, what the actual charges were, and what the criminal penalties might be; it was all mood, séance atmosphere, and sketch artistry. This was not journalism as we knew it in the halls of Condé Nast. “I’ll talk to Nancy and get her to work all this in up front,” said Pat Towers, Nancy’s editor. In Towers’s comment, I caught an echo of something I once heard Nancy sigh aloud about: an editor’s suggestions regarding her latest novel manuscript, primarily its lack of story. “I guess I’ll have to go back and put in some plot,” Nancy had said—but of course you can’t retroactively implant a plot into a body of fiction as if installing a new transmission. Starting with her first novel, Lives of the Saints, Nancy Lemann has spread her impressions across the page in a style that calls to mind smooth, panning camera shots. Lives of the Saints, Sportsman’s Paradise, The Fiery Pantheon, Malaise (what a title, so Françoise Sagan): they’re like pre-mumblecore movies with a more interesting ensemble of neurotics, a firmer point of view, and a shapelier sense of comedy. No Lemann scene is complete without several characters in various stages of disrepair or subtle agitation, in need of flotation devices to get through the day. Although Nancy was a protégé of Gordon Lish, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Walker Percy—a heady triad of influences and personality-pluses that might have easily overloaded her circuits—her literary voice from the outset was assuredly, distinctively hers. In temperament and sensibility, she seems to me closer to F. Scott Fitzgerald than any of her mentors—or perhaps she’s Scott and Zelda rolled into one, her work suffused with a longing for a lost glamour. And she has no imitators. Unlike Scott and Zelda, though, Nancy and her autobiographical stand-ins are interested in comfort rather than luxury; they’re bohemian romantics with a fondness for familiar haunts and a taste for the shabby-genteel. I once made the mistake of chaperoning Nancy to CBGB, and as soon as she stepped through its grotty portal I sensed an inner freeze: punk was beyond the pale. For Nancy, bohemia was a blue-lit lounge leafed with fake palm trees, or a private social club where white-haired gents in rumpled seersucker beam benignly upon younger folks making tiny spectacles of themselves. Of all of her unjustly neglected books—none of them even available on Kindle, what gives?—The Ritz of the Bayou is the greatest. Lavishly described on the front cover as “the New Orleans adventures of a young novelist covering the trials of the Governor of Louisiana, with digressions on smoldering nightclubs, jazz-crazed bars, and other aspects of life in the tropic zone,” it possesses all the signature traits of her fiction—the rueful humor and wry asides, the sentences that unfurl like scarves from a magician’s sleeve, the damp moss of history underfoot in the present, the faded gallantry of good manners—with a larger probe of social anatomy and institutional drift. Its publication was a beau geste by Gordon Lish and Knopf; this fugue performance of personal reporting on a complicated trial with a mostly obscure cast of lawyers, reporters, local notorieties, and assorted eccentrics had no chance of commercial success. Nor did it attract the critical notice and fervent cult that sustain Lives of the Saints. In The Ritz of the Bayou, Nancy included all of the factual necessities that Towers found lacking in the piece she had been writing for Vanity Fair, but it’s not only as a work of journalism that the book deserves better than it got and gets. It reveals Nancy Lemann as an unrivaled, unlicensed detective in the art of “reading the room.” As soon as our correspondent takes her first gander at the courtroom, she knows she is where she is destined to be: “My heart was back in business when I saw all that human frailty.” Like the hedonistic governor in the defendant’s chair, she is loath to moralize and scold, musing, “Politics is not the place to look for saints. It’s not exactly the blue vault of heaven there, in politics.” Some of her other deadpan ironies are positively Murray Kemptonish: “The Prosecutor was not winning when he moralized about the Governor, who is known for gambling, womanizing, and risqué bon mots, for people hold few things as dear as those.” As the trial drags on, further delayed by the latest hurricane to barge in, entropy and brain fatigue take hold and morale unravels: “The jurors were beginning to fall to pieces.” Following a mistrial, the governor is retried, and the second jury pool is an even sorrier lot than the first (“The excuses were more lame than ever … ‘I’m constipated,’ ” et cetera). But somehow the judicial process proceeds on its rickety course, and the governor is acquitted—a strangely anticlimactic result, but somehow fitting for the endless soap opera that is Louisiana corruption, in which a new episode always awaits. Having no further vibes to harvest on this expedition, Nancy Lemann, Girl Reporter, bids a weary adieu, “for my days in politics are over.” A contributor to Air Mail, London Review of Books, and Liberties, James Wolcott is the author of the memoir Lucking Out and the essay collection Critical Mass. View the full article
  3. Wrapped Up in You Wrapped Up In You by Jill Shalvis is $1.99! This is the eighth book in the Heartbreaker Bay contemporary romance series. It’s also a small town holiday romance. Shalvis is an autobuy for a lot of readers and I know Elyse has had good experiences with her holiday romances specifically. It’s love. Trust me. After a lifetime on the move, Ivy Snow is an expert in all things temporary—schools, friends, and way too many Mr. Wrongs. Now that she owns a successful taco truck in San Francisco and an apartment to call home, Ivy’s reinvented life is on solid ground. And she’s guarded against anything that can rock it. Like the realities of a past she’s worked hard to cover up. And especially Kel O’Donnell. Too hot not to set off alarms, he screams temporary. If only his whispers weren’t so delightfully naughty and irresistible. Kel, an Idaho sheriff and ranch owner, is on vacay, but Ivy’s a spicy reason to give his short-terms plans a second thought. Best of all, she’s a tonic for his untrusting heart, burned once and still in repair. But when Ivy’s past intrudes on a perfect romance, Kel fears that everything she’s told him has been a perfect lie. Now, if only Ivy’s willing to share, Kel will fight for a true love story. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. Digging Up Love Digging Up Love by Chandra Blumberg is 99c at Amazon! This looks like a cute romance between a baker and a paleontologist. Have you read this one? It came out earlier this year in January. From debut author Chandra Blumberg comes a playful, heartfelt romance about chasing your dreams and finding love in the process. Alisha Blake works her magic in the kitchen, creating delectable desserts for her grandfather’s restaurant in rural Illinois. Though Alisha relishes the close relationship she has with her family, she can’t help but dream about opening a cookie shop in Chicago. She may be a small-town baker, but Alisha has big ambitions. Then a dinosaur bone turns up in her grandparents’ backyard. When paleontologist Quentin Harris arrives to see the discovery for himself, he’s hoping that the fossil will distract him from a recent painful breakup. Instead, he finds Alisha—and sparks fly. The big-city academic and the hometown baker seem destined for a happily ever after. But Alisha is scared to fall in love. And Quentin’s trying to make a name for himself in a competitive field, which gets even more complicated when the press shows up at the dig site. For love to prevail, the two may have to put old bones aside—and focus on the future. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. Truthwitch Truthwitch by Susan Dennard is $2.99! This is the first book in the The Witchlands series and it’s YA fantasy with some romantic elements in later books (not sure if there is any in this first installment). This series has been on my TBR pile for a long time, but it keeps getting passed over for other things. On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others. In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well. Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires. Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness. Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. The Long Game The Long Game by Rachel Reid is $1.99! This is the sixth book in the Game Changers series. I know it was highly anticipated. Shana had a thoughtful review and was ultimately disappointed by it. I know there was an engaging discussion in comments when it went up. To the world they are rivals, but to each other they are everything. Ten years. That’s how long Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov have been seeing each other. How long they’ve been keeping their relationship a secret. From friends, from family…from the league. If Shane wants to stay at the top of his game, what he and Ilya share has to remain secret. He loves Ilya, but what if going public ruins everything? Ilya is sick of secrets. Shane has gotten so good at hiding his feelings, sometimes Ilya questions if they even exist. The closeness, the intimacy, even the risk that would come with being open about their relationship…Ilya wants it all. It’s time for them to decide what’s most important—hockey or love. It’s time to make a call. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. View the full article
  4. Last month, we took a preliminary look at a type of story that shouldn’t work but which, handled properly, does work: episodic novels. Lacking an overt central conflict or problem, wandering around without any apparent plan through a grab bag of experiences, such novels ought to come across as mere chronicles; sophomoric swaggers around town held together—if at all—only by their own sense of self-importance. In other words, junk. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Unlikely-to-succeed episodic novels can work well, but when they do there are elements, hard to discern at first, which sew up their patchwork jumble of episodes, lending them an underlying unity that keeps us reading. First among those elements, we discovered, are openings which promise us adventure, assure us that the tale ahead has significance, and that there is a steady hand steering the journey we’re embarking upon. What, then, about the hundreds of pages that follow? As we wander from episode to episode, what keeps us going and gives us a sense that the seemingly random walk that we’re taking has a point and which in the end will add up to something greater than the sum of its parts? Let’s take a look at a few of those elements and see out how they might enhance any novel. Going Out of Bounds A promise of adventure is wonderful and awakens the child inside us. Who doesn’t want to explore, see neat things, taste a bit of danger and have a whole lot of fun? Count me in! You too, I’m pretty sure. However, a promise is one thing and following through is another. To work, an episodic novel must first of all fulfill the promise it has made to us. How? First of all, through the pluck and high spirits of a protagonist. Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table (2011) is the story of Michael, an eleven-year-old boy making a sea voyage, unaccompanied, aboard the ship Oronsay from Ceylon to England in the early 1950’s. Seated at mealtimes at the “cat’s table”, the one farthest from the captain’s, Michael could be forgiven for keeping his head down, studying algebra to get ready for the new school he will attend, and simply surviving to arrive safely. But, heck, what fun would that be? Michael has aboard two friends more-or-less his age: troublemaker Cassius and sickly Romadhin. For the boys, the ship is a floating castle of wonders and, unsupervised, they resolve to have a blast and experience as much as they can. Among other impish activities, the three friends take to arising very early and sneaking up to the first-class deck, there to swim in the first class pool and steal food from the first class breakfast buffet, which they then surreptitiously consume under the canvas cover of a lifeboat. And it’s still early in the day! It was not even eight o’clock when we crossed the border from First Class back to Tourist Class. We pretended to stagger with the roll of the ship. I had by now come to love the slow waltz of our vessel from side to side. And the fact that I was on my own, save for the distant Flavia Prins and Emily, was itself an adventure. I had no family responsibilities. I could go anywhere, do anything. And Ramadhin, Cassius, and I had already established one rule. Each day we had to do at least one thing that was forbidden. The day had barely begun, and we still had hours ahead of us to perform this task. What better way for a novel to break rules than to feature a protagonist whose very intention is to be an outlaw, to be unconventional, to stay alert and to savor what is forbidden? When a hero or heroine isn’t ordinary, how can our reading journey be anything but extraordinary, as well? Clowns, Lion Tamers and Tightrope Walkers Episodic novels keep us entertained with a cast of characters who are odd, eccentric, intriguing, colorful and sometimes dangerous. In Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, none of the passengers is ordinary. There is Sir Hector de Silva who is dying of rabies, Mr. Mazappa the jazz musician who teaches the boys dirty songs, Mr. Daniels who keeps his collection of poisonous plants in the ship’s hold, Mr. Nevil a ship dismantler who explains to the boys the vessel’s mechanical workings, Miss Lisqueti and her thirty pet pigeons, and Michael’s alluring but aloof seventeen-year-old cousin Emily on whom he has a crush but who “had her own plans for the voyage”. Most mysterious of all is the prisoner, unknown to the other passengers, who after the evening activities are over is taken for darkness walks while in chains, accompanied by specially trained guards. The boys naturally are fascinated by the prisoner and devise ways to witness his secret walks, which later on will occasion a key event which will forever haunt all aboard, especially the boys and also Emily, whose gained experience will not leave her better off. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (2008) doesn’t even try to be realistic, which anyway would be pretty much pointless for a novel about a boy, Nobody Owens, who grows up in a graveyard after his family is murdered. Bod, as he’s called, can see and hear those who are dead as well as creatures who shouldn’t exist in the first place. Naturally, none of the denizens of the graveyard are normal. There is Silas his guardian, the Lady on the Grey, Indigo Man and a snake-like creature called Sleer who protects a brooch, a goblet and a knife. Add to those Miss Lepuscu the Hound of God who babysits him, Liza Hempstock a witch in the Potter’s Field, plus a villainous antique dealer called Abanazer Bolger and who actually is the murderous “man Jack” who killed Bod’s family and who is a member of the Jacks of All Trades who, by prophecy, must kill Bod to survive. Oh, and there is one living human girl to be a love interest, Scarlett Amber Perkins. And if you think that’s a weird cast of characters, recall the people in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (1969). There is the novel’s hero Billy Pilgrim, who is “unstuck” in time and who encounters many others including a science fiction novelist named Kilgore Trout and aliens from the planet Trafamadore, to which Billy is abducted in order to be displayed in a zoo and mated with a movie star named Montana Wildhack. Surviving the novel’s central and inciting event, the WWII firebombing of the city of Dresden, is the least of Billy’s problems—or perhaps Billy’s problems are an hallucinogenic processing of that wartime trauma? You decide. The point is, why simply have a cast when you can have a circus? The Pieces and the Puzzle What makes a mere episode more than simply an anecdote, but rather a puzzle piece in a novel the whole picture of which will become apparent after all the pieces have slotted into place? The magic that does that is meaning. When every episode has a point and every eccentric character has something to show or teach a protagonist, then a novel’s puzzle pieces shoulder more than their weight. Every episode becomes gold. In The Cat’s Table, Ondaatje doesn’t throw away anything or anyone. Even Mr. Mazappa, the dirty-minded jazz musician, and Miss Lasqueti of the pet pigeons (and later, crucially, the owner of a gun) have an extra reason to be on board in the story. When Mr. Maappa departs the ship, Miss Lasqueti misses him, albeit in ambiguous terms, giving rise to speculation about a relationship between them. Were they soul mates? In observing the pigeon-lover following the departure of the jazz musician, Michael gains an insight greater than shallow gossip can provide: There was no more talk of Mr. Mazappa. Even from her. She kept to herself. Most afternoons I caught a glimpse of her in the shadows of B Deck, in a deck chair. She always had in her possession a copy of The Magic Mountain, but no one ever saw her reading it. Miss Lasqueti consumed mostly crime thrillers, which constantly seemed to disappoint her. I suspect that for her the world was more accidental than any book’s plot. Twice I saw her so irritated by a mystery that she half rose from the shadow of her chair and flung the paperback over the railing into the sea. Miss Lisqueti, you see, craved real experience. Real love. Men who presented a mystery—as certain novels also do—proved intolerable to her. They might as well go overboard, leaving the ship. And how telling it is that the novel which Miss Lisqueti owns but does not read is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, set in a tuberculosis sanitorium in Switzerland, and which arguably is itself episodic and is a mountain hospital of a novel peopled with patients representing Europe’s sickness and humanity’s maladies. Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book similarly treats each discrete episode as a schoolroom of sorts for growing Bod. When Bod spends some time in the care of (at first) disagreeable Miss Lepescu, he—I’ll summarize—discovers a lot about ghouls. For one thing, they can eat anything without getting sick. When Bod’s main caretaker Silas returns from some time away, his main concern about Bod is not with regard to Bod’s safety in his absence, but rather with Bod’s education: Silas came back at the end of the month. He carried his black bag in his left hand and he held his right arm stiffly. But he was Silas, and Bod was happy to see him, and even happier when Silas game him a present, a little model of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It was almost midnight, and it was still not fully dark. The three of them sat at the top of the hill, with the lights of the city glimmering beneath them. “I trust that all went well in my absence,” said Silas “I learned a lot,” said Bod, still holding his Bridge. He pointed up into the night sky. “That’s the Big Bear and her son, the Little Bear. That’s Draco the Dragon, snaking between them.” “Very good,” said Silas. “And you?” asked Bod. “Did you learn anything while you were away?” “Oh yes,” said Silas, but he declined to elaborate. “I also,” said Miss Lepescu, primly. “I also learned things.” “Good,” said Silas. An owl hooted in the branches of an oak tree. I ask you, what good is being a captive of ghouls if you don’t learn anything from it? And what good is scene in a novel without a point to make, or a chapter without a punch to the head? Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five feeds us the lessons of Billy Pilgrim’s life like drips running down an IV tube and into our veins. His novel is written in bursts, moments in Billy’s life and experience arriving not in chronological order, I think because there’s no linear way to make sense out of surviving the bombing of Dresden, let alone to apprehend the whole meaning of Billy’s psychedelic time-and-space leaps. The novel achieves its meaning by accretion, much like wet beach sand dripping down from your hands until the sand globs pile up into something resembling a castle. At one point in the novel, Billy is a POW being transported to captivity in a German train: Billy Pilgrim was packed into a boxcar with many other privates. He and Roland Weary were separated. Weary was packed into another car in the same train. … Germans were writing on the cars with blue chalk—the number of persons in each car, their rank, their nationality, the date on which they had been put on board. Other Germans were securing the hasps on the car doors with wire and spikes and other trackside trash. Billy could hear somebody writing on his car, too, but he couldn’t see who was doing it. Most of the privates on Billy’s car were very young—at the end of childhood. But crammed into the corner with Billy was a former hobo who was forty years old. “I’ve been hungrier than this,” the hobo told Billy. “I been in worse places than this. This ain’t so bad.” And so it goes. There’s always a different perspective. Vonnegut could have written that out plainly but it’s better that he didn’t. His narrative bursts accumulate, a building picture—by turns mundane or trippy—that add up to the horror of war, the banality and absurdity of life, and finally the terrible beauty of survival. It’s sometimes dry, other times dramatic, always disturbing and forever memorable. The Lessons So, what’s our takeaway today? What about episodic novels has application to other types of fiction, maybe yours? I suggest these thoughts for your consideration: Send your protagonist out of bounds, to places we readers normally don’t go whether far afield, outside the law or to face tests and earn triumphs such as only the heroes and heroines in stories can have. Make secondary characters each something special: unusual or even eccentric with weird habits and wild back stories. Secondary characters can be so gray and forgettable! Wouldn’t you rather sit at a circus than in a dentist’s waiting room? The latter group of patients may be true to life, sure, but the former clown riot is much more fun. Every scene in your manuscript can do more than simply advance the plot. Every scene is a layer cake of meaning, if you mix, bake, and decorate it that way. Seriously, why not? There we have it, some ways in which novels that shouldn’t work go about enthralling us years after they were first published. Is there a lesson in this for your WIP? Let us know. About Donald MaassDonald Maass (he/him) founded the Donald Maass Literary Agency. in New York in 1980. He is the author of The Career Novelist (1996), Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009), The Breakout Novelist (2011), Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012) and The Emotional Craft of Fiction (2019). He has presented hundreds of workshops around the world and is a past president of the American Association of Literary Agents (formerly AAR). Web | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  5. When I was a little girl, I made potions from my mother’s perfumes and lotions, much to her chagrin. The rose scent of those first potions still infuses my magickal sensibilities. My mother and I were both sexually abused as little girls. We grew up and stayed in toxic relationships with boys/men. My mother’s Catholicism and deeply rooted faith in its spiritual tenets saved her, quite literally. A Spirit appeared to her in a closet where she was hiding from her abuser and told her that he would keep her safe, and her faith has in many ways; shortly after that experience, my mother garnered the courage to scream her lungs out and use her gritona power to scare her abuser into never violating her again. My brujería is an amalgamation of the nascent inklings of the witchy, surreal world that appeared to me in my earliest memories comingled with the deep-seated faith of my mother, which manifests itself through Catholicism, yes, along with a sense of ritual and the sacred. I’m often asked why I call myself La Bruja since, for some Latinx folks, calling myself a bruja and invoking brujería in my writing carries a negative connotation that stems from the Spanish colonizers’ interpretation of ancient spiritual practices. But a new generation of brujas, myself included, are overturning stereotypical portrayals in literature, and pushing back against what it means to be a witchy woman of color in the United States and Latin America. Powerful, talented women with supernatural abilities are not new to Latinx literature; take, for example, Isabel Allende’s HOUSE OF SPIRITS or Laura Esquivel’s LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, both of which were foundational to my own blend of magical realism. But novels like Desideria Mesa’s BINDLE PUNK BRUJA and my RIVER WOMAN, RIVER DEMON (both of which are Most Anticipated Crime Books of Fall 2022) are reclaiming the term bruja. And not just in literature, but there’s a cultural shift in attitudes toward brujería as brujxs push back and destigmatize. So what does it mean to be a bruja and write a thriller from this perspective? Brujas have been cast as the villains for too long. Just as witchy women now are hexing the patriarchy and becoming more mainstream, Latinas and women of color too are turning the tables on what brujería is capable of accomplishing within the horror/thriller genres and the larger social and cultural landscape. The protective folk magick of my novel is based on the actual practices of people of color, including my familial practices. It resists stereotypes even as it embraces many classic elements of psychological thrillers and magical realism. Even the Charmed reboot, which has so many amazing elements, tends to focus on mainstream Wicca as the central magick, even though the protagonists are strong BIPOC/Latinas. My novel looks toward the magick of people of color—brujería, curanderismo, hoodoo—even as it shares many commonalities with Wicca and other Western pagan practices and beliefs. Just as witchy women now are hexing the patriarchy and becoming more mainstream, Latinas and women of color too are turning the tables on what brujería is capable of accomplishing within the horror/thriller genres and the larger social and cultural landscape. The protagonist of my new novel, Eva Santiago Moon, is a budding Chicana bruja—whose bruja mother died in childbirth, so Eva was raised by her conservative and well-meaning sister Alba, who isn’t interested in their cultural roots of brujería but instead nurtures her family in the kitchen with traditional comida. Eva is a strong, independent Latina mother deeply invested in her culture and its spiritual power but is mired in self-doubt and plagued by trauma-induced ghosts. While many psychological thrillers focus on rich, white women, Eva is Chicana, lives in the Southwest, and is the mother of biracial children. This story focuses on the holistic spiritual, and magickal (written with the “k” to denote a specific spiritual path) practices of BIPOC people embodied through Eva and her husband, Jericho. She is a woman who has lost her way and hopes to find it, a mother struggling to care for her family while maintaining her self-worth during a terrifying murder investigation. I’ve found that folks of color, particularly Latinx and indigenous communities, are often marginalized and overlooked in the media and literature (although I’m excited to see much more representation in the witching communities with the rise of brujería in the mainstream). We’ve been told to believe that darkness within ourselves, any manifestation of shadow, is our enemy, but Eva’s dark path as a bruja is the dark night of the soul (la noche oscura del alma) that leads her to deep truths and understanding that will embolden and strengthen her if she can trust herself. We need to listen to our inner voice and our ancestors’ wisdom and not let ourselves be gaslit or steered off course by society or those with skewed or selfish agendas. Eva comes to understand that she is the spell. Her magick is not external but internal—she’s had it all along. The inspiration for this story came from my childhood memories and PTSD, as well as a harrowing experience with a narcissistic abuser who had me all twisted up. As a practicing bruja who has healed both personal and ancestral trauma in myself and my family through brujería, I wanted to share the tools and practices that have strengthened and buoyed me in an accessible way. There are many wonderful nonfiction books on magical practices and witchcraft, but I’ve found that my magic is within my imagination, so I wrote a novel. When Catholicism gained its foothold in Latin America and the Southwest United States, those who practiced what we might call folk magick were considered witches (brujas, in Spanish) and feared as such. Patriarchal leaders feared women’s power, matriarchal knowledge, wisdom, and empowerment. They feared our Ancestors’ innate spiritual wisdom, rooted in self, family, nature, and Spirit—a wisdom that sought answers within rather than through any state-sanctioned religion. Over time, that fear spread, and we grew to fear ourselves. My practice of brujería is a cobbling together of traditions from my Catholic upbringing, my wild Spirit and rebellious nature, and my proclivity toward and interest in science, including cosmology and theoretical physics as well as plants and herbs. I also weave in the symbolism and iconography of my indigenous Ancestors in Mexico, as well as my reconnection with my indigenous origins in New Mexico and southern Arizona and Texas, where my maternal grandparents all have roots. At my home altar, I light candles for my antepasados (ancestors), La Virgen (Mother Mary), and her indigenous counterpart, Tonatzin, as well as Mexica goddesses like Coatlicue, who represents both creation and destruction, and Tlazolteotl, one of my favorite mother goddesses of divine love who takes in “filth” such as shame and purifies it. From this context, I reclaim the term bruja and the ritual of writing, which is how my magick most clearly presents itself—as a form of healing, manifesting, empowering, and overcoming. People are often drawn to me to help guide them through their personal and intergenerational trauma through writing, where they start healing themselves and allowing Spirit to flow onto the page and through their hearts. A connection to the Spirit world, the intangible otherworldly and Ancestral voices have allowed me to listen and to write what I hear… Brujería has been the key to my success as a writer, meaning it keeps me writing even when every bone in my body and every fiber of my mind protests. A connection to the Spirit world, the intangible otherworldly and Ancestral voices have allowed me to listen and to write what I hear, despite my sometimes debilitating chronic physical and mental illnesses; brujería helps me to quiet the trauma and the pain long enough to build entire worlds from thin air. If I’m down in the mud, Spirit gently shows me the stardust to scoop up and bring back with me to the page. The sacred that we honor also exists within us. We honor ourselves when we honor the sacred. When we honor the sacred, we claim our value and worth as inherent and undiminishable. We are the fire we light, the crystal we hold, the prayer we utter. I’m not sure most white folks understand how we folks of color, and Latinx people in particular, often must reclaim our cultural and ancestral heritage. It was not handed down to us. It had to be shrouded in secrecy, sometimes beaten or ridiculed or mandated out of our Ancestors by violent colonizers. Our Ancestors were often forced to assimilate and, over time, practices were lost to families. So when individuals with spiritual/magickal gifts come along, there is no one to train them because their great, great-grandmothers were silenced. Mine died in childbirth, crossing the border to have her daughter in New Mexico. My mama might well be a bruja too, although she’d probably be angry at me for suggesting so; she is now a Doctora of Nursing who went back to school in her thirties and earned her degrees while raising my two brothers and me. She has healing hands that turn hot to the touch when she’s laying hands, and they emit powerful restorative energy, which she chalks up to a spiritual gift from God—and I don’t doubt that’s true. Perhaps we use a different lexicon to describe the same thing. Magick doesn’t discriminate. Of course, we must be respectful and not culturally appropriate others’ sacred practices, especially for commercial gain. But that which belongs to our heritage and our families—as brujería belongs to mine and hoodoo to my husband and children—we alchemically infuse into a flexible, personal practice. There’s no one right way to practice. That narrow, dogmatic thinking belongs to patriarchy and religion—not magick. Early on my witching path, I asked another bruja how I could learn and if she had books to recommend, but she replied that she had several bruja teachers and a coven who showed her the path and didn’t know of any books. She said it in a tone of finality, closed conversation, no more questions asked. So I scoured the internet, the botánicas and apothecaries in my city and across the country, and found every witchy woman and bruja willing to open their practice, writing, and heart to me. I made my own familia/coven of like-minded spiritual women with natural proclivities for the otherworldly and attunement to the Spirits. Many of my bruja and witchy women friends are fellow writers and poets. We studied tarot together; we cast spells. We banished ancestral and personal demons, like sexual trauma and the toxicity of misogynist relationships, and held each other through the heartaches and hard growth of finding our true selves through breakups, divorces, job losses, births, and moving across the country for one reason or another. And all the while, I was finding the little girl I always was—the one my mama saw and loved but couldn’t necessarily understand outside of her religious framework that had protected her when she was a little girl in need of a defensive shield and sword. I was reclaiming the powerful warrior woman within myself, the nurturing mother I had always needed to heal my trauma, my mama’s, her mama’s, and hers—many generations back. And in so doing, healing the future and protecting my daughter so that she would never need to search far for her true source and strength. So that she would always know the great force and Ancestral power that resides within her. I became my own bruja, then wrote a book for you all who need it. Ask my daughter what she is, and she will tell you, proudly, a bruja. And she may even make you a rosewater concoction when she’s not writing her badass stories or slaying the patriarchy. So it is. Blessed be. *** View the full article
  6. Theo Wenner is a hotshot photographer. Fashion. Celebrities. Editorial. Big, glossy shoots for arty magazines you’ve never heard of, let alone read. He’s also the scion of a family which is intricately bound to celebrity: his father is Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone and Us Weekly. Theo does resemble his father a bit, the planes and shadows of the irresistibly charming Jann are evident in Theo’s face. He seems younger and more impressionable than he is, which is fortuitous. It’s a face you want to say yes to. Yet Theo has gone his way. When he hasn’t been jetting from one fancy shoot to another, he’s been hanging out not with models or actors but with the NYPD’s homicide division. The resultant book of Wenner’s portraits, Homicide, is a gritty love letter to New York’s finest. We talked about how and why he came to do this side project which became a major part of his life and changed the way he sees the world. Homicide for Beginners Lisa Levy: So how did you get involved in the project? This seems like a departure from what you usually do, or is what you do for money different than what you do for art? Theo Wenner: Yeah. it is kind of a departure photographically, but I’ve always been very interested in American culture and mythology. I wanted to look at what that mythology looks like. Lisa: Look at it as a photographer or as a person? Did you read a lot of mysteries or watch a lot of mysteries? What detectives are in your canon? Theo: I mean, so many, I couldn’t think of it on the spot. Tons and tons. Lisa: To me Homicide means the David Simon show, which predates you. Theo: Actually, I love that show. Lisa: Yeah, I do too. Theo: I love the book that he wrote called Homicide. I think it’s a masterpiece. That’s one of the best books I’ve read on homicide and detectives and just seeing it firsthand—it felt so unbelievably true to what I saw. I actually went back and read it again after I finished this project. Lisa: So it sounds like that was a motivating factor. Theo: I would say I’m a big fan of his. Lisa: Well, he’s really changed the way we look at cops. The Wire to a large extent really humanized and demonized the police. Tell me about the cops and their response to you and to the project. I guess some of them are probably comfortable with press, but you were in places that photographers don’t usually go. Theo: I don’t think any photographer has. They don’t even let police officers into the places that I went. I mean, it was pretty incredible and fascinating. And since it had never been done before, there was no precedent. I mean, there were no guidelines to measure against, so it was uncharted territory. Lisa: That’s great, as an artist. Theo: Which is a photographer’s dream, obviously. Lisa: Right. I mean, it sounds like gaining trust would be your main obstacle when you’re starting out. Theo: Oh, absolutely. Be Relentlessly Yourself Lisa: And given that we are in the middle of a civil rights movement that has to do with police, they must be defensive or a little bit skeptical of how they’re being portrayed in the press. Theo: I think when I first started spending time with them, they’re always making fun of each other, you know. They did the same to me and I think they saw that I could handle it and give it back to them. You just gotta be yourself, like you can’t be the person that you think you should be around them. You just have to relentlessly be yourself. Click to view slideshow. Lisa: I guess, you know, it’s their job. They have a nose for lies. Theo: Yeah. Maybe the best nose I’ve ever seen for that. That’s their literal job. And I thought about that very thing before meeting them. And I was like, you know, don’t dress different. Don’t do anything different. Don’t pretend like you’re not from Manhattan. Lisa: Well, how did you manage to get access? Theo: Oh, that took, it took years. I didn’t even really know who to ask or call, and I have this amazing producer that works for me. And we were figuring out where or what is the entry point? And we got in touch with a retired detective who is a consultant for film and television. Thinking that that person probably knows current homicide detectives. And then from there we got in touch with a current homicide detective and met him. And then from there he put us in touch with the D C P I, which is the press division of the N.Y.P.D. Asked them. They didn’t even respond. I didn’t even get rejected. I didn’t get an answer. Then we were hounding them. And eventually got them to agree to speak on the phone. Once I got them on the phone, I explained what it was. I think once they heard it from me, it made a little more sense to them. Then I started the project. They eventually agreed and had very specific parameters about what I could and couldn’t do. I had a babysitter with me. Lisa: They have handlers? Theo: I would’ve normally not agreed to such extreme guidelines, but I knew that I just needed to get in the door. And that’s exactly what ended up happening, just gaining trust, getting to know these guys. And then eventually them not noticing I was there. Lisa: Yeah. Well, I guess that’s your ideal, right? People are behaving, like they’re not being watched or photographed. They’re just doing what they would normally do. Theo: It’s only natural. In the beginning, people are aware of the camera, but over time you forget, you know, it just becomes background. You just, you’re not thinking about it like you did on day one. By the end I was just with them all the time. Lisa: You were embedded. Theo: I was in, I mean, they were, they were talking to me as if I was one of them. They’re always just talking about a theory or a scenario. They just talk out loud, they riff, and being a part of those conversations was pretty incredible. Lisa: Do you feel like they forgot about you? Theo: Oh no. I was very clear that what I was doing was not any sort of political statement. I’m just documenting what it is—I have no agenda either way. You Never Forget Your First Homicide Lisa: How do you feel about it now? Do you feel like there is a political message to the book? Theo: That’s up to the viewer. Lisa: And what do [the cops] think about the photographs? Theo: I’ve heard from quite a few of them. I think they liked it. I mean, these are guys that have a very difficult job. They deal with life and death on a daily basis. Those are some pretty major consequences. Lisa: So did you go out with them to a lot of scenes? Theo: Yeah. A lot, a lot. A lot of homicides. Lisa: And what was it like at first? Theo: I mean, you’ll never forget your first homicide. You’ll remember every single detail about it, which I do. You have no idea what you’re gonna see. I mean, knowing that you’re about to see someone who was shot in the head… Lisa: Right. So therefore there is probably very little head left. Theo: They all do it in their own way. Their ability to connect with somebody and read a room is just unbelievable. They’re like encyclopedias of human nature. Lisa: Well, it’s, it’s interesting coming from you who does a lot of work with celebrities and with people who have exaggerated personas. It sounds like these cops like have the goods, but they want to come off as normal and just like everybody else, so that they’ll get the confessions. Theo: They can talk to anyone. You could be talking to a monster who just killed his girlfriend with an axe—which I saw firsthand. I saw a crime scene where a guy had killed his girlfriend with an axe, which was, I mean, you could imagine… Lisa: Probably something you will not forget anytime soon. Theo: Yeah. And then I watched the interrogation of the suspect. I watched the detective talk to this guy and remain calm and not show any sort of judgment towards him. Lisa: That’s also something reporters do all the time. Project trust so you know, yet get the information that you need, even if it’s uncomfortable. How did the cops put people at ease? Was it just kind of bantering and you know, making it feel like everybody was friends? Theo: Yeah. Just banter. I think on some level everyone has something they can find in common with somebody, Lisa: And some people are very good at spotting those things or complimenting people. Theo: And you know, one thing they do also is they’ll rotate detectives in an interrogation to see how the suspect may respond better to one cop or another. They have roles. The tough guy, the comedian… Lisa: That is interesting in terms of your celebrity work because these guys are acting too. It’s for a purpose—they have these personas they can put on. Theo: Yeah. Lisa: And as a photographer, I would imagine what you want to do is capture those personas and then go past that to find the real person. Theo: Yeah. And it’s interesting, even the way they talk to witnesses is kind of similar. Because witnesses are so used to seeing TV shows. Spot the Cop Theo: They have a certain look. I was asking them why they have to dress that way? Cause they look like— Lisa: They look like cops. Theo: They look like the detectives you see on TV and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lisa: That’s interesting. Well, it’s also their suits, right? They don’t make a lot of money, and they have to wear a suit every day. You’re not going to Hugo Boss. Theo: it’s a very specific type of suit. I call it the cop suit. Lisa: I think it’s time for cop core to come around. Everybody will be letting themselves go bald and get kind of fat. Theo: The ties are amazing too. The colors! Lisa: That reminds me of the part in The Wire where they cut people’s ties off. And they’re all on the wall—that had to be a real thing. It’s so specific. Theo: Yeah. That’s amazing. Is that when you fall asleep on the job, they cut your tie? Lisa: Yes. That’s exactly it. I think is it Bunk Who’s sleeping and then the other cops come over with a scissor and you see the wall of ties. It’s really brilliant. Red on the Board Theo: They like all those traditions. I think it’s probably so specific to each precinct, but they give a trophy at the end of the year to the person that closes the least amount of cases. Lisa: Right. So like in Homicide, it’d be the name with the most red on the board. Theo: Yeah, the person with the most red on the board gets a trophy. Lisa: Oh wow. Theo: You don’t want that trophy. Lisa: How long were you were you working on this book? Theo: I think I spent about two and a half years photographing them. Lisa: That’s a significant amount of time. Theo: Yeah. I mean sometimes I’d do a fashion shoot or advertising job in the day and then I would leave the set and go directly to the precinct. Lisa: That must have been really jarring. Theo: Yeah. It was jarring. Art About Homicide Lisa: So what do you want the person who sits with the book for a while to think? Have you achieved your goal? Theo: You’ll have to tell me. I mean, I there’s nothing I specifically want someone to feel looking at the book Lisa: That is also political. Theo: I would just want someone to spend time and look at the photographs. I mean, you can come to your own conclusions. And many people see it in different ways. That’s what I want. Lisa: Right. You want the viewer to form their own relationship with these photographs. Theo: Yeah. I would like them to also like go back and look at the book a couple different times. Lisa: Every night? Theo: At least. Lisa: And then they can buy their friends a book. Theo: Yeah, exactly. Theo: Did you like the book? Lisa: I love the book. Theo: So glad to hear that. Lisa: This is essentially a kind of art book about homicide. My philosophy is that crime sites should be very interested in this and all those people who are obsessed with true crime should be interested too. What I wanted to do was to put this out there as narratives about cops. I do think you’re telling a story that is complicated. Those cops feel complicated—even when they’re trying to be light, there’s kind of a heaviness about them. Theo: That’s a really good observation. I’m glad you like the book a lot. That’s really good to hear and thank you. View the full article
  7. When we moved to Aix-en-Provence in 1997 it was a sleepy provincial town. You could park your car on the Cours Mirabeau, which at that time still had some mom-and-pop shops. Nowadays, only international chain stores can afford the rent on one of France’s most beloved main streets, and the obligatory underground parking garages can be full by noon. Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence was only eight years old (I devoured it on the plane moving here), and Occitane didn’t yet have a shop on the rue Espariat, nor in airports around the world or in downtown Dubai and Tokyo and Helsinki. As a writer I find it completely normal to be inspired by the place where you live, and despite its growth Aix remains an inspiration. These are some of the spots that I frequent, that have worked their way into my novels, and that touch me dearly: 1) Two Cafés: Le Grillon and Les Deux Garçons The faded and elegant Les Deux Garçons, with mirrored walls lined in gilt, has been a café since 1792. Cézanne and his best friend, Emile Zola, were regulars, and the café with its over-priced restaurant was visited by Churchill, Picasso, Edith Pïaf and Catherine Deneuve. Newcomers to Aix inevitably drift to Les 2 G’s, as I did, where I’d sit on the terrace and imagine the food and travel writer MFK Fisher there in 1960, chatting with her girls after they got out of school at Ste-Catherine de Sienne. She wrote, “The little girls drank lemonade and I beer in complete and sudden ease: we were in the right place at the right moment, and we knew it would last.” Sadly, a fire destroyed much of the café in 2019. Renovations have begun. Down the street is Le Grillon (Le Mazarin in my books), where I began writing my first novel in the early mornings after dropping my own daughter off at Ste-Catherine. Mornings are best here, inside its elegant interior of ochre-painted patina walls and saw-dust covered tiled floor, under the hush of clients’ whispers and the thudding noise of the espresso machine. Local lawyers arrive before 8:30am and throw their black judicial robes over the backs of chairs before heading off to court. And one of the best things about breakfast at Le Grillon, despite the mediocre coffee, is that they serve buttery moist croissants from Béchard across the street. It’s the café where the characters in my books regularly meet. They call it “the office” as my friends in Aix do. 2) Two Shops: Patisserie Béchard and the Fromagerie Savelli The best pastries in Aix are found at Béchard’s, and the best cheese at Savelli’s, both shops dear to the Aixois. Béchard’s, on the Cours, is an institution, as the queue that flows out of the shop and onto the street during certain fête times will testify. I love their springy brioches glacés for breakfast, and for dessert, the simple Chantilly-filled sponge cake Le Tropezien. My friend Philippe once found in his attic a receipt from Béchard for two brioches. It was handwritten, of course, and dated 1902. Cézanne himself could have been in the same queue as Philippe’s ancestor. On the other side of town, near the town hall, is the Fromagerie Savelli. Sylvie Savelli, a dark beauty, is a cheese affineur, meaning she ages her chevres, bleues, and tommes in three separate subterranean cellars beneath her shop. I never buy cheese at the supermarket anymore—it’s just never as flavorsome, or perfectly aged, as Sylvie’s—essentially, not worth the calories. 3) The Fountains Philippe (the same) remembers his grandmother filling up jerry cans with the healing waters of the Quatre Dauphins fountain, then lugging them, no matter the weather, back to the family mansion on the south side of the Cours. There are 23 fountains in Aix, and each one has its own story, its own charm. The fountain Des Neufs Canons in the middle of the Cours was permanently damaged in 1944 by an Allied tank; its neighbor, the fountain d’Eau Chaude (La Moussue to locals, as it is covered in moss from which steam rises up in winter) was also once damaged, in this case by “young imbeciles drunk on wine.” That was further back, in 1670. The most photographed fountain must be the one in the Place des Augustins; it’s not a particularly old fountain, but the square, paved with small rounded river stones and lined with charming 17th century mansions, is one of the city’s most beautiful. Aix’s fountains all have stories; one has a curse. I used it in one of my novels, naturally. 4) Cathedral Saint-Sauveur Aix’s cathedral may not be the city’s prettiest church (that prize goes to the smaller Saint-Jean de Malte) but it’s the oldest, work having begun in 500AD on the site of the abandoned Roman forum. Slender red Roman bricks and tall columns from a temple were reused in building the Cathedral; the columns can still be seen in the baptistery, the bricks on the exterior façade. Saint-Sauveur also houses one of the city’s most tranquil spots: a 12th century cloister that is lined by twin sets of columns, each capital exquisitely carved with biblical stories. There’s a restored sculpture of Saint Peter that is almost identical to one found at Saint-Trophime in nearby Arles. Here the Saint, who holds the keys to heaven, is full of personality; his face, hair and short curly beard are finely carved; his robes a mass of crisp vertical pleats from the layers of fabric he wears. It is assumed that the talented 13th century sculptor travelled from parish to parish working freelance. He would have trudged up these same neighboring streets, narrow and twisting, that remain unchanged since the Middle Ages. 5) The Markets You know a real food aficionado in Aix if they talk about the market stall of Mme Martin. She doesn’t sell bananas or pineapples, only fruit and vegetables locally grown on her farm outside of Aix. She’s a reoccurring minor character in my books. Mme Martin can be found in the enormous thrice-weekly market located on the Place des Prêcheurs. There’s also a daily market, in fact smaller and more intimate, on the Places des Herbes. In spring one producer proudly displays mountains of asparagus, thin and fat, white and green; another, in fall, sets up stacks of wild mushrooms. A group of nuns sells a small selection of dainty floral bouquets and some vegetables, very good quality if over-priced. But I’m not going to argue or barter with them. At 1pm waiters in neighboring cafés hover until the square is cleared and cleaned, then quickly set up their tables and chairs. 6) Atelier Cézanne At the turn of the century Paul Cézanne’s art was called, by an influential Aixois, « sale peinture » (dirty paintings), and the Musée Granet’s director vowed never to have Cézanne’s work exhibited in the museum. Aix thus missed out on owning a priceless collection. It’s a shock to think that Cézanne’s widow Hortense sold his work after his death at rock bottom prices so that she could have a bit of fun on the Côte d’Azur. Nevertheless, Cézanne’s spirit is felt all over town, and nowhere more than at his atelier. The dusty studio, located on a hill in the city’s north end, was left untouched after the artist’s death in 1906. The Provençal clay pots, colorful tablecloths, and stone cupids that starred in his revolutionary still-lifes fill the room; his hat and black coat hang in a corner. Up the street, wide stone steps lead through lavender and rosemary to a lookout with a view of Montagne Sainte-Victoire. From here Cézanne painted some of his one hundred-odd versions of the mountain, always feeling he never got it quite right. 7) Oratories Aix has one of France’s largest collections of oratories (92)—niches carved into street corners or façades that contain stone statues, sometimes accompanied by candles and flowers. Their purpose? To ask the saints’ intercession with God to prevent another deadly outbreak of the plague from entering the city. They were also reminders to say prayers, and possibly locations of blessings or even Mass. Most of the oratories contain the Virgin and Child; there’s a black virgin on the corner of the meter-wide rue Esquicho Coudre (Street of Squeezed Elbows), carved in 1663, and four statues of Saint-Roch, the patron saint in times of plague. Roch carries a staff and points to an open wound on his leg. A small dog sits before him; it’s the dog who nursed him back to health. 8) The Cours Mirabeau Aix’s main street, bordered by a double row of tall plane trees, was given its new name in 1876 to commemorate Count Mirabeau, who moved to Aix in 1772 after seducing a local noblewoman twenty years his junior despite his renowned ugliness (he had a deformed foot and over-sized head). Besides being an infamous ladies’ man, Mirabeau was also a politician, gifted orator, and writer who criticized the French monarchy but died young, at 42, while Louis XVI was still king. Before being paved in 1899, the Cours was dusty in summer and muddy in winter. Now, it’s best avoided on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, when market stalls selling polyester clothing made in Bangladesh fill its wide sidewalks. But it remains the pulse of Aix (you typically rendezvous with friends in front of Monoprix) and on September 11, 2001, it was there that I headed. I needed to be with my fellow Aixois, surrounded by the rhythm and beauty of the town. Cézanne wrote to a friend in 1896, “When I was in Aix, I thought I would be better off elsewhere. Now that I’m here, I regret Aix…when one is born here, that’s it, nothing else appeals.” *** View the full article
  8. I was 20 when I first told another person I’d been sexually abused as a child. My confessor is a dear friend; after nearly five decades he remains the oracle of a remarkably close circle of men forged together as American, middle-class Gen-X boys. Clem was post-high school, like me. Not yet seriously invested in higher education, like me. Not learned on the dynamics of grooming or child sexual abuse, like me. Yet he accepted my account with grace, compassion, and gentleness. His reaction, tender and beyond our years, emboldened me to open up to the rest of our group. Each accepted what I had to tell them and understood me better for it. And knowing me fairly well to begin with, they encouraged me to write about it. My first novel, Copperhead Road, was the product of that early, terrible work; a coming-of-age story, an exploration of horror, betrayal, shame and guilt, but ultimately hope and the power of adolescent friendship. The story is only marginally autobiographical; what happened to me was bad, but far less dramatic and systematic than what was suffered by the boys at the heart of the story, some “good,” some “bad.” The descriptors are in quotes because of their gross inadequacy at defining these characters, be they 17 (which most were) or three times that age. Indeed, the antagonist of Copperhead Road, a brutal, manipulative child sexual abuser, hiding in plain sight as a community leader, is a character more reflective of two-dimensional evil than most people I encountered in professional life. But that’s not to say I didn’t encounter them. I was 30 when I first prosecuted a child sexual abuse case, the eventual focus of my life’s work as an attorney. To the surprise of many who know my background, there was no passionate connection between my own memories and that case or the dozens after it. I am grateful for this, because I am not certain I could have done the work as effectively, ethically and compassionately as I did. No one in my professional life knew I had been a victim until much later. I assumed correctly that my superiors would not have wanted a prosecutor with a history of victimization to handle such cases. It would be believed, incorrectly if understandably, that I’d view them too emotionally. That I might stumble ethically for want of justice, or simply burn out too fast. None of those things happened. I made myriad mistakes and suffered growing pains, but in court I was always professional; in every area of the casework, I was hyper-ethical. Perhaps most important, I never lost sight of the humanity of everyone involved, the accused especially. If anything, the exposure to terrible facts, the testimonies of wounded victims, and the limited interaction with defendants only softened the contours of my definitions of right and wrong, good and evil. It’s not that these distinctions for me lost their meaning. The abject selfishness, wonton brutality and inexcusable disregard for others that underpins evil choices are very real and tremendously destructive. On the other hand, the root causes of those choices, for the thoughtful observer, become only more elusive with time. Satisfactory explanations for acts we criminalize—the kind that justify the Biblically-based punishments we mete out in courts of law—continue to slip our grasp like water through cupped hands. The intrusion of nature/nurture, the intersection of purpose and impulse, the barely cracked window into the brain-based science of behavior: all make our mission “to uphold the Law” ever more uncertain. I was 50 when I returned to writing in earnest and completed my second novel, Among the Dead. Like the two after it, Bleed Through and most recently City Dark, it’s in the legal thriller genre. I’m happy there, not uncomfortable with dramatizing the often-mundane work of crime, investigation, trial, and punishment. Drama and intrigue are a part of storytelling, and I believe I do it well. But in my later years, the itch I feel under my own skin, the one I wish to scratch the most on the page, is the broadening conflict between what we do as a society to answer “evil” and why we do it. More to the point, how dare we? I try to avoid the narcissism of the present, the easy trap of believing one’s own time is unique in the purest sense of the word. The ubiquitous abuses in American criminal jurisprudence, intractable racism, the criminalization of poverty, the gross inequalities dealt across the board wherever there are shackles, guns, and gavels, are ancient and universal. And yet only recently are even these scourges perhaps becoming overshadowed by a baseline question, one that cannot be forever batted away with religiosity or cultural strictures: What is the human creature and why does it do evil? Most importantly, how is our wanting, strained system, the thin-blue line, the 12 Angry Men, the endless acres of stone walls and barbed wire, in any way adequately responding to it? Each story I share with my readers echoes with these questions. I can only hope, with their help, to approach the answers. *** View the full article
  9. Last week, I arrived for my dentist appointment at the top of the 10:00 AM hour and so I joined five or six people waiting. I looked around and almost laughed out loud. Every person—young and old—sat with head down, reading or watching the screens on their phones. I sat there, pondering. Questions like, “When was the last time I saw anyone reading magazines in a doctor or dentist waiting room?” Or “What in the world are these people reading/watching so intently in this few minutes of waiting?” And finally, “Do people—and by people, I mean people other than me—ever just sit and wait anymore? Have we lost the art of wool-gathering?” Honestly, are there many of us left who even know what wool-gathering is? I suppose babies and toddlers are supremely adept at just hanging out, occupying themselves with thoughts of…well, who knows? But it’s not like they know they’re wool-gathering. Anyway, I feel like it’s a pretty important skill, this sitting around doing nothing but letting our minds wander. Though I’m not saying we should engage in it for hours on end. Obviously, there are things that must be done, like eating, driving, going to the dentist. And yet, think of the world we live in and how we’re all plugged in constantly, even when we’re doing the most mundane things. Take, for example, the TVs built into refrigerators, or the TV screen at the gas pump or over your head in the dentist’s chair. Or the miniature screen on your watch! For cryin’ out loud. We spend an inordinate amount of time distracted by media, and though I personally feel it’s an unhealthy practice in general, I’m sure it’s not good for me specifically as a writer. But then again, I’m a writer of a certain age; perhaps writers younger than I who’ve grown up plugged into screens their whole lives might disagree. Still, for me, unplugging is a necessity and I’ll tell you why. When I’m doing nothing—like sitting on my deck for a half hour or so—I’m daydreaming and aimlessly looking about. I notice a spider web and think how amazingly intricate it is and how did that spider manage to rebuild that web so darn quick (when I took a broom to it the day before!)? Or when I’m driving around locally, I drive in silence. And not just because I need my wits about me, driving in big city/big suburb traffic. I like the quiet time with my thoughts. What am I thinking about? Who knows? The point is, I don’t want to be constantly entertained/distracted. I want my mind to be free to wander and perhaps come up with ideas for a blog post, maybe one about a spider. Or I may start out mentally grousing about the driver who cut me off, but I may end up figuring out a plot dead-end. The elderly woman ahead of me in the grocery store line might remind me of an aunt from thirty years ago, an aunt (cleverly disguised) who would hit just the right character note in my work-in-progress. So fine, maybe other writers find ideas or work out story glitches or get creative in all kinds of ways on those screens they’re locked into, even for three minutes in a dentist’s waiting room. But if you’re a writer struggling to come up with anything lately, why not try a little wool-gathering (verb: to indulge in aimless thoughts or idle daydreams)? Untether yourself, friends, and give a hip-hip-hooray for idleness! ~Cathy C. Hall (C) Copyright wow-womenonwriting.com Visit WOW! Women On Writing for lively interviews and how-tos. Check out WOW!'s Classroom and learn something new. Enter the Quarterly Writing Contests. Open Now![url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  10. B+ Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis August 16, 2022 · Random House Worlds Fantasy/Fairy Tale RomanceRomanceScience Fiction/Fantasy Crystal Anne With An E comes to us from a sunny clime, though she is an indoor cat that prefers to remain pale. She is an autism consultant by day, and recently completed a degree in information science, mostly because she could and it was fun. She likes to read (obviously), watch TV while cross-stitching something geeky, play video games, beg her plants not to die in the hell heat of summer, and walk while listening to podcasts that likely involve some sort of murder. … So we know how I do love a Star Wars story, and lo, the SW gods, and Beth Revis, have blessed us with a book that leans into the romance of it all. I took one look at the cover art of The Princess and the Scoundrel and was like Click for me Look at this cover art. Sit with it. Let it get into your brain. The soft watercolors. The EMBRACE. The loving expressions on their faces. The flowers in her hair. This, kids, is a romance cover. I submit it would make a worthy entry into the Cover Awe canon. The book opens immediately after the fall of the Empire. And by immediately, I mean you’re still having to occasionally dodge pieces of raining Death Star. Leia is looking at the aftermath of the rager thrown at the end of Return of the Jedi and wondering about what kinds of people were wearing the stormtrooper helmets that were recently being used as a drum set. This is the beginning of a theme that will continue throughout the book: the fact that Leia is acutely aware of the human cost of war. She wonders about the people that were in those helmets in a way that no one is considering as they drum on them, whether they were indoctrinated, whether they even had any choice in their service to the Empire. She cares, even as others are dancing jubilantly around them. This awareness is also what contributes to the fact that Leia, throughout the book, has enormous difficulty taking the time for herself and her new husband that she has certainly earned. Even as she wants to spend time with him (and doing fun sexytime things with him, these two are VERY hot for each other), she’s constantly worried about resource negotiations and allocations, establishing trade and military alliances before the remnants of the Empire can do so, and putting on the good show for the people. The relationship between Han and Leia is very interesting, because these people both know each other very well in some ways and in others, not well at all. They are great at reading each other’s cues and body language, but they are not always great at using their words. In addition, they’ve spent no time together that wasn’t involved in intergalactic civil war, and Han was frozen in carbonite for about a year of that time. There is a scene where Leia is affectionately addressing Chewbacca, and it occurs to Han that they have a whole relationship now that he knows nothing about, because he wasn’t there when it developed. Yes, these two are young, hot, and in love, but they know very little about who they are when they’re not trying to not-die. One thing I tend to really enjoy in fiction is what happens after the immediate fall of an empire, in which the people doing the rebelling basically have to go “Oh, shit, we’re in charge now, aren’t we?” Yes, kids, you broke it, you bought it. It is one of my most appealing forms of catnip. There is a ton of that in this book, and since Leia is one of the most public faces of the Rebellion and the new government, everything she does, including her honeymoon, is part of the process. In the case of the honeymoon, it means that Mon Mothma lassoes her into a luxury cruise on a Starcruiser called the Halcyon, which had previously been pressed into Imperial service as a battleship. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Halcyon is the experience being given to those lucky folks that can afford the very pricey Star Wars hotel and all its trappings. I am not the person who is going to pretend to not be having a great time. Credit: Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser | Walt Disney World Resort So, yes, her honeymoon is a publicity stunt, and maybe she’s redirecting the ship’s route to an ice planet to talk to the prime minister about joining the new government. Leia is not great at taking off the princess politician hat and just spending time with her new husband, something that causes Han no small amount of frustration. There was little discussion about what kind of role he would be taking on as the husband of a prominent politician, and he spends much of the book wondering if he’s truly cut out for that kind of life. They are also dealing with the fact that even though the Empire is defeated, that doesn’t mean that everyone knows or accepts that. Rumors persist throughout the galaxy that Palpatine is still alive, and there are Imperial loyalists that are actively and openly hostile toward Leia and Han, whether they blame them for the death of a relative that worked on the Death Star or they are now broke because all of their military contracts were canceled. It is always fun to watch especially Leia navigate these kinds of shark-infested waters. She’s a good person, but she’s also sneaky and able to assess advantages and then use those advantages. Another interesting piece to the character work in this book was the fact that Han and Leia are both processing massive trauma throughout the book, and it absolutely informs much of what they do. In Leia’s case, she has only recently learned of her lineage as the biological daughter of Darth Vader. This news is especially traumatic for her due to the fact that Leia was mentally and physically tortured by Vader, and it is highly difficult for her to reconcile the fact that the man that inflicted that pain upon her was her own father. It also presents her with a certain amount of conflict over the idea of learning how to use the Force, since she strongly associates its use with Vader. Her lineage is also much of the reason that she is so determined to accomplish as much as she can while she can, as she is operating under the belief that once her parentage becomes public knowledge, she’ll never be able to work in public service again (and sadly, she’s completely correct, as this very scenario comes to pass years later during the events of Bloodline). Meanwhile, as far as Han goes, this is a man that has only been out of carbonite for a matter of a few weeks, and is still acutely aware of it in his body. He feels very out of step, as he missed so much during the year he was frozen. In addition, he still remembers vividly the feeling of being frozen, in the dark and cold, but still conscious. There is one scene where he has to go diving in very cold water, and is initially shocked by how severely and instantly he is reminded of his experience. Han and Leia are instrumental in helping each other cope with their trauma. As he initially goes rigid with the sensory memory of his freezing, his wife takes his hand and helps him to center himself. When Leia confesses her fears about using the Force because of what Vader was, it’s Han that points out that Luke’s not Vader, and she’s not Luke, and that her use of the Force, should she choose it, was just that, her use and no one else’s. Like most Star Wars properties, this book is carrying around tons of plot, mostly revolving around trying to aid and save an Imperially-oppressed planet that they visit during their honeymoon, and will probably appeal most to someone who has read some of the other books that feature Leia, including Claudia Gray’s Princess of Alderaan (which is directly referenced) and Bloodline, and Rebecca Roanhorse’s Resistance Reborn. I believe there are some fairly direct references to some of Han’s stories as well, but since I hadn’t read the stories in question, my understanding was a bit cursory. Now, the big question (drumroll please), is this a Star Wars romance novel? Show Spoiler You had to know I was going to find a way to drop Sexy Obi-Wan in here. Well….if you’re going at it from the idea of a romance novel having the HFN ending, sure. They end this book as a happy couple, at the beginning of building a life together. But as a HEA, I saw the movies. I know that they will build that life, they will have a child, and eventually, that life will crack apart and set them on different paths by the time of The Force Awakens. They will love each other until their dying days, but they won’t be together. However, their romance is central to this particular story, so if that’s why you’re here, you’ll enjoy it. I would be remiss in saying that if you enjoyed this story, Princess of Alderaan and Bloodline by Claudia Gray are also great Leia stories, and Beth Revis has written a story about Jyn Erso from Rogue One called Rebel Rising, which, while I haven’t read it, I enjoyed this story enough that I am likely to go track it down. There’s also a popular and well-regarded alternate take on Han and Leia’s story from the Legends canon (the story universe that was thrown out when they decided it was time to take us back to a galaxy far, far away), The Courtship of Princess Leia by David Wolverton. So all in all, good solid B+ for lots of plot, hot couple, and Ewok ragers. Show Spoiler View the full article
  11. NY WRITE TO PITCH ASSIGNMENTS – DECEMBER 2022 JOE BELCASTRO 1. STORY STATEMENT: What If The Devil…Banished God…From Heaven? 2. ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT: Helel is the co-creator of a heavenly realm called Alegion with Adonai. Close as brothers, together they utilize a planetary dominion in the effort to grow an instinctual need to create and learn about their evolving powers. That is, until an unforeseen clash of wills over how to govern humankind on the planet Eden commences; and the one who remained with a handful of Morning Stars (Guardian Angels) on Alegion, is not the being we were led to believe. Helel casts out Adonai to the plane of humanity. In lieu of killing each other, they try to get the other to submit to their ways via the manipulation of humankind throughout history. Watching from above, Helel is the aggressor but knows confronting Adonai on Eden’s plane could lead to death. Eventually, Adonai knows one must die – but Helel uses a loyal and resourceful cult of humans from afar to break the will of Adonai. Once Helel can accomplish the task at hand, the last living creator will descend on Eden – under the guise as a “Savior.” Choices the last standing creator enacts upon humankind becomes veiled…as does who will rise to challenge the misleading Helel. 3. BREAKOUT TITLE: DOMINATURE: What If The Devil…Banished God…From Heaven… DOMINATURE HISS 4. COMPARABLES: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith in terms of the alternate history approach to a familiar story (i.e. The Bible) complimented with the self-aware humor that evolves as the story opens up in modern times. “The Devil's Workshop: A Metaphysical Extravaganza” by Donnally Miller for its philosophical tone woven through an adventurous action-packed exploration. I would just like to add this has grounded fantasy approach similar to what Christopher Nolan executed with his “Dark Knight” film franchise by infusing larger-than-life characters in a more reality based tone. 5. CORE WOUND AND PRIMARY CONFLICT (HOOK LINE): When the “Devil” banishes “God” from heaven, how will humankind react to learning the true nature about their creation while having to interact with both moral, deceptive, and violent divine beings. 6. OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS: Adonai must deal with counteracting Helel’s manipulative treachery while imprisoned on the plane of humankind. Adonai, though pure at heart, is morally bound by a portal used to travel from their realm of Alegion to humanity’s. Said portal governs the divine’s power while roaming Eden. However, Helel makes a risky play to violate these laws – which gives Adonai an idea on how to accomplish the goal of luring, and then destroying, the corrupt co-creator – despite having to violate the moral code embedded and thereby nullifying “God’s” lifeforce. Helel initiates a natural disaster to distract Adonai; which allows the former to sneak onto Eden. Helel then romantically manipulates a woman named Mary to birth a spawn (Jesus) – who could potentially undo Adonai’s influence. Essentially the Devil’s offspring, Adonai reluctantly brings Jesus to a harsh justice (death). By doing so, Adonai willfully violates the divine governing laws while on Eden (in this case, directly causing physical harm to humankind). That said, as centuries pass, Adonai wrestles with the idea of birthing a demigod through a human as Helel once did. This deceptive act would end the existence of Adonai – who is humankind’s best protection against The Devil. However, if Helel believes Adonai has died, and takes the bait, a Devil can then descend upon Eden – unaware that Adonai’s heir does have the power to administer a deathblow – if the heir accepts this destiny. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it? After Adonai resorts to ending the life of Jesus, those select humans who assisted, choose to create a written lie (The Bible) to ensure a non-violent moralistic path for humankind – which will hopefully keep Helel’s influence at bay. Adonai struggles with this for its implementation involves wielding evil’s tools at various points throughout history. By enacting this, Adonai implores humankind to believe and nurture a lie. Meeting key individuals who are privy to this ancient agenda, some start to lose faith and question what they fight for; leading to betrayal and death; therefore, allowing a Devil to potentially gain and wield balance-shifting power through its unwavering human disciples. 7. THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING DOMINATURE starts the reader off in a divine realm in the cosmos. An excerpt for how I describe it is pasted here: Akin to night overtaking the setting sun, a steady tint of brightness accents the dark void of infinite space. The vast mirage of a seemingly transparent floor canvas yields a landscape encompassing structures built from materials so refined, the human mind would not be able to articulate if asked. Standing with an upward gaze at a conversation taking place on a high-rise tower is a human-like being, fair mannered in expression, though imposing in stature. Unable to hear the dialogue of said conversation, the being appears to be hanging on every word as another, slightly more masculine, approaches. “They’ve been meeting. All have noticed. Is there belief you’ll decipher what equation their powerful minds circumvent at this time, Gerwen?” Gerwen, not diverting the gaze, says in a deep tonal voice, “Which is why you come forth now? Taun’s inquisitive spirit wonders as well.” “I have no yearning for what our creators Adonai and Helel discuss until ready to divulge,” claims Taun. “They have our trust. Inform us prior to their public decree, this you know.” Gerwen breaks the concentration and walks down a staircase towards a valley sporadically populated by similar-looking beings. They are met by Zamus and Quen, also blessed with physical prowess and height, both of which equally curious to the dealings of their creators. “If true, new life has sprung over our domain,” says an eloquent Quen. “Though the catalyst remains mysterious.” “Mysterious?” says the blunt Zamus. “The answer lies with the two of Gerwen’s persistent focus.” “No matter,” says Taun. “Whether spawned from Adonai and Helel or an unknown, all we can do is observe from this realm. Let us rejoice if their life comes with attractive engagement.” “Perhaps, extending our influential engagement is the discussion they have,” adds Gerwen. “Engagement?” says Zamus. “Sharing our presence as the four of us stand now?” “Bliss coddles our ever-existence,” says Taun. “To give this willing to sub-beings? Worthy has no species proved.” “Our ever-existence you speak of, Taun, consumes knowledge for this plane created by the pinnacle of a hierarchy,” says Gerwen. “With purpose, we nurture. With purpose, we advance. Without purpose, static power, we become. Is this not where our realm of Alegion stands now?” Pondering Gerwen’s audacious proclamation about the heavenly state of Alegion, the trio watch Gerwen separate from the discussion. Eventually the remaining disperse amongst the plane of frosted glass, as the constant fiery glow of the universe’s brightest star surrounds their realm. THE ELEMENTS OF WEATHER CEASE TO EXIST AS EVIDENT BY THE DIRTY BLOND locks only moving as Adonai’s body turns to continue with Helel after a brief pause in conversation. Mirror images of each other - the only noticeable differences are the length of their hair, with Helel’s resting longer on the collarbone, and Adonai’s piercing wide eyes. The creators lean against a wall of their private chamber atop an uncovered monumental pillar. In the cosmos, registering clear through their optic lens of vision despite the distance, is a blue orb with assortments of landmasses. From there, the story toggles between present day in such places as the bustling midtown Atlanta area, the inner sanctums of The Vatican, and a secret hi-tech compound in the U.K. Eventually the distinct timelines explain why certain actions are happening beginning with the divines embedding themselves during the start of the Roman Empire era. Thorough research of politics and culture are referenced to help set the tone for how the divines maneuvered amongst the human population. Once the timelines come together about halfway through, this becomes a globe-trotting exploration with settings of Antarctica, various monuments, and the Doomsday Vault in Norway hosting key action sequences. Everyday settings such as parks, bars, and lavish parties are sprinkled in to advance character development and bridge story beats via character dialogue… Walking through the pristine garden trail, the monumental tower enchants their eyes as they gawk at the crystal-clear reflection hitting the manmade pool just feet away from where they stand. Getting closer, they see the golden door surrounded by a moat. Michael goes to the left of the tower as Giancarlo takes the right. They scope it out, meeting in the back at the sundial, shining ever so bright in the sunlight. As the story transcends from psychological to a physical chess match with divine influenced natural disasters happening across the world, the story jumps into the near future (2028) where the ancient continent of Pangea is reformed - wiping out half the population. This all climaxes to an immortal battle at the refurbished roman Colosseum where the fantastical elements laid out in the story crescendo. Other excerpts articulating the early reformation of Pangea: SCIENTISTS ON ANTARCTICA’S OUTER MONITORING STATIONS ARE CONTINUING their years-long study of the climate change effect from the trilogy of volcanic eruptions in 2020. That is, until the central ice shelf has ridden a surf pushing them north for the last twenty minutes or so. Off in the distance, their sonar imaging has two giant landmasses the shape of India and Australia seemingly barreling towards their location. In the center of the now moving icy continent, Guardian Angels were instructed by Helel to gather with Gerwen here, as rumors of trying to instigate a return to Alegion is the cause for the worldly overhaul. The continental movements draw concern on their faces, yet what they are enduring is minimal compared to other areas of Eden. OVER JENSON’S SHOULDER, REVDEN STANDS WITH FENG, THEIR SON, AND Yuri, watching the world reconfiguration nullifying the Atlantic Ocean on Jenson’s laptop. Europe is seemingly moved as a lever with the extended land attachments of Russia and Asia being swung up to the North Pole. When zooming in, portions of countries are ripped apart with the remains settling on opposite ends of the hemispheres. Certain areas seem to be experiencing less movement, such as South America. Then there’s Japan which ended up west of China and Russia. Peering out from under the tunnels in the Colosseum, The Devil’s band is watching Helel on an in-arena platform, deeply locked in a grueling trance. VALEN IS IN THE COASTAL CITIES OF AFRICA. HE’S WATCHING THE OVERFLOW of the oceans go inland, wiping out clusters of a helpless humanity. Going further inland, structures continue to crush the ones who built them up as achievements to advancing their way of life. The lone Morning Star tries to physically move people out of harm’s way, though the sheer volume of destruction renders Valen in a state of helplessness. AT THE NOW DEFUNCT “SINGING TOWER,” MICHAEL EMERGES WITH A constant pain as he can feel the cries of a rattled world. Making his way outside, he sees a growing, dark horizon approaching from miles out. Ascending to the top of the tower, he knows Helel is manipulating the elements. Michael tries to muster up divine antibodies to slow whatever viral ploy is attacking Eden. The force which Michael meets head on has an unrelenting momentum for his only half God-like spirit. Exhausting every effort, the pressure submits Michael down on his knees and then to his back, drained like never before since ingesting these powers. HOURS HAVE PASSED AND THE VIOLENT READJUSTMENT CASTS AN ASHY shadow over the sky with disturbed seas comprised of dead fish, animal carcasses, and human remains. Surviving humanity slowly rises together to see yet another altering change in their existence. Shortly after the rumbling subsided, the Antichrist is branded the culprit. Footage from the Colosseum is shown encompassing a fatigued Helel with tactful headlines annotating the Savior’s efforts to stop the assault as he did a few years ago. Murky satellite imagery shows the world has literally come together. Shots from Morocco lie in the spots where Boston and New York City once stood. Places such as Iran are no longer landlocked. Cuba crashed into Louisiana and Texas. The Bahamas and other similar-sized islands were run through by larger landmasses, negating their existence. A death toll projection ranges from half the population to near extinction.
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  13. Opening Scene- Establishes setting, protagonist, antagonist, and primary and secondary conflicts. Chapter 1 “Only one in forty are venomous.” The murmured reminder did nothing to banish the trickle of bright adrenaline down my nerves as the breakers began their telltale frothing beneath the water’s surface. I should have felt badly for skipping my voice session, but I was too sated on the sand’s warmth and a full belly to much care. Strands of hair coaxed on the sea’s winds floated across my copper cheeks, and I did not bother to restrain their path over slitted eyes which watched the ebb of the surf- waiting. The coiling of my stomach did not owe itself to breaking the unspoken rules governing my days, but what I now contemplated as I watched the equine creature emerge from the roiling waves. I began to sing, my ability to voice two notes at once drawing the animal nearer in swells of melding chords. She beckons with misting fingers And Tantrums of thrown limbs Join the waves, the wind, the storm Listen to her hymns Embrace her darkness, kiss her depths Taste salt upon your lip Your neglect of dawn’s blood skies Cost more than just your ship Closer it came across the sand, ears perked at the old ballad as I wove the chorus in the air around us. Half a dozen coves carved Cretoria’s coastline in aggressive gouges, but Oren and I had claimed this one. Tidal pools of varying sizes reflected the slouching sun like pieces of shattered mirror embedded in the dark rocks on the west end, while nothing but golden sand comprised the remainder of the small crescent. Neither the locals nor the summer sunbirds from the nearby capital city of Mytikas enjoyed traversing the narrow ledge of a trail down the slate cliffs over the cove, leaving this place to us most days. Dusk had coalesced in fading golden shafts suspended in the leaden hour of the evening- the hour in which wild sea horses sometimes swam onto shore here to fling their manes of kelp as they pounded across the sand. I had never approached one until now, the longing to run my fingers over its flaring pink gills overpowering the conviction that such a thing is never meant to be tamed or even touched by civilized hands. My hands were not soft by any means, not like the lavender oil scented ones of those in Mytikas. But they were human hands, and humans tended to ruin things they loved. I would only touch its muzzle, just for a moment. My notes fell softer as it approached. The hard plates of its nectarine-hued body rose and fell in ridges capped with skeletal knobs, ending in a curled tail. As it danced closer, my eyes drifted to its saddle fin, which rose high on its back tipped in lethal spines. Those needle-sharp points, and the smaller ones embedded in its ridges, contained a venom the barest amount of which would paralyze your limbs with creeping stealth as you were impaled further and dragged into the sea by the carnivorous animal. It was said that during those moments, the venom caused a euphoria, and you didn’t mind your imminent death approaching on the white-tipped depths. Her gills fluttered as she stretched her neck towards me, my nostrils catching the briny scent of kelp which hung in layers of twisting jade ribbon and bulbous air pockets along her neck. The orange of her shell absorbed the sunlight slanting across the cove like my own skin did. I was always famished for sunlight, for cool seawater, for the sound of the tide shushing my staccato heartbeat. She and I were kindred. The tips of my fingers brushed her fluted nose. A familiar voice sliced through the carefully cultivated haze around me. “Opi? What-” The horse reared back, tossing her head as she shimmied backwards and turned away from me. “Curse you, Oren!” I yelled as the creature sprinted for the surf, thundering into the undertow. I whipped towards him, eyes squinting to see the haloed outline of his rangy limbs. “What’s the matter with you?” my friend called, long legs ambling over the sand towards me. “Were you about to touch that thing?” I crossed my arms as he approached. “Maybe.” The white of his eyes showed as he sighed. “Did you skip voice lessons?” What was he, my mother? Kalliope, her lilting voice wavered in my mind. I won’t have it said you’re shirking your duties to the Opera… Anxiety curled in my gut, but I clobbered it down with an imaginary piece of driftwood. The Phoerian Opera could go rot today. I was not yet in its gold-fisted grip- or so I told myself. Rolling my eyes in answer, I picked up the lobster tail I’d been roasting and tossed it to him. “Got four today.” I didn’t mention I’d spent two hours diving for them, but they were his second-favorite food, so I didn’t mind. He caught it with a soft swear and then dropped the scalding crustacean in the sand. Flicking his nimble fingers as if to rid them of the heat, he commented casually, “Suppose it’s a good thing you’re here already.” He paused, and I almost threw sand in his sun-bronzed face before he finally spit out what I’d been waiting to hear. “My contact at the Nautilus Citadel replied to my letter.” Everything in me suddenly focused to a razor-sharp edge, my urge to ream him for the ruined lobster abandoned. We’d been waiting over a month for this response. This was it. The only answer to the only question that mattered. “Yes?” My hands twitched as I contemplated the urge to strangle him. “What did he say? The one-dimpled smile which crept across my friend’s face raised the hairs on my arms. “We leave in the morning for the Solstice Trade.” My breath hitched. It was true. The vanished peoples of Gomethra’s mainland were real. The Solstice Trade was real. And we were going to crash it. No rule for what we were about to do existed, but if it had- I’d break it faster than a sea horse could drag me beneath the indifferent waves, euphoric to the bitter end. **** The edge of my awareness drug on unfamiliar ground, a hem fraying further with each barefoot step we’d taken to arrive at the wastelands of Gomethra. Though the boat in which we’d traveled was only a mile away through the forest, I forced the image of its hull bumping against the rocks through my mind like a talisman. “Do bones burn to ash as well, or are they still beneath us?” Oren mused. Patience had never been my strong suit, but I could think of a thousand things I’d rather be than patient, so I wasn’t going to fill the Amphritis Sea with tears over it. My cheeks stung as I dragged ash-encrusted nails down them. The imbecile beside me had clearly forgotten the need for silence as we crouched on the edge of the vast, grass-covered Ash Plains, anticipation taught as a lyre’s strings in our veins. “Shut it,” I hissed, sending his larger form toppling over from where he crouched next to me. The azure of his eyes widened as he froze at the lofty grass rustling around us. I prayed to Chrosos no one in the envoy had seen the ripple in the silver vegetation. The company of a hundred soldiers waited in stoic silence a stone’s throw from us as they faced the undulating waves stretching out for miles in front of them like a sea of mirrored anemones. My shoulders dropped in relief as they stood unmoving against the cloudless skies. “Thought you were bringing food,” Oren growled, his mutinous wheat hair slipping over one eye. I heaved a token sigh, inhaling and exhaling the smell of burning leaves that still lingered in the soil after all this time. His nattering didn’t matter anyways while the breeze and the grass spoke so freely around us, drowning our words in their murmured song akin to velvet brushing over my ears. “No matter how long we wait, seeing dragons will be worth it,” I reminded him. There had always been rumors the dragons still existed. The official word claimed they had gone extinct from disease and starvation after The Scything, the war waged centuries ago between Nyskos and the northern kingdom of Volnyrocq. The mainland had not always been the wasteland of cursed grass which stretched before us. Oren had heard through his family’s connections in Mytikas that some Rocqes still lived beyond the Ash Plains and that an exchange of goods happened each year near the summer solstice. Yet none of the things we’d speculated about came close to the reality before us. Half a dozen cargo ships were tethered on the wide river mouth which flowed alongside the plains. The massive caravan of goods sitting behind the line of guards could have fed the capital city of Mytikas for a month. Nyskos had amassed hundreds of barrels of salted and smoked fish, live lobsters and crabs in enormous glass tanks pulled on wagons, towers of crated wine and sweet liqueurs, bottles of olive oil, sacks of grain and kafe beans...The smell alone carried over on the wind caused my mouth to water. I’d skipped breakfast for this (more like Oren ate mine on the way) to meet him at the docks and arrive here by the sun’s highest point. A distant rumble began to shake the ground beneath my knees, and I looked up to see the hazy outline of black forms marching through the grass. Those who believed in the tales of the Rocqes’ existence said they had lost their ability to breathe fire or fly, just as we, the race of Nereiden, had lost our sirenic traits over time. Whatever form they wore caused a rhythmic trembling of the grass around us, and we watched as the first row of two dozen black plates of armor came into focus. Their pace would bring them to us in moments, but that wasn’t what caused Oren to swear. “Holy mother of tentacles,” he breathed. Behind the Rocqe soldiers were massive carts pulled by beasts I had only read about in one of the texts from my mother’s collection. Unlike most cart animals, the heads of the bone lynxes with their twitching feline noses stayed angled high in the air, looking out over the soldiers of the retinue in front of them. Black spikes of bone longer than my arms rose in pairs from the ringed white fur on their backs, chains connecting them to the carts pulled taut from the manacles encircling them. They moved as if the weight of the house-sized carts didn’t affect them in the least as they stalked forward with fluid grace. My head tilted. “Is it wrong I have an urge to see how soft their ears are?” “T’would be a noble death,” Oren replied. “I'll sing your song in the Nautilus Citadel.” Oren’s voice was terrible, so I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. More intriguing than the bone lynxes were the men encased from the waist up in armor of glistening jet black with horned helmets. As they drew closer, I could see the iridescent scales which made up the armor shifting over each other. There were what appeared to be wings for epaulets, flaring out beyond their shoulders and ending in a single talon at the tip. In contrast, the golden armor of the Nereiden almost blinded a person when looking at it in full sunlight. I was pleased to see that our representatives didn’t move a muscle in reaction to the approaching envoy. One of the bone lynxes snapped its head in our direction, looking straight at us through the grass. My lungs seized. Ducking back down, I pulled Oren with me. “Do you think it sees us?” Oren’s eyes were not teasing now. “I have no doubt it does.” Shivers chased over my scalp. Or perhaps the shiver had more to do with the way he lowered his voice to a baritone murmur that had developed of late. It was strange to realize Oren’s lanky form had filled out into broader shoulders and his face had developed new angles to it. He’d always had beautiful features, and I’d teased him mercilessly for being prettier than any of the girls on Cretoria. But now he was beginning to strike me as something different. When the retinues finally came face to face, it was rather anticlimactic. Two soldiers simply exchanged scrolls, and then we watched for almost an hour while they loaded and unloaded goods from the bone lynxes onto the ships and vice versa. My stomach grumbled as time wore on, but I wasn’t going to look away. “They managed to cross the Ash Plains unscathed,” I commented, sifting gray dirt through my fingers as I sat on the packed earth. Drawings on old parchment surfaced in my mind, images of the warped creatures which hunted in the grasses of the plains and made crossing a suicidal endeavor. Oren raised a brow at me like I was an idiot. “I would imagine it had something to do with the giant cats they brought,” he drawled. “Even if the shadow wolves are as big as they say, nothing would attack those things.” He had a point. As we watched yet more containers and barrels being hefted onto the flat carts of the bone lynxes, Oren voiced a question of his own. “Do you think the Prince of Volnyrocq truly started the war? That he burned an entire city to the ground?” I’d thought about the answer to his question a thousand times. “Wouldn’t blame him if he did.” Oren gave me a look like I’d grown another head. “Just because one person died doesn’t mean you can-” “She didn’t just die, Oren. Her fins were cut from her body and her heart ripped out.” We’d had this argument countless times, but I was more than happy to rise to the occasion again. “If I found the person I was supposed to marry like that, I might go on a fire-breathing rampage too.” Oren frowned. “He should have known better than to bring a nereid to the Winged Court. The Rocqes were barbarians, even without the danger of a Kymaera being produced from their union.” I shrugged. “Forbid something, and someone will inevitably be stupid enough to try it, daemon spawn or not.” He paused, then looked at me sideways. “You still believe those stories? I doubt any of us could shift into dragons or mer, even eight-hundred years ago. And the Kymaera were probably just deformed children. I pity them.” I turned my body towards him, jaw dropped. “What are you talking about? You’ve seen the Draekenmor Reef the same as I. The bones are piled from the sea floor to the surface. Thousands of dragons. They were pulled from the sky in The Scything.” He shrugged. “But what if it’s just casts and molds? Carvings? What if it doesn’t reach to the sea floor, Opi?” “I can't even hear you over your own horsecrap,” I hissed, struggling to keep my voice low. He didn’t deserve to use his pet name for me. “Those scrolls are not stories, Oren. Their histories. How can you deny that?” He sighed, leaning back onto one elbow. “Mytikas has different texts now, ones that are more accurate based on actual research. Your mother’s scrolls are probably just a collection of tales that were never meant to be taken seriously.” My fingers curled into the ash beneath us. He was suddenly revealing this misbelief now, of all times? Those stories of dragons and mer were an unshakable part of us- so I’d thought. I was going to push him off a cliff when we got back to Cretoria. “What nonsense have those in Mytikas been spout-” A screech rent the sky in the distance, raising the dusty hairs on my body to stand. It was a shrill cry, ear-piercing in pitch and ending on a hopeless, echoing note like the last song of a dying glasswhale. We lifted our heads up out of the grass. All of the soldiers had stopped to listen too, and the bone lynxes had shifted to crouched positions as low as possible in their harnesses. Their great yellow eyes watched the sky to the north, and I turned to look at well. Another desolate shriek sounded, and I saw the vague outline of something high in the air- something too big to be any sort of bird. “Is that…?” I couldn’t even say the words, my heart pounding so loud the bone lynxes could probably hear it with their tufted ears. “It can’t be,” Oren whispered. “It’s impossible.” The creature was too far away to make out anything more than the outline of wings and a sleek body, but I knew. It was a dragon. Apparently, the soldiers thought so too. Shouting began, and swords were pulled from sheaths as the Nereiden guards faced their dark counterparts. It was clear this wasn’t part of the plan. The Rocqe soldiers also drew their weapons from their backs, wielding two wickedly curved onyx blades in response. “We need to get out of here,” Oren rumbled, taking my hand. “Now.” I couldn’t agree more, though I was dying to stay and see what happened. But if fighting occurred, there would be no predicting where the soldiers would go, and they could run right into us. I wasn’t stupid enough to think we would be spared by even our own soldiers in such a precarious situation. Looking up to the sky once more, I saw the shape of the dragon- or whatever it was- growing closer. I had never in my life wanted to stay put more than I did in that moment, whether I was burned to a crisp or chopped into pieces. “Kalliope, now!” Oren dragged me towards the forest with more force than I expected. Tearing my gaze away from the black spec in the sky, I followed him, awkwardly running while bent over as low as I could. When we were almost to the tree line at the edge of the Ash Plains, another primeval screech struck our ears as the clang of swords rang out, and we both abandoned our stealth for speed as we sprinted for the shelter of the trees. As we reached the first few steps under the forest’s canopy, I turned back. All I saw before Oren jerked me forward again were flashes of gold and obsidian striking each other. “Wait, Oren, I want to see if-” “No, you don’t,” he snapped, and I blinked at him. He never spoke to me in that tone, but the hard set of his jaw silenced any argument I had planned to use. Still- I looked back one last time before jerking into movement… The elegantly curved blade of a black-suited soldier plunged into the space between his opponent’s armor where the shoulder met the golden breastplate. I watched as it was forced deeper, piercing sideways into the man’s chest. My own ribs seemed constrict inwards as I pictured the perforation of his lungs, his heart, blood filling the cavities in between. The Nereiden’s cry was so small compared to the creature’s above and yet echoed through my nerve endings. It was final. It was desperate and fearful and knowing, his last sound. The gold-clad body fell to Ash Plains and did not rise. My blood had frozen, but it pounded in my ears nonetheless as Oren pulled me away. We sped over the forest paths back to where our small fishing boat waited. As we shoved off for the sail back to Cretoria, I thought I heard another wailing cry, and I caught my breath at the loneliness of it. Or, as Oren insisted on the way home, it was probably just the wind.
  14. Accidentally Engaged RECOMMENDED: Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron is $1.99! Kiki reviewed this one and gave it an A-: I cannot emphasize enough how hungry this book will make you. Accidentally Engaged might be my top pick for “don’t read while hungry.” Between our heroine Reena’s bread baking (there’s rye, there’s challah, there’s an ongoing battle with a sourdough starter) and her Indian and East African cooking, I was craving a feast pretty much the whole time I was reading this book. Reena Manji doesn’t love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall–with hopes that Reena will marry him. But Nadim’s not like the other Muslim bachelors-du-jour that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren’t enough, the man appears to love eating her bread creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? And when Reena’s career takes a nosedive, Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter a couples video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams. As cooking at home together brings them closer, things turn physical, but Reena isn’t worried. She knows Nadim is keeping secrets, but it’s fine— secrets are always on the menu where her family is concerned. And her heart is protected… she’s not marrying the man. But even secrets kept for self preservation have a way of getting out, especially when meddling parents and gossiping families are involved. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. The Twisted Ones The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher is $1.99! Kingfisher is the pen name of Ursula Vernon and I absolutely loved this creepy horror novel about a young woman and her dog cleaning out a hoarded house. I also want everyone to rest easy: the dog lives. When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods. When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be? Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself. Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale. From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. Lakesedge Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone is $2.99! This is book one in a YA Gothic fantasy duology and I love the juxtaposition of both covers when you look at them together. I mentioned this one on a previous Hide Your Wallet. A lush gothic fantasy about monsters and magic, set on the banks of a cursed lake. Perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Brigid Kemmerer. There are monsters in the world. When Violeta Graceling arrives at haunted Lakesedge estate, she expects to find a monster. She knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem. There are monsters in the woods. As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn… There’s a monster in the shadows, and now it knows my name. Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. The Bennet Women The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi is $1.99 at Amazon! I mentioned this one on a previous edition of Book Beat. For anyone who loves an Austen-inspired novel, this might be worth checking out In this delightfully modern spin on Pride and Prejudice, love is a goal, marriage is a distant option, and self-discovery is a sure thing. Welcome to Bennet House, the only all-women’s dorm at prestigious Longbourn University, home to three close friends who are about to have an eventful year. EJ is an ambitious Black engineering student. Her best friend, Jamie, is a newly out trans woman studying French and theater. Tessa is a Filipina astronomy major with guy trouble. For them, Bennet House is more than a residence—it’s an oasis of feminism, femininity, and enlightenment. But as great as Longbourn is for academics, EJ knows it can be a wretched place to find love. Yet the fall season is young and brimming with surprising possibilities. Jamie’s prospect is Lee Gregory, son of a Hollywood producer and a gentleman so charming he practically sparkles. That leaves EJ with Lee’s arrogant best friend, Will. For Jamie’s sake, EJ must put up with the disagreeable, distressingly handsome, not quite famous TV actor for as long as she can. What of it? EJ has her eyes on a bigger prize, anyway: launching a spectacular engineering career in the “real world” she’s been hearing so much about. But what happens when all their lives become entwined in ways no one could have predicted—and EJ finds herself drawn to a man who’s not exactly a perfect fit for the future she has planned? Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. View the full article
  15. Jack Kerouac’s notebook. Image courtesy of the Jack Kerouac Estate and Charles Shuttleworth. Read any biography of Jack Kerouac and here’s essentially what you’ll learn: that in the summer of 1956 he spent two months in a mountaintop shack as a fire lookout for the US Forest Service in the North Cascades in Washington State, and nothing much happened. Mostly he was bored. Jack’s experience on Desolation Peak marked the climax of his involvement with Buddhism and of a decade of restless travel; it’s the high point of his journeying and spiritual seeking. A voracious reader, he nevertheless chose to go up the mountain without any books, only his personally typed copy of the Diamond Sutra, which he planned to read every day and transcribe yet again, this time in language more accessible to American readers, in order to achieve the enlightenment that he was certain would result. The extent of his solitude, thus, was acute. There were no radio stations from the outside world to tune into. No electricity. No running water. And most radically for Jack, two months without alcohol. It was his last, best chance to change the trajectory of his life, to avoid the alcoholic downfall that accelerated a year later with the instant celebrity from On the Road’s publication and that would ultimately kill him at age forty-seven. The following excerpts six pages from the one-hundred-and-eighty-page diary Kerouac kept during that time. —Charles Shutterworth Page 2 I will now write supreme book that will astound both Cowley & Giroux, a respected work now, like Town & City, to save & to exfoliate America & religious light & generation—If I find shack in Cascades I’ll stay there winter,—Big German police dog trots around my crate yard—Everything, 20,000 of it, is belonging to me because I am awake (“because I have my fish tail” says Claude)—Peter hanging out sleeping bags now in McCorkle’s shack—“It Happened In Mill Valley.” my enlightenment happiness—Nuff prose— The machine wheels turn straps Tree leaves away Page 10 Flowers in the lunchroom —Wednesday June 20 Napoleon in bronze— the burning Blakean Mountains Chow dog, Chinese woman— China cock crows Velvet horses in the valley Auction —Woman sings Talk of eaters low at table —Clink, clack Straw in paper glasswater shivers —Spoon in glass (Haiku longstyle) Page 11 SEATTLE NEXT MORN My Diamond Sutra said that there’s nothing but snowy white mystery—read it in a hush silence 15 ft ceilinged skidrow room smoking a butt at 8:30 AM, felt that old Diamond Feeling Poor tortured teeth under The blue sky (Haiku thought on road with ride I got from J[unction]City, to clear to Portland, little blond Jack Fitzgerald painter with splattered shoes & 4 cans of cold pint beer, we drank em & had another in a tavern with sweet sincere bartender)—In Portland we wailed on vast eternity bridge as draw went up to allow crane barge thru, big Montrealish smoky river city Page 13 curvy woods roads to Naval Base Bremerton to 50¢ Seattle Ferry where I paid Okie Slim’s fare (65¢) then went on top deck in cold drizzle for one hour sailing to Port of Seattle & I found a half pint of vodka on deck concealed under a Time Magazine & drank some in cold wind as we came on thru Puget Sound, wild, lyrical,—Mt. Olympus & Mt. Baker I guess to be seen & I think even Mt. Hozomeen on all horizons, wild, an orange sash in the gloom only over the Hokkaido Siberian Page 19 forest & no one was there to hear it wd it make any sound?”—And on & on, wild Buddha nature talk on all sides—I took dusk pace in old road in back, praying—Gotta put in 11 days of bunkhouse living till I get to my sweet hermitage—Too hot at lights out I went out & slept on grass awhile, finisht vodka, had a samadhi (drunken samadhi) of the tree who presented me his glittering diamond aspect full of forms & shot thru with regnant Tathagatas, one form an Assyrian king clown, perfect—diamond silence of Washington State—hold me on, Lord—decided on a month of solitude at any Matterhorn camp this October—then sweet solitariness in Mexico hut Page 23 The tranquil and everlasting essence, whether traveling as water, or sitting as peaks, or setting as snow, or hillhairing as trees, or dancing as sunlight thru the leaves, or passing as trucks, or digesting dinners, or being digested, or as shoes, or as imaginary blossoms in empty space, or as empty space, or as wind, or as marching clouds, or as ululating mysterious visionstuff, is still (with or without words) the tranquil & everlasting essence— Or as moss, or as bark, or as twigs, or as mud, or as bird, or as noise, or as whatness, or as the smile of pitying milk—or as a dream —it holds together— Image courtesy of the Jack Kerouac Estate and Charles Shuttleworth. Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) was born the youngest of three children in a Franco-American family in Lowell, Massachusetts. He attended local Catholic and public schools and won a scholarship to Columbia University in New York City, where he first met Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. His first novel, The Town and the City, appeared in 1950, and On the Road, made him one of the most best-known writers of his time. Charles Shuttleworth has been studying the work of Jack Kerouac since the late eighties. He currently teaches Kerouac and the Beats at the Harker School in San Jose. This is an excerpt from Desolation Peak: Collected Writings by Jack Kerouac, with an introduction and notes by Charles Shuttleworth, which will be published by Rare Bird in November 2022. View the full article
  16. This HaBO is from Beccy, who wants to find this historical romance. Content warnings for abuse described below: I am posting this on behalf of a group I’m in and no one can remember the book title but everyone wants to read it haha. Set in historical England/Scotland, heroine is shy but extremely intelligent and attracts the attention of the king, who marries her by proxy to his favoured knight as a reward before he goes off to war. The heroine’s father is so angry to lose his money maker, he beats her badly and locks her in the carriage. She arrives at her new husband’s castle near death and suffers a permanent limp from it. The heroine spends the next 4 or 5 years (I think it was that long) earning the love and loyalty of her people, becoming a healer, inventor, and a more confident leader. She resents her absent husband because he sends home expensive scientific books but little gold (unbeknownst to both of them, his “trusted” aide steals most of the gold) so she goes without a lot to ensure her people don’t go cold or hungry, reading the books and creating all sorts of gadgets to help get the most out of their crops and livestock, I think there was even a primitive greenhouse. The husband finally returns, badly scarred with PTSD, meets her but obviously doesn’t know her and, at her poor state of dress from working, demands to know if his “lady wife” wears fine clothes while her people wear rags. The remainder of book is them learning to live with and trust each other, which takes a while (I think there was a night terror scene where he nearly stabs her thinking her an enemy). It was also pretty steamy and the husband can’t get enough of his wife. Can we HaBO? View the full article
  17. I’m thrilled to bring you today’s conversation/interview with debut author Harper Glenn. Harper and I met at the Writer’s Digest conference a few years back, and became fast friends. They’ve cheered me on when I’ve needed cheering, and I’ve cheered them right back. The way Harper spoke of their book idea and how it haunted them came to haunt me, too. “Harper Glenn tackles themes of class and poverty, policing and protest, with nuance and empathy. A chilling glimpse at our future, Monarch Rising asks what we owe to the places that raise us—and insists that the answer must always be based in hope.” —Kass Morgan, New York Times bestselling author of The 100 “Glenn’s impressive character-building presents a highly motivated, dynamically layered cast, driven by their respective trauma and desire for change.” – Publishers Weekly Please enjoy our deep-dive, free-style conversation, and thank you, Harper, for giving over so much time to it. It has been a pleasure. TW: I think I remember the story of your debut, and that something came to you in a dream. Is that right? Can you explain what that was that you remember? HG: Your memory is correct. :)…the concept for Monarch Rising came in a dream Fall 2016. In the dream, a young girl walked toward a forbidden bridge where a boy stood amazed, staring at her. “What are you doing?” the boy said. The girl wiped her tears. “I wanna see duh water.” “You need to go back.” the boy looked over his shoulder. “Why?” And then the boy said, “They’ll hang you if they catch you.” I woke up electrified, with chills, excited about the world I’d dreamt about. Who was this black girl? Who the hell was this white boy? Who was this “they” the boy referenced? And why the hell would they hang her for crossing a bridge? Why was she crying? I had to find out. That’s how Monarch Rising started. TW: Gives me chills, too! So let’s talk about how you did this a little bit, if that’s okay with you. How do you turn a dream snippet into a book? Sounds like the first thing you did was mentally create that list of questions, yes? Where did you go from there? Did you flesh out THAT scene? Answer any of those specific questions first? Or did you work out characters? HG: Everything begins and ends with questions. Questions ignite imagination. Imagination equates inspiration. And inspiration is everywhere. For Monarch Rising, inspiration started with a dream, and the questions that followed once I woke. But let’s say there wasn’t a dream or questions guiding inspiration.. how would I flesh out ideas? I select a memory, place, or thing and build a life around it. For example: I could write a story about Igne, a mafic rock. Igne’s nerdy sister is Chem. Igne’s reckless older brother is Canic. Where do Igne, Chem, and Canic live? On the upper mantle of Mars, socially suffocated by their strict parents, Sili-Ann and Intrusive Helium. Creativity is visible and invisible. So, focus on creating the world (grounded or imaginary). Envision the world so vividly, you can smell it, taste, touch it. Next, fill that world with extraordinary and eccentric, and sometimes nonsensical characters. And color the world around those characters. TW: You create interesting characters, and seem to have a clear gift for giving those characters the drive to spin story; it’s in their DNA. Like what you’ve done here—with our family on Mars; you’ve created not only questions, but possibilities for conflict in these simple descriptions: “Nerdy” could mean outwardly teased, internally anxious. “Socially suffocated” is fertile territory for story and character conflict. “Strict” gives us that sense that characters are pulling at the proverbial parental leash, or at least waiting for their moment to break free. “Sili” may not be a present parent, and may be a force of chaos for every story issue. “Intrusive” sounds like a big personality that cloaks every other character’s dreams, with the potential to being conflict to every conversation, no matter how small. Would you say that story begins with character for you, every time? Once you see the characters and the conflict that shines through those early impressions of who they are, how do you home in on the story? Does that intersection of story idea and character ripe for conflict emerge quickly, or is there navel gazing (for them) as the story becomes clear for you? Do you, as author, bring that intersection point? Do you drive your characters toward something you personally need to explore? HG: In Monarch Rising, once I knew who Jo and Cove were—I added characters/events that repelled or moved them closer to their internal and exterior goals. Story begins with character. Characters reveal the human condition and move stories forward. That movement needn’t be linear. It only matters that there’s authentic movement. Characters are real in my mind. They speak past my bed time. And their pulse presses my brain until I flesh them out on paper or screen. They’re real identities— and like real identities, characters struggle. They live, love, fight, laugh in every region of the world. That’s what I love the most about writing; making fictional characters imperfect creatures like humans. We humans are full secrets we’d never tell, stories never heard, and goals unreached. I’m fascinated by human emotion and jump at the chance to attach feeling(s) to characters. I do this because feeling it all is what it means to be human. And being human while creating books is what connects readers to characters, regardless of how strange those characters are. TW: What were the human emotions you wanted most to explore in Monarch Rising? And—if this isn’t too personal—were they emotions you wanted to explore in order to make sense of something in your own life, or is there a separateness between you/your life and the push-and-pull of your characters? HG: I wrote Monarch Rising to explore the complexities of love, before and after it happens, and the effects of poverty. Much like the character Jo, I grew up poor and wished for more. Monarch’s my love letter to my childhood as well as an anti-love/ love letter to love because… love transcends time. We need only close our eyes to touch how love brings joy, and sometimes, how love hurts. TW: Your book is called Monarch Rising, and it begs the question: Was metamorphosis central to the story? Did your Jo change? Did her thoughts about love change? And was this book cathartic for you? HG: Monarch is Jo’s last name. Growing up, I was a fan of little women—Josephine March, was the writer in me, the tom in me. Jo’s named after Alcott’s character. In regards to the title, Monarch Rising wasn’t the working title. It wasn’t the second, third, fourth or fifth title either. But beyond the title, and more@to@your question, yes, a metamorphosis takes place in both Jo & Cove’s character. I’d also say, while creating MR, a metamorphosis stirred in me. I was both Jo and Cove, battling a love hate relationship with myself—fighting depression w/ a broken heart. There was also an exploration of self. Being non-binary-non-trans, it was cool to write in different POV identities. TW: I know from a prior conversation with you that some of the characters in MR are queer. I love how stories can become a safe place to work through things we’re also grappling with in real life. Did these secondary characters explore their own identities through Cove’s and Jo’s stories? What do you think stood in the way of realizing either who they were or why they couldn’t be their true selves? And do you think their struggles, their realizations, can help other young adults? HG: In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’ll say MR is rich in diversity and queer identities. Representation is important in teen literature. Intersectionality is real–it’s like plot—complex with deep layers. For instance: I’m queer, African American, enby, non-trans, a daughter, a sibling, a buddhist, a friend, and an opera loving minimalist with XX chromosomes. I love science and reject rules forcing humans into societal or culturally configured boxes. I reject boxes because at any given time, I am everything and feel all the things. I do not speak for all LGBTQIA+ humans—never could. Every human experience is different, personal. Paths of gender identity are unique, winding. My own journey could look different in time. With that being said, all BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities share different but similar experiences. No matter how we comfortably identify, being human isn’t monolithic. Oftentimes, if folks don’t fit into definitions, they’re bullied, criticized, labeled, and pigeonholed. It happened to me as a kid. It isn’t cool, but I have compassion. Differences make some folks uncomfortable. For this very reason, variations of relationship dynamics, BIPOC identities, and queer representation are needed in publishing. It’s true, we’ve seen strides in publishing regarding diversity. There are amazing people in traditional publishing cultivating diverse voices, but there’s room to grow. The more diversity grows, the more kids and adults will see themselves inside pages on shelves. Collectively, we must break down the box. TW: Do you have thoughts on Intersectionality, and how that’s changed over the last few years? Are you seeing those walls coming down? Where do you see far more room for change? HG: Humans are complex creatures, We’re full of stories and experiences that stretch beyond gender, race, sexuality. We’re more than our trauma, more than labeled boxes social norms build. We are many great things. Love many ways. I’ve noticed more media, film and books showing the complexities of the human experience. I believe this representation connects us all. It proves were more alike than different. it shows there’s more love and kindness than hateful acts and unjust laws suggest. TW: What do you most want your readers to take away from reading Monarch Rising? What do you hope lingers after the final page? HG: I’ve read other authors respond to the “what do you want readers to get out of your book?” question, unsure of how I’d respond. But at this moment, I’d say the message to readers of every age is: Make the monster in your head your twin flame. So, hopefully, when the monster chants hurtful things like “You’re not good enough” or “Why don’t you just give up?’ The monster will shut up and listen when you respond, “Yes, I am” and “Why don’t you?” TW: What’s next for you? HG: All the things. More writing, more books, more reading, more joy, more meditation, more being, more peace… just all the things. Learn more about Harper Glenn and MONARCH RISING on Harper’s website, and by following them on Twitter and Instagram. About Therese WalshTherese Walsh (she/her) co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress, and orchestrates the WU UnConference. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot. Sign up for her newsletter to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub). Learn more on her website. Web | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  18. In novels (if not in life) there is something very pleasurable about being taken for a ride. You might argue that all fiction does this by luring the reader into a temporary belief that made-up people and events are entitled to their time, energy and emotions—but the effect is definitely heightened when an unreliable narrator is part of the mix. The lack of reliability may be innocent: a result of the narrator’s own limited perspective. It may be knowing, but well-meant, if they have a particular agenda to push. On the other hand, the unreliable narrator may be a deliberate manipulator, wanting nothing more—or less—than to mess with the reader’s mind. The unreliable narrators in this list range from guardians of moral virtue, to enchanting spinners-of-yarns, to out-and-out psychopaths. Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003). Notes on a Scandal is the story of school teacher, Sheba Hart, and her affair with a teenaged pupil. It is also—or perhaps it is really—the story of a very twisted friendship, as told by Sheba’s colleague and confidante, Barbara Covett. Barbara, a lonely woman in her sixties, who has struggled all her life to maintain proper friendships, is deeply drawn to her younger, prettier co-worker, and an unequal friendship begins: superficial on Sheba’s part, increasingly obsessive on Barbara’s. When the illicit teacher-pupil affair becomes a public scandal, Sheba’s life implodes, and she becomes a pariah. How ‘fortunate’ then (inverted commas very much intended) that Barbara is on hand to provide comfort and protection. Notes on a Scandal is a dazzling exploration of the blurred border between love and cruelty, and it is Barbara’s voice—insinuating, needy, touching, domineering, sinister—that generates the story’s power. Darling by Rachel Edwards (2018). [SPOILER ALERT] Some unreliable narrators have an iffy smell about them from the get-go (Barbara, from Notes on a Scandal, is a case in point). Others seem so trustworthy and endearing that the reader will take their hand without a second thought, and allow them to lead the way. Rachel Edwards’ eponymous Darling belongs in the latter category. Everything about Darling’s story puts us squarely on her side: the racism she experiences as a British-Jamaican marrying into a white family; her bravery as the mother of a seriously ill child; the sheer warmth, passion and generosity of her voice. It’s so easy to forget—in fact, at the hands of such a skilled storyteller, it’s virtually impossible to remember—that this is the version of events Darling wants you to hear, and not necessarily the truth. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847). At first glance, Jane looks like the opposite of an unreliable narrator. Even among the ranks of virtuous Victorian heroines, she is notable for her honesty and moral courage, and the novel gives no sense at all that Charlotte Brontë wants her readers to doubt her heroine’s account (no slippery post-modern shenanigans here, thank you very much). However, I think this makes Jane the perfect illustration of the thesis that there can be no such thing as a reliable first-person narrator. Unlike the omniscient third-person narrator, who is able to dictate the terms of his or her fictional universe to the nth degree, the first-person perspective is necessarily limited, as in real life. Other characters’ secret thoughts, feelings and motivations remain mysterious. It may be true that Aunt Reed is a shallow, cruel and unimaginative ogress, and nothing more … but what would Aunt Reed’s take be, if she were pushed to give her own account? What about Grace Poole, or Blanche Ingram, or little Adèle? Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (‘mad’ Bertha Rochester’s famous riposte) is proof of just how much scope the unreliable narrator—even one as high-minded as Jane Eyre—leaves open for new perspectives, which may both challenge and enrich the original narrative. The Magus by John Fowles (1965). If you don’t enjoy being blindfolded and spun round and round on the spot by an unreliable narrator, then The Magus is one to avoid. Nicholas Urfe is a young Oxford graduate, teaching English on the Greek island of Phraxos. He makes friends with an eccentric recluse, Maurice Conchis, who starts playing bizarre tricks on Nicholas—a series of psychological games which become ever more weird and elaborate as the story progresses. As Nicholas loses his grip on the truth, the reader does too. There were so many turning-points in this novel where I thought, “Ah ha! Now I get it!” only to have the rug whisked from under my feet … again. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926). [SPOILER ALERT] Christie’s novel caused controversy on publication, by breaking the first ‘rule’ of the Whodunnit, as codified by Ronald Knox a couple of years later: “The criminal […] must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.” The story, concerning a series of murders in the sleepy English village of King’s Abbot, is narrated by Poirot’s mild-mannered sidekick, Dr. James Sheppard. In a shock twist, at the very end of the book, the killer turns out to be—yes, you guessed it, but only because you’re reading a piece about unreliable narrators—Dr. James Sheppard. Brilliantly, Christie does not allow her narrator to record a single falsehood; his slippery omissions and evasions are enough to conceal his guilt. Christie may well have pushed the possibilities of the unreliable narrator to their absolute limits with Roger Ackroyd, but she made it work, as only she could. In 2013, the Crime Writers’ Association called this novel, “the finest example of the genre ever penned.” A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962). In this futuristic satire, a subculture of teenage gangs is terrorising the population of a grimly-envisioned England, and the state will stop at nothing to subdue them. The sociopathic protagonist, Alex (“Your humble narrator”), tells the story via a mixture of English and Anglo-Russian argot called Nadsat, which Burgess invented for the book. In the first edition, no key was provided for the slang, and the only way for the reader to try to make sense of it was by total immersion in the narrator’s hideous mindset. At the heart of the book is the question of whether it can ever be right for the state to recondition someone’s mind by force, however delinquent they may be. Burgess’s answer would seem to be no—that freewill trumps everything—but it’s interesting to wonder what the answer would look like from the perspective of a different character. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955). Words can be a toxic hazard, as demonstrated by Nabokov’s infamous masterpiece. The novel is told from the perspective of paedophile and murderer, Humbert Humbert, and follows the course of his sexual obsession with a twelve-year-old girl named Dolores Haze (upon whom he imposes the more fantasy-friendly name, Lolita). Humbert marries Dolores’s mother in order to gain access to the child, and is widowed shortly afterwards. Stepfather and stepdaughter then embark upon a cross-country road trip, during which Humbert’s abuse of Dolores becomes increasingly physical, and his efforts to retain her interest increasingly frenetic. What makes the book difficult, as opposed to simply repellent, is Humbert’s artistry as a narrator. He flatters, seduces and wows with his flamboyant prose style, to such an extent that the reader is in danger of being brought on side: willing to condone the actions of a monster, because the monster spins his yarn so well. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001). Martel once said of his most celebrated novel, that it can be summed up in three phrases: “Life is a story”; “You can choose your story”; “A story with God is the better story”. Pi, a young Indian boy washed-up on a Mexican beach, tells of the Pacific shipwreck in which his family and their migrating zoo were drowned, and of the subsequent two hundred and twenty-seven eventful days he has spent at sea, in a lifeboat, with only a Bengal Tiger for company. It is a compelling tale of friendship, faith, beauty and survival—but Pi’s rescuers refuse to buy it. He offers them an alternative version, in which there is no magic; only a drab ordeal of suffering and brutality. Since neither story can be proved or disproved, Pi’s rescuers (and, by extension, Martel’s readers?) agree to believe the first. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884). A child narrator is always going to have a somewhat skewed perspective, if only because he or she is still at the stage of discovering who they are, and what they think, in a world run by adults. For the modern reader of this American Classic, the story of Huck’s relationship with Jim, the runaway slave, is likely to be the most important thread in the book. Mark Twain’s agenda is (by the standards of his time) anti-racist, and yet in order to illustrate the entrenchment of nineteenth century attitudes, he allows Huck—our hero—to feel desperately conflicted about the rights and wrongs of helping Jim (Miss Watson’s ‘property’) to win his freedom. It’s an interesting—and challenging—example of an author in conflict with his own narrator. From the reader’s point of view, it’s just as well that Huck is a child, trying to navigate an upside-down moral universe. If he were an adult, we might be less willing to forgive his ambivalence. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005). This is an almost unbearably intriguing novel, which reveals the true nature of its narrator, and the horror of her story, very gradually. Kathy is a Carer, whose job is to look after organ donors, and she spends much of the book reminiscing about her childhood and the nice-but-peculiar English boarding school that she attended with her friends, Tommy and Ruth. So far, so benign, and yet … the words Kathy uses to describe her situation (the teachers at her school are known as ‘guardians’, for example, and the patients who die in her care are referred to as having ‘completed’) don’t feel quite right. It becomes increasingly clear to the reader that Kathy is employing euphemisms, and the effect is deeply sinister. Never Let Me Go is a journey of self-discovery in the most heart-breaking sense, and Kathy is an unreliable narrator because the world in which she lives is doing its utmost to blind her to her own identity. *** –Featured image: Francesco Mazzola, called Parmigianino. Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror. 1524 View the full article
  19. The CrimeReads editors select the month’s best new novels. * Wanda M. Morris, Anywhere You Run (William Morrow) Wanda Morris burst onto the scene last year with her impeccably plotted legal thriller, All Her Little Secrets, and her new novel keeps a legally-minded heroine as one of its leads but takes us back to 1964. When Violet Richards is raped by a white man, she takes her revenge, then goes on the run, soon followed by her sister Marigold, who aspires to be a lawyer but first must make a decision about her unwanted pregnancy. A southern setting where voting and abortion are both increasingly restricted feels…rather like today, if I’m honest. Wanda Morris, too, has noted the parallels, and there is a sense of political urgency that helps speed this thriller along. –MO Kaoru Takamura, Lady Joker Translated by Allison Markin Powell and Marie Iida (Soho) I’m a big fan of big novels, and Kaoru Takamura’s Lady Joker is an epic for the ages. The first installment of 500+ pages took us into a fictionalized account of an industrialist’s kidnapping that captivated Japanese media for upwards of two years in the mid-90s. Now, we get to read the impeccably translated followup as Takamura continues to weave together elements of crime, social criticism, and literary epic. I described the first one as James Ellroy if written by Don Delillo, and I stand by that comparison. –MO Joanna Margaret, The Bequest (Scarlet) This debut from art historian Joanna Margaret hopscotches across European art and academia hot spots and delivers on a wild ride with nods to gothic fiction and dark academia, accompanied by smart notes of Hitchcock to round out this exemplary thriller. With a doctoral candidate at the center of the plot, you can expect an erudite unraveling of the mystery, as well as some pressure cooker atmospherics from some of the grandest spots on the international intellectual circuit. –DM Roger A. Canaff, City Dark (Thomas and Mercer) In this gorgeous and shattering novel from powerful new voice Roger A. Canaff, two young brothers must navigate their way through New York City during a blackout after their mother goes to get gasoline and never comes back. Something happens to the boys on their trek through the city; something that changes them irreparably. Decades later when the woman who abandoned them turns up murdered, it’s finally time to deal with the consequences of that terrible night. –MO Lev A. C. Rosen, Lavender House (Forge) In the midst of an America under the sway of McCarthyism, a gay policeman gets caught in a raid on an underground club and finds himself at loose ends and newly a pariah. Rescued from suicidal ideation by the wealthy owner of a soap dynasty, he accepts a commission to investigate a murder in a house where everyone is queer, including the servants and the victim. Lavender House, an art deco mansion in a secluded area outside of San Francisco, is more than just a refuge for those who would live openly as gay, and as the ex-cop uncovers its secrets, his own life becomes more and more in danger. –MO Scott Turow, Suspect (Grand Central) Turow is still mining the endless corruption and intrigue of Kindle County, Illinois, the longtime home of his sophisticated thrillers. In this new chapter, a police chief is accused of soliciting sex in exchange for department advancement, an accusation she vehemently denies and says is part of an insidious campaign against her. Her attorney and his private eye go on the search to find out just how deeply rooted the campaign is, and in the process expose a few dark new layers to the county’s underbelly. Turow, as always, provides lush prose and a heady mix of ideas amidst the hard-charging action. –DM Erin E. Adams, Jackal (Ballantine) As Jackal begins, Liz Rocher has reluctantly headed home to Johnstown, Pennsylvania for her childhood best friend’s wedding. She’s prepared for the micro-aggressions from her friend’s racist family, but during the celebration something far worse happens—a beloved child goes missing, and the key to her disappearance stretches back over decades of missing children, all of them young Black girls last seen around the summer solstice. Meanwhile, a spirit in the woods is close to taking corporeal form and rejecting the bonds of its human master. A social thriller perfect for fans of Jordan Peele, Jackal also comfortably rides the folk horror wave. Like Bethany C. Morrow’s Cherish, Farrah, Jackal also asks compelling questions about who society values as worthy of protection, and the true nature of monstrosity. –MO Adam Hamdy, The Other Side of Night (Atria) With The Other Side of Night, Hamdy has crafted an intricate, exhilarating mystery that makes it feel as though the ground is shifting beneath your feet. A man’s deepest regret, a note in a used book, a detective with unexpected links of her own to the case—this one will leave readers short of breath and eager for more. –DM Marcie R. Rendon, Sinister Graves (Soho) A drowned woman in a drowned land: that’s how Marcie R. Rendon’s third novel begins, as water recedes from the Minnesota landscape after a huge snowmelt, and a young Ojibwe woman is found murdered. Cash Blackbear, an Ojibwe college student, decides to seek her own answers in the case, following the victim’s trail to an evangelical church that feels more like a cult than a house of worship. Once again, Rendon immerses us in the 1970s Midwest and gives readers a plot to carefully consider. –MO Mur Lafferty, Station Eternity (Ace) This book is so much fun. What if Jessica Fletcher’s tendency to have people die around her had led to instructions to self-isolate for the benefit of society? And what if that isolation had taken place on a space station rather like Babylon Five? In Station Eternity, a young woman who has solved a suspicious number of murder mysteries flees police attention on Earth and heads to a space station with few other humans on board. Of course, someone on board the space station would have the temerity to be murdered, and once again, all signs point to Lafferty’s protagonist unless she can solve the crime herself. –MO View the full article
  20. Considering how much I write about murder, I’m surprisingly sappy around the Christmas season. I enjoy cooking for people, I love giving gifts, and I’m such a sucker for holiday romance movies that I’ve started an annual tradition with one of my closest friends where we create a holiday romance movie spreadsheet and then hold weekly streaming parties to get through as many as we can (and force our husbands to join us). That’s right, there’s a Christmas romance movie spreadsheet. My friends don’t play. For me, the holidays are a time for family, friends, and feasting, a time of hope, and a time of merriment. All the things I love. But I also know for many people, the holidays are also a time for capital D Drama, which makes them an excellent setting for books. But romance isn’t the only genre that gets to enjoy the magic of the holidays—there are a plethora of mysteries that use Christmas time for dramatic effect. My newest book, Blackmail and Bibingka, takes advantage of the lead-up to Christmas (a huge holiday for Filipinos, with the Philippines holding the record for the longest Christmas season in the world) to explore themes of family and forgiveness, joy and jealousy, and the power of a really good karaoke party. To celebrate Blackmail and Bibingka’s release, I made a list of my top 5 Christmas-themed mysteries, guaranteed to get you in a merry, murderous mood: The Art of Theft: The Lady Sherlock Series by Sherry Thomas The Lady Sherlock series is my current favorite series, and somehow each and every book that comes out (there’s six so far, with a seventh coming out next spring) is an absolute banger. The Art of Theft is the fourth book that follows our gender-bent protagonist, Charlotte Holmes, and is a bit of a departure from the previous books in that the case in question involves an art heist rather than murder. The glamor! The relationships! The intrigue! The continually raising stakes! I really love a dangerous ballroom scene, and while this book doesn’t include any sexy dancing (that I remember) there is more than enough scandal going on at this Christmas party to keep Charlotte and her crew busy. Come for the twisty mysteries, stay for the anguished yearning. Wed, Read & Dead by V.M. Burns The Mystery Bookshop Mysteries is the epitome of a cozy read to me: it follows Samantha Washington, who opens a mystery bookshop to fulfill the dream she and her deceased husband shared. One of the best things about this series (other than the absolutely delightful cast) is that each book features two mysteries in one: Samantha is also an aspiring mystery writer, so readers get to enjoy the contemporary murder mysteries that plague Samantha and her close-knit group, as well as snippets of the British historical mystery that she’s working on. This fourth book in the series is not only set around Christmas, but also a wedding, and we know what kind of drama weddings can bring! Death in D Minor by Alexia Gordon I love the Gethsemane Brown series, which follows a Black classical musician who moves to a small Irish village to start a quiet new life, only to befriend the ghost haunting her cottage and become an amateur sleuth in the process. While I love romance (if I hadn’t made that abundantly clear in my opening), I know it’s not for everyone, so this is a great series for those not interested in romantic relationships, but still invested in deep familial and platonic ties. The second book in the series has Gethsemane accidentally conjuring up the wrong ghost in order to save her brother-in-law, who stopped in for a visit and is now the main suspect for art theft and murder. A typical Christmas vacation, am I right? The Glass Thief by Gigi Pandian The Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series is so much fun! We get to follow the intrepid, globe-trotting protagonist, Jaya Jones, as she solves present-day crimes linked to treasures from India’s colonial history. The sixth book in the series involves a locked room mystery (and if you don’t know, Gigi Pandian is the contemporary queen of the impossible crime), looted treasure from Cambodia, and an alleged ghost responsible for three unsolved murders over a seventy year timespan, each taking place right before Christmas. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Murder Under the Mistletoe (Season Two, Episode Thirteen) OK, so this is a TV episode and not a book (though the show is based on the Phryne Fisher novels by Kerry Greenwood), but it is too good to not include on the list. This season two finale follows our lady detective and friends on a ski holiday for (Australian) Christmas in July. When Phryne arrives at the lodge, she learns about the “accidental” death of one of the workers. She suspects foul play and is soon proven right when another dead body turns up, but the police investigation hits a bit of a snag when a snowstorm traps everyone at the chalet, and the lodgers are murdered one by one to the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Honorable mentions: “The Dauphin’s Doll” by Ellery Queen This is a short story recommended to me by S.A. Cosby. I wasn’t able to hunt down a copy of this story in time for this listicle, but he said it was his “favorite Ellery Queen story and it’s an impossible crime story as well” so I knew I had to include it on this list. Thanks for the rec, Shawn! Peril & Prayer: A Sister Lou Mystery by Olivia Matthews This was a book recommended to me by a fellow Crime Writers of Color member that I didn’t have time to read but have added to my holiday TBR. What other mysteries should I add to my Christmas TBR? Also, I’d love to learn about more mysteries centered around non-Christian holidays, so if you have any recs, please let me know! *** View the full article
  21. The world of espionage has always fascinated me—from the intrigues of Francis Walsingham on behalf of Elizabeth I to twentieth century wartime operations, through the Cold War, and all the way up to the workings of the modern CIA. While the action-packed adventures of James Bond and Jason Bourne are fun to watch, to me there is something even more compelling about people who use intelligence and ingenuity, rather than fists and firepower, to fight for their country. Traditionally, most spy stories have focused on men, and it’s true that historically, the occupation of spy has been largely a male preserve. But with manpower short in wartime Britain, many women were given the opportunity to work in the intelligence services and wound up doing the same work as their male counterparts, almost always for less pay. Here are just some of the fascinating females who worked in that field. Victoire “Paddy” Ridsdale The subject of my new novel, One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny, Paddy Ridsdale was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1991 for her wartime service. She is widely thought to be the woman on whom the James Bond character of Miss Moneypenny was based. Paddy was employed as a secretary for the British Directorate of Naval Intelligence in Room 39 at the Admiralty during World War II. She worked for several officers, including Commander Ian Fleming, who eventually wrote the James Bond novels based on his experiences as personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence during the war. It was perhaps an early indication of Fleming’s dramatic flair that he came up with the idea behind one of the most eccentric and effective intelligence deceptions of all time: Operation Mincemeat. This was a ruse by which the British sought to fool the Germans into believing they intended to invade southern Europe via Greece instead of the obvious invasion point of Sicily. The British floated a dead body off the coast of Spain dressed in the uniform of a British Royal Marine and carrying papers that pointed toward the false invasion point. To make sure that the dead body seemed real to the Germans, the officers at Naval Intelligence went to extraordinary lengths to create a legend for the dead officer, including giving him a girlfriend called Pam. Paddy Ridsdale was asked to participate as a field operative in Operation Mincemeat, and given the task of pretending to be Pam, a task she undertook with alacrity. More recently, at age seventy-five, the redoubtable Paddy hit the newspapers when she fended off a mugging by kicking her assailant in the groin, commenting that her years of ballet gave her the requisite flexibility. The mugger, who had been trying to yank her wedding rings off her finger, ran away. It is that spirit, along with Paddy’s keen mind, which I have tried to convey in my novel, One Woman’s War. While several women have been mentioned as having inspired the creation of Miss Moneypenny in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, Paddy Ridsdale best fits the bill. Intelligent, cool, elegant, determined, and well respected by her colleagues, Paddy denied mooning over Fleming the way Moneypenny did over Bond! Jane Archer I’ve always been fascinated by the Cambridge Spies, a group of British students who were recruited as intelligence agents by the Soviet Union while at Cambridge University. With considerable forethought, even before the Second World War, the Soviets decided to play the long game. They chose intelligent, well-connected young British men and steered them toward prominent positions in the media and in the intelligence and diplomatic services in Britain. Many years later, those recruits would be activated and operate for many years before they were exposed as traitors in a devastating blow to British intelligence. Perhaps the most famous of the Cambridge spies was Kim Philby, who worked for the Security Services and supplied the Soviets with a stream of important intelligence throughout World War II and for much of the Cold War, as well. He was recruited in 1934 and defected to the USSR in 1963 after he was finally unmasked. I was reading Philby’s autobiography, My Silent War: The Autobiography of a Spy, when I came across a mention of a female intelligence officer called Jane Archer. When told she might join his intelligence section, Philby said, “This suggestion gave me a nasty shock, especially as I could think of no plausible reason for resisting it. After Guy Liddell, Jane was perhaps the ablest professional intelligence officer ever employed by MI5.” I was hooked! Who was this woman, the only person Philby mentioned in the entire autobiography to have given him serious cause for disquiet? Recruited to MI-5 as a clerk in 1916, Jane Archer also trained as a barrister while working her way up the ranks of the service. She eventually became the first female intelligence officer at MI-5. Skilled in the art of cross-examination, and in Philby’s words, “tough-minded and rough-tongued”, Archer had debriefed the defector and former Red Army intelligence officer General Krivitsky in 1939 and her masterly extraction of intelligence from the general became a textbook example of the skill. Jane discovered from Krivitsky that there was a mole in British Intelligence, a man the Soviets had sent to Spain (reportedly to try to assassinate Franco) during the Civil War when he was a young journalist. This young journalist was, of course, Philby himself. Philby made a point of diverting Archer to work in a different area so she was unlikely to make the connection between him and Krivitsky’s mole. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out much more about her or her reaction to Philby’s eventual defection. I burned to know whether she ever suspected Philby, or whether she discounted the vague and unsubstantiated tidbit from Krivitsky as so many others had done. And if she had suspected Philby, what would she or could she have done in the face of the overwhelming support he seemed to have from the British Establishment? Unfortunately, in 1940, Jane Archer was sacked for insubordination after denouncing the incompetence of the new director of MI-5. Philby must have breathed a sigh of relief. Vera Atkins In the summer of 1940, the Special Operations Executive was formed as a secret army to fight behind enemy lines in Europe. The SOE’s brief was espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance, and they also helped establish and arm resistance networks across France in preparation for D-Day. Sometimes known as “the Baker Street Irregulars” because of the location of their headquarters in Baker Street, London, the SOE tended to recruit amateurs–lawyers, bankers, secretaries and housewives. The recruits told their families they worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish but in fact, they were sent to risk their lives in secret. The SOE ran several training facilities on large estates all over Britain and Scotland, so that another nickname for the outfit became “Stately ‘Omes of England”. Agents, men and women alike, trained in outdoor survival skills, firearms, the art of disguise, safe-cracking, parachute-jumping, wireless transmission and a myriad other skills they would need as agents. Vera Atkins started out as a secretary at the French “F” Section of the SOE but quickly rose through the ranks as her intelligence and competence became clear. She became assistant to section head Colonel Maurice Buckmaster and an intelligence officer in all but title. Vera was not a British citizen, a fact she tried her best to conceal throughout the war. It wasn’t until 1944 that Atkins became a British citizen and she was subsequently commissioned as a Flight Officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Atkins was responsible for recruiting and preparing agents to be dropped behind enemy lines in France. Everything they carried on them, down to their cigarettes and the fillings in their teeth, must be indisputably French and Vera would check everything, even the labels on their clothing, before they left for France. Tragically, an SOE agent had betrayed the members of his circuit to the Germans in Paris, so many of the agents sent to France were rounded up on arrival and interrogated, and later executed or sent to concentration camps. Atkins was a complex character, and she was blamed by some for failures and mistakes on the SOE’s part that led to the deaths of many of their agents. After the war, she made it her mission to find all of her missing agents, with the cooperation of the Special Air Service, who were also desperate to find the men they’d lost to Hitler’s “Night and Fog” policy—any agents or commandos found behind enemy lines were stripped of identification and executed without any record of how or where they died. Vera Atkins fought to make sure that the fallen female agents were commemorated in the places of their deaths and recognized by the British Government. *** View the full article
  22. B+ Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty October 4, 2022 · Ace Mystery/ThrillerScience Fiction/Fantasy CW: Death/Murder, Bugs, a scene where a character is deadnamed The minute I saw this cover (we featured it on Cover Awe!) and heard the series name was Midsolar Murders, I was sold. Honestly, I didn’t need to know anything else. In the most succinct genre description, it’s a sci-fi cozy murder mystery. While that definition holds true, it’s also a chaotic blend of world-building, an inventive cast of aliens, and serendipity. For as long as she can remember, murders always happened around Mallory. Even curiouser, she seemed drawn to important pieces of evidence that usually helped break the case. It took a few murders before Mallory started to think this was more than just mere coincidence. Believing herself (rightfully so) to be some sort of magnet for murders has caused her to adopt a very isolated life. She avoids making friends or spending time with family. She writes cozy mysteries fashioned after her own experiences to make money. When aliens first discovered Earth, there wasn’t much of a regulatory body handling alien tourism, allowing Mallory to stowaway off planet in an attempt to further isolate herself. She petitioned a sentient spaceship known as Station Eternity to allow her passage and surprisingly, Eternity did. The station, while housing all manner of alien life, only has three humans. Two of them, Mallory and Xan, are running away from something and the other, Adrian, serves as Earth’s ambassador. All three are shocked to learn of the station’s unexpected acceptance of more humans. Of course, Mallory’s chief worry is that her dry spell of murders is about to come to an end. This hemming and hawing about the humans’ arrival takes about a good first quarter of the book. I found this part to be a bit of a hurdle as my brain screamed, “Get to the murders already!” But when they happen, boy, does it happen quickly! I don’t want to reveal the initial victim that kickstarts everything, as I was personally way off base in my own prediction and I don’t want to spoil any surprise. Midsolar Murders provides a quirky little answer to the British Misomer Murders setup, specifically the question as to why a quaint and small locale has so many deaths. Well, of course, someone is cursed and the closer the setting or community, the more often it happens. Pretty much all of the alien races aboard Eternity are much more advanced and put a lot of emphasis on symbiotic relationships. They find humans to be rather gross – too many liquids is the general consensus – but also lonely. Humans don’t naturally forge bonds for the purpose of mutually beneficial relationships. While the motivation for the station’s murders and why Mallory carries this curse drives the plot forward, it’s in these observations of us by alien eyes that I found myself immersed. For this exact reason, the interactions between Mallory and a swarm of hive mind wasp-like creatures known as the Sundry were some of my favorite scenes. This moment is from an early scene where she’s letting the Sundry study human physiology, using her as a guinea pig: Human physiology changed from day to day with hormones, which they found fascinating in sentient beings. They’d explained that most beings evolved to hide the scene of strong pheromones from other species, which Mallory found nearly as strange as the fact that humans were the only species discovered that didn’t regularly bond with another sentient race symbiotically. According to the Sundry, humans were wandering around advertising their every hormonal shift to anyone paying attention. She also discovered that her doctors were obsessed with how wet humans were. Some other races had blood, or something like it, but humans were the only race that had blood, and bile, and waste, and saliva, and tears…all liquid. Their organs needed these liquids to function, which also made them squishy inside. With no exoskeleton, and hormones acting like a siren to alert predators, how in the world had humans evolved instead of being devoured or falling apart in a big wet puddle of goo and bones? Passages and interactions like these reinforce how out of her depth Mallory is. Mallory’s entire life has been about shunning other people for their own safety, but not everyone is as altruistic about their actions. If you’re a reader who likes a main character that is up against unbeatable odds or who is truly a good person, and still wants to be a good person, even when the world shows her people with grayer morals go further, you’ll really like Mallory. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the romance in the book. Yes, there is one, but I personally found it meh. However, I say this as someone who prefers steamier scenes and enemies to lovers. A friends to lovers or second chance trope does nothing for me, sadly. If you love those, you’ll probably find more satisfaction there. Surprisingly, this isn’t the first cozy-ish sci-fi mystery I’ve read lately. I also want to shout out Drunk on All Your Strange New Words. I’m loving the genre mashup of the setting, as a lot can be done in the sci-fi space, with a whodunnit mystery and amateur sleuth heroine. I’d love to see more! While the setup did take longer than I had liked, stretching the tension to the limits of my patience, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough once we got to the actual murder mystery part. Meeting all of the aliens, seeing how they existed within the station, and their interactions with Mallory was a fun and charming way to world-build, even if it did make me ponder my own frail mortality in the face of potential alien contact. And, despite the romance not being my jam, I know it’ll work better for some of you out there. Also, bonus points for that gorgeous cover! View the full article
  23. There were signs of life back on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. Brighton Beach Avenue was entirely quiet, but on the boardwalk, husbands and wives strolled to-and-fro. They wore down coats from the bargain basement shops on Brighton Beach Avenue. They delighted in the stillness of the night—engaging in a European mode of relaxation called la dolce far niente—sweet inertia. To my anxious Egyptian eyes, they looked like zombies. They say that the boardwalk at Brighton Beach looks like St. Petersburg. Some of the night people of the boardwalk looked like their parents had, strolling in their sensible, Soviet, monochromatic woollens along the frigid Baltic. I was hurriedly scrolling through my options on Pound, the gay app, while Tony, one of my lovers for the evening, observed the passersby. My grandfather Wassim, who raised me, had always marvelled at how quickly I texted — how fast my thumbs were able to move. Wassim’s last mobile was a flip phone with no internet connectivity. He was not a luddite. He had seen many fads come and go, and he was keen to learn new things. He was learning Mandarin when he died. But something about the way I had become drawn into my phone, the way my head bent before it, upset him. Wassim’s hatred of smartphones was not a question of the privacy concerns that people raise these days. Wassim was not the kind of man who cared whether online marketers knew he loved oatmeal. And yet he was certain that each new generation of smart phone was a kind of progress that takes a step backward. ‘What about this guy?’ I asked Tony, showing him my phone. ‘He’s in Sheepshead Bay — just one stop away on the Q train’. His username was an emoji: a pair of suspicious-looking side-eyes. In Pound parlance, this meant that this Pound user was ‘looking’ – that he was actively seeking a hook-up. His profile picture showed him standing on the beach covered head-to-toe in Adidas athletic wear. He had cropped his head out of the picture. He was 41 years old, 177 centimetres tall, 67 kilos, ‘Average’ body type, male, discreet, single, HIV negative on PrEP, and looking for casual hook-ups. ‘What’s his face look like?’ Tony asked. ‘I thought you didn’t care’, I replied. ‘This guy says he’d be down just to watch’. ‘Well I don’t want him to look scary’, Tony said. ‘It’d be a bit distracting to have a Picasso leering at us at the end of the bed, don’t you think?’ I asked for a face pic. The Pound user blocked me immediately, in response. ‘The little gonad blocked me!’ I exclaimed. ‘Can you believe the nerve of some people?’ Another account appeared on the menu grid of possibilities. Just 1.3 miles away. Blank profile. ‘HOST’ was his username. No stats. Just a few more-or-less words in the self-description: ‘STR8 4 STR8’. Hey bro, I wrote. What’s up? Faggot, HOST replied. The fuck? We’re both on Pound fuck face? I replied. What a sad, faceless little man. If you had any balls you’d show your sorry little face when you use homophobic slurs on a gay sex app. Tell me that to my face, HOST replied. I would if you had one! I’ll slice you I reported and blocked the profile. ‘What’s wrong’, Tony said. ‘You look upset’. ‘Nothing — just a whimsical, little Coney Island crackhead said he wanted to slice me up!’ ‘Ah the goodly people of the hook-up app, society’s cream of the crop’, Tony said and returned to his people watching. A yellow sports car pulled up to the roundabout near the bench where we sat. A pale blue and purple strobe light turned on inside the car. The driver rolled down the window and the song Плачу на техно – Plachu na Tyekna — Crying over Techno played with heavy bass from his surround sound. Tony and I watched him look out his window broodingly into the infinite blackness of the Atlantic Ocean for a moment. Then the song ended. He flicked a cigarette out the window and drove off into the night. I looked back to my phone. I had several messages — not on Pound but on Instagram. It was Akram, my digital friend in Alexandria. Hey Sam Good morning Or goodnight, whatever. I have a surprise for you, Akram wrote. I spoke with a municipal history expert at the Bibliotecha Alexandrina, our famous library. My heart began to beat through my chest. Flower Street is now called Freedom Street. I went there to take you some photos, so you could finally see it. One moment. And then they came to me like a dam had broken, in rapid succession — Photos of Freedom Street. I reckoned not much had changed since Wassim’s time. The buildings were just as regal. They had only become a bit more ghostly, beaten about by the elements and cloaked in a film of age. Then Akram sent two videos: one of the large coastal avenues and the glistening Mediterranean beyond them and the second of young Akram walking up Freedom Street. At the head of the street, close to the water, was a Chili’s – تشيليز — one of the American chain restaurants famous for the barbecue ribs. I marvelled at the sight of an American restaurant on a side street off the Alexandrian coast. I was both relieved and disturbed to find something so familiar there. And then I realised that this — seeing Wassim’s street after a lifetime of wondering — was a heavy undertaking. What if nothing beyond the old-looking buildings and the Chili’s was familiar to me? If Flower Street felt as foreign as New York, perhaps the problem of my constant sorrow lied with me and not my displacement. ‘Notice there are some shops here that still call themselves Flower, the old street name’, Akram said in the video, in English. Tony was startled by the sudden high-volume static sound from the video. It was the sound of the winds from the Mediterranean assaulting Akram’s phone as punishment for capturing and transferring to me what I should only have again if I actually made it there. ‘Here’s a battery shop — Flower Street Batteries’, Akram continued. ‘And a little cigarette shop — ‘Flower Tobacconist’. I thought about the still-living people of Flower Street. Freedom in Arabic — حرية – horiya — is just as sweet-sounding a word as flowers — زهرة – zahra. And yet there was evidently something about modern Egyptian people that would hang onto the old, colonial-era name. Maybe, seen from another vantage point, their nostalgia was not self-defeating and sad. Maybe Egyptians are culturally — and as a function of the culture of Islam and of Egypt’s history with famine, epidemics, and other periods of los and want — opposed to waste. Maybe there are several simultaneous realities. ‘This is it’, Akram said. Our house on Flower Street had become a small apartment building. I wondered if our building had been bulldozed or just updated or expanded to accommodate several, separate quarters. We had no old photos of the house, growing up — only photos from up the street. Then, Akram continued inland from the sea, southward toward Borg el Arab. I saw an alley beside the building where we had lived. I felt as though I had seen the alley in a dream. I tried to zoom in on it with my thumb and index finger, but the video became too grainy to inspect it further. I flipped through the accompanying photos. There it was — an alleyway just beside the apartment building, and over it stood a marble archway decorated with a relief of three oversized jasmine buds, interwoven with ribbon, sitting atop two Grecian pillars. I looked up into the ocean ahead of me. I wondered if I flung myself into the Atlantic, if I would wash up on Freedom Street, beneath this archway, and be buried there by someone like Akram, who would be Egyptian enough to understand why I had come. ‘You’re crying, Sam’, Tony said. ‘No, it’s the ocean wind hitting my eyes’, I said. ‘You’re crying, Sam’, Tony insisted. ‘Those are tears’. ‘This is the street of my grandfather, who raised me’, I said, showing him my phone. A young man who is like him in some ways took these photos because he knows I’ve wanted to see it and couldn’t’. ‘Good man’, Tony said. It was a pleasure to hear Tony say something earnest after all his snark and skepticism about my religiosity, my plan to return, my adventures with hypnosis. ‘It’s a sort of goodness I haven’t felt here in years’, I said. ‘That’s is why I’m going back. In Alexandria, people will know what I need, intuitively. My grandfather would have done this for someone in my situation, and his family too, Heaven rest them’. ‘That’s why you’re going to mentally castrate yourself tomorrow morning’, Tony said. ‘Religion is a hell of a drug’. ‘God forgive you, Tony’, I said. ‘Religion is the only thing keeping me alive until now’. ‘Religion is why you won’t give me more than one night’, he said. ‘Your last gay night.’ ‘That’s not true’, I replied. ‘I’ve given men like you more chances than I can count. I banked my soul on a gay Hollywood romance—a fiction I never found. And by doing that, I’ve taken myself farther from this street. The truth is, when this street, and your feelings, and my face crumble, there will still be the Heavens. And if I repent one day, before my death, I will rest my head there and be free from my sorrow’. And solitude, I should have said. What a beautiful word — العزلة – elaozla – Solitude. The sound of it is like a void echoing from the back of the throat. Some American people name their children Constance, which is beautiful, no doubt. But I love the Catholic faithful of the Spanish-speaking world who dare to name their daughters something as true to life as the name Soledad – Solitude. * ‘This is goodbye then’, I told Tony. We strolled along Stillwell Avenue in the direction of the Coney Island Metro station. Stillwell Avenue runs along the perimeter of Luna Park, but something about Stillwell stifles that merriment beside it. Maybe it’s the ocean wind or the humid air, pregnant with water, that quiets the sonorous bells and whistles of the rides and the cacophony of children screaming to express from their chests the joy and terror of careening downward from great heights. ‘I guess so’, Tony said. ‘Sam, I want you to know something—’ Across the street was Nathan’s Famous, where Wassim would take me for a hot dog on the first day of every summer break. We stopped walking and turned to each other. Tony took my hand and put it on his chest. ‘I’ve dated a lot of guys, and I don’t feel myself to have known any of them like I’ve known you in just a few hours’, Tony said. You don’t know me for shit, I thought silently. And what you think you know, you’d soon lose patience for. And all the sweet things you tell me will return to torture me, in your absence. You’ll have moved on without a second thought, because you’re so calm and collected that you’ve made your living on it. ‘I feel the same about you’, I said. ‘It’s a pity’. ‘That we met too late’, Tony said. I nodded. ‘And that I’m not a dumb kid anymore’, I said. ‘And that everything ends’. ‘I’ll never stop being a hopeless romantic’, Tony said. ‘Then you must be a glutton for punishment’, I said. Tony said nothing. I imagined what it would be like to let this one go. I hoped that our subways were on different platforms or that my train would leave first. I wanted to be the one to leave him. I resolved myself to get on whatever train in whatever direction, as long as it left before Tony’s. From there, I would wait at the next stop for another train headed in my direction. I would hide in a corner of that station, in case his train crossed the same tracks and he spotted me, abandoning him. I would not suffer his last impression of me to be another act of casual psychoanalysis — another judgment. I heard a familiar popping sound from my trouser pocket. It was Pound. ‘It’s the headless guy with the nice bed’, I told Tony. Tony said nothing. You’re closer, now, the headless guy said. Where are you? Coney Island, you? Same. I’m at Mermaid Avenue and West 44th. Is that far from Nathan’s? Very close. I can come get you. ‘He says he’s nearby, and he can host us’, I said. ‘He’s real close — Mermaid and 44th’. Tony looked down at the ground and then up into the sky. ‘I don’t think I can, Sam’, Tony said. ‘What would this be tomorrow? Just a haunting, painful thing’. ‘We’d have had tonight’, I said. ‘All we ever have is tonight’. ‘And if I want more?’ Tony asked. ‘What more is there?’ I asked. ‘What if I want tomorrow?’ Tony asked. ‘What if this was supposed to be forever, and you’ve made a decision I’ll never comprehend? Because you’ve decided to suffer’. ‘You’re like every man I’ve ever met, Tony’, I said, tongue of a viper, speaking to slice and dice. ‘Either you want nothing much or you want to get married after a few hours together. I’m not stupid like that anymore. I have one night left with a libido. I have to give myself this last moment’s pleasure’. ‘I also have to be fair to myself’, Tony said. I had nothing else to say, so I said nothing. Tony’s eyes searched mine for something that no longer existed in me. Tony turned and crossed the street into the large, gaping mouth of the Coney Island subway station. ‘Goodbye!’ I shouted. I realised he had never offered me his phone number. But what good would his phone number have done me the next day? Maybe we could have been friends, I thought. But I had no gay friends. I either dated the gay men I encountered, had sex with them one or a few times, or wondered why they had not engaged me in either course of action. Moments later, I continued on my trek along Stillwell Avenue, passing the large Coney Island subway terminal and its closed, dark, empty shops. I felt eyes on me. It was perhaps just my imagination — I have no reason to feel I am psychic. If I could have seen the future, I would not have been there at all. I wondered if the feeling of being watched was Tony, surveying me from one of the subway platforms overhead. Around the time of the Twilight series and other such vampire romance fiction, I had begun to imagine that the love of my life had always been watching me, waiting for me to delete Pound and become a more respectable person before he would present himself. I didn’t feel overcome with romance in that moment. The feeling of being watched put a chill in me, like the feeling of an unseen hand gently caressing the back of my neck. I picked up the pace and began to walk with greater purpose in the direction of my final fuck. And then as the disquiet within me grew, I began to run in the direction of Mermaid Avenue. At one point on that road, there was a near-total absence of light. I imagined that there would be someone in the shadows at some point who would make themselves known. That person never appeared. The farther I ran, the more certain I was of the profound stillness that was ahead. *** From LAST NIGHT IN BRIGHTON by Massoud Hayoun, to be published on November 15 by Darf Publications. Copyright © 2022 by Massoud Hayoun. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. View the full article
  24. In the early seventies, Helen Garner, a newly single mother, found herself in the first of several “hippie houses” she lived in that decade in the suburbs of Melbourne. She read and made up songs with her daughter and fell in love with a heroin addict—an affair she documented daily in her diary. The writing deepened as her life became more complicated. Soon, she began to see an outline. “Story is a chunk of life with a bend in it,” Garner told Thessaly La Force in her Art of Fiction interview, published in the Fall issue of the Review, “and I could feel this one coming.” Every day for a year, after she had dropped her daughter off at school, she sat in the state library working on her first novel, Monkey Grip. The book was a hit, although several critics (“almost always men”) accused Garner of simply publishing her personal journals. The truth is, she confesses, the novel really was closely based on her diary—and why not? “Underlying the famously big gap between fiction and nonfiction there’s a rather naive belief that fiction is invented—­that it’s pulled out of thin air,” Garner says. “All those comments I’ve had to cop about my novels not being novels—­they rest on that idea that the novel is mightier than every other form.” When we asked Garner—­who is also an accomplished journalist who has covered criminal trials for decades—­whether she might share with us something from her recent journals, she sent us a true “chunk of life,” at once artfully sculpted and uncompromisingly honest. In the winter of 2017, when I wrote these entries, three things were dawning on me: first, that if my hearing continued to fade I would have to stop writing about criminal trials; second, that although I was probably burned-out, I would miss the courts terribly; and third, that I would be saved from boredom and despair by the company of my young grandchildren, who live next door. * Took the 17-year-old to the city to buy a pair of Doc Martens for her birthday. We walked past the Supreme Court. “Nanna, is this where you go to those trials?” “Yes. That big brown building.” “Can we go in and have a look?” At the door of the first courtroom we come to, a murder trial is rolling. I show her how to bow and we creep into the media seats. Young guy in the dock, pale, rigid, in a dark blue suit. The witness on the stand is giving a graphic account of what happens inside a skull when a head is smashed against a concrete curb. Oh God. I glance up at the judge. I know her. What will she think of me, bringing a schoolgirl in here? The girl is very still, straight-backed, bright-faced, watching and listening. I sit there gritting my teeth. Court rises and I hustle her on to the street. “Are you okay? Are you upset? Was it too much?” She wakes from a reverie. “No. I’m fine. It wasn’t upsetting. Because it was scientific.” * In the post office throwaway bin I find a CD of Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits. Secretly in the car I play over and over Jimmy Webb’s three works of genius: “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and “Galveston.” On the freeway my ten-year-old grandson digs out the Campbell from the mess in the glove box: “Who’s this?” I flinch, but he puts it on, and soon we’re singing along, him in his breaking voice, me in my old woman’s one which has dropped to a tenor. He loves all the songs, even the revolting ones like “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.” * Court 4, pale pink with high, looped plaster garlands that glistened like ivory. The sentencing of the African refugee who’d killed three of her children. The judge read out the sentence. I was straining to hear, fighting my hearing loss and the muffled acoustic of the courtroom. Her husband was shot dead in front of her? They burned his body? They raped her? She began to weep and couldn’t stop. Her two robed lawyers approached the huge old timber dock, they had to reach up and hook their fingers at shoulder level over its high edge, I saw their pale hands grip the rim, like kids at a lolly-shop counter. She got 26 years, 20 before she can apply for parole. Even the tough-looking woman security guard was wiping her eyes. Walked away, walked and walked through the city, crying and raving to myself, bought a pair of black trousers and a T-shirt, went up the stairs to Gopal’s and ate a bowl of carrot and beetroot salad for $4. I’ll be dead by the time she gets out. What will she do, in prison, each day for 20 years? What will become of her other kids? It seemed the first time I’d ever seriously asked myself: Why do we put people in jail? * The barristers’ hands on the rim of the dock—a memory from the 60s. In the corner shop near our house a couple of adults are waiting to be served. A boy of seven or so is standing tiptoe at the counter, laboriously spreading out coins. His cheeks turn red: he hasn’t got enough. A pause. In a high, earnest little voice he says to the shop lady, “Would you trust me to run home and get the rest?” The grown-ups exchange soft looks over his head. “Off you go,” says the shop lady, and he darts out the door. * Judges must have to weigh up a case on a highly technical set of scales. They’re afraid of having to account for themselves to a higher court. They can never just act on the human thing: “I felt it would be cruel not to have mercy on this poor brutalized grieving wretch.” And when I read the tabloids about the African woman’s sentence, the heartless pipsqueaks screaming for blood, I started to understand the dark rocks between which a judge has to steer the ship, in these matters. * The waitress at Akita places before me a small cherry-red bowl of miso soup, and shuffles away. I nudge the bowl into the center of the dark wooden table and sit with my hands in my lap. Faint steam rises off the soup’s cloudy surface. * Maybe I’m coming to the end of writing about courts. I can’t hear properly. I can’t keep up. And I can’t bear the pain. Maybe my ears are packing it in on purpose, to save me. Also, is it “morbid” to be as fascinated as I am by other people’s suffering? To be awed by it? Will I ever stop asking myself this stupid question? Do real journalists ask it? Maybe they don’t, maybe that’s why I like to hang out with them—you can laugh. “He wouldn’t let me see the brief of evidence,” says my friend in the café, “but it was in front of him on the table, and one thing I’ve got good at, as a journalist, is reading upside down.” * God, I so love being old and not married. Out the other side of sex and love and all that torment. I can go out drinking martinis with the clever young guys I’m friends with—well, actually they’re middle-aged. With gray hair. Last night the bar was almost empty, the football was playing on the big screen with the sound down low. Every now and then I’d look up and see some outrageous piece of thuggery that caused me to exclaim and curse, while the men went on talking in wise, quiet voices about books and biography and publishing. By what exercise of virtue have I deserved this? * Late in a photo session for a writers’ festival I wandered vaguely towards the laptop on which the photographer was sorting the shots of me he had just taken. He turned his shoulder to me: “No.” * In the lobby of the Magistrates’ Court an old man had a seizure in the fine-paying queue. A hoarse cry, a groan, and he was on the floor, awkward-necked, his head in his big pale pensioner’s glasses resting on a crouching bystander’s thigh. Security running down the stairs. Paramedics, a gurney. Meanwhile I was stopped at the bag check: “Have you got a measuring tape in there? Something with a circle of metal?” I plunged my hand into my red backpack from which before leaving home I had removed everything metal; and came up with the dispenser of dental floss. I said, “I suppose I could strangle someone with it.” The security guy looked me up and down, and allowed himself a tiny smile. * My law professor friend visits from D.C. Her quick wit, her skepticism, as we stride shoulder to shoulder up Collins Street. We act out for each other our mortifications and triumphs large and small, never bored, doubling over in convulsions or dabbing at our sentimental tears. * My grandsons are out of holdable childhood. Gone are those hours I spent on the blue couch with a little boy crammed close to me on either side, watching ep after ep of Adventure Time, tranquil and absorbed. From time to time we would exchange knowing glances, without speaking. At least the girl still kisses me, puts her long arms round me when one of us comes home. She’s given up playing football herself, but at her brothers’ matches she leans over the boundary fence, in her dirty Blundstones and thick socks and the calf-length black wool coat I bought at Bergdorf Goodman thirty years ago, and shouts orders at them like a coach: “Man up! Where’s your man?” * Springsteen is rowdily singing on the car radio: “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” Yeah, they have; but I change stations. Ooh. Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash. How modest and melodious are their voices and simple acoustic guitars, after Springsteen’s hypermasculine bellowing. * I bought a large bone for the dog. Thrust it between his jaws and he swaggered away to gnaw on it, alone on wet grass under the fig tree. Later I took him over to Travancore. Superb winter sky, pure as porcelain, air growing sharp as we played on the damp green: he ran furiously after the ball, tail whirling, one ear up, one down. * At the long table I remembered why I stopped going to dinner parties years ago. The shouting, the riding roughshod, the scornful belligerence that calls itself conversation. I felt myself sinking and sinking, disappearing below the plimsoll line that divides full consciousness from a daze of dismay, suppressed rage, and crippling boredom. * I drove the thirteen-year-old to his football match at Sanctuary Lakes, an outer suburb unknown to us. On the freeway I became confused. Me: “Shit, man. I think we’re lost.” Him (calmly, with the street directory open on his scrawny bare thighs): “Oh well. It’s not as if I’m the most valued member of the team.” He looks at me slyly. We laugh so much I almost have to pull off the road. * Her hands. I noticed them on the table when we had coffee. Broad and well-shaped, competent. But it was the skin I was struck by: dry, large-pored, even coarse, and I thought at once, These are a doctor’s hands, worn from being vigorously scrubbed, scores of times a day. Fresh respect filled me. * “A great capacity to be alone.” Zadie Smith on what a novelist needs, or perhaps by temperament already has. * The American law professor says she wants a pair of R.M.Williams boots like the ones the leader of the National Party wears, but gold. If I had cute little feet like hers I would run right out and buy a pair. I’d thrash them round the house for a year till they faded to the soft gold that’s no longer gold but still possesses the magic of what once was gold. Then I’d wear them with some equally faded and trashed wheat-colored linen pants and an extremely faded and trashed pink linen jacket with the sleeves rolled up just past the wrist; and then I’d go to a cocktail party and drink a very dry martini with a twist, and a glass of water, and then I’d go home tired but happy. * How I know I’m losing my hearing: if someone covers their mouth with their hand while they’re talking to me I’m filled with rage and want to slap their hand away. * A mother in the airport departure lounge with her two little boys, who were trying to plait her long thick dark hair. Breathing heavily through their noses they divided it into sections, the older boy giving his brother instructions: “You hold this bit. Hold it over there.” She smiled at me and I said, “You’ve got a whole team of hairdressers working on you.” The boys kept their eyes on the job, carefully controlling their mouths. * A friend shows me a photo of his grandparents. Me: “I love old headshots. The way people never used to smile at a camera. They always make me cry.” Him: “Oh, don’t cry.” Me: “It’s not sad crying. They lived. They died. It’s more like awe.” * Maybe I should have been a psychoanalyst. * In Emergency at the Royal Melbourne I was so interested in the goings-on there that I forgot why I’d come. A whole women’s roller derby team came clomping in, skates and all: one of them had broken her leg. A shaven-headed, barefoot, old homeless man wrapped in a blanket emerged from the treatment rooms roaring, “Criminals! Doctors, nurses—criminals! All crrrrriminals!” He climbed onto his motorized wheelchair and, still yelling insults, surged out on to the street, grand as a king going into exile. As the big doors slid shut behind him a man called out in a reproachful tone, “Have a bit of respect, mate.” And my chest pain was only muscular, from the gym. * “Come on! Get up! It’s eight o’clock!” The boy slid naked off the top bunk and landed on his feet before me, knees flexed, the glory of his body on full display. He was so cleanly muscled, so slim and ripply and golden, that I laughed out loud and so did he, in his insolence, in the careless joy of himself. * At the audiology clinic they clapped huge headphones on me, and told me to listen. I heard two women’s voices, one in each ear, each one reading aloud from a different children’s story book; then a third voice was laid across them, clearly enunciating a single sentence which it was my job to repeat aloud: The books were on the shelves. Pfffff, I thought, I can do this. But as the test progressed, the single-sentence voice sank further and further into the texture of the stories the two women were reading. Sank and sank till I could no longer even guess at what it was saying and could only distinguish faint meaningless sounds. All I could say was “No. No. No.” It was awful. Existentially awful. Like dying. I was frightened. I wanted to cry. But then they began to turn up the volume of the single-sentence voice until once again I heard it perfectly. This, they said, showed two things: the improvement I can expect from a hearing aid, and the fact that there’s a big cognitive factor involved—the brain has to work very hard, as cells die and hearing fades, to supply the missing sounds, so that when you “strain to hear” you’re not actually hearing more, but laboring intellectually to make sense of what little you are hearing. (Does this mean that a clever person “hears” better than a stupid one? Can this be?) * I get into bed, groaning with weariness. One of the windows is open. I hear (or intellectually create, since I won’t get the hearing aid for three weeks) a soft rushing sound in the plane leaves, and the gentlest imaginable smattering of raindrops. Helen Garner is an Australian novelist and nonfiction writer, whose books include Monkey Grip, The Children’s Bach, and The Spare Room. View the full article
  25. The Romance Recipe RECOMMENDED: The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett is $2.99! Tara reviewed this one can gave it a B+: This story will especially work for people who like romances with restaurant settings, complicated characters, messy family dynamics, and relationships that start from a place of antagonism (I wouldn’t call it enemies-to-lovers). If you’re looking for a reality show romance, especially a cooking show, though? This won’t be the book for you. A fiery restaurant owner falls for her enigmatic head chef in this charming, emotional romance Amy Chambers: restaurant owner, micromanager, control freak. Amy will do anything to revive her ailing restaurant, including hiring a former reality-show finalist with good connections and a lot to prove. But her hopes that Sophie’s skills and celebrity status would bring her restaurant back from the brink of failure are beginning to wane… Sophie Brunet: grump in the kitchen/sunshine in the streets, took thirty years to figure out she was queer. Sophie just wants to cook. She doesn’t want to constantly post on social media for her dead-in-the-water reality TV career, she doesn’t want to deal with Amy’s take-charge personality and she doesn’t want to think about what her attraction to her boss might mean… Then, an opportunity: a new foodie TV show might provide the exposure they need. An uneasy truce is fine for starters, but making their dreams come true means making some personal and painful sacrifices and soon, there’s more than just the restaurant at stake. Carina Adores is home to romantic love stories where LGBTQ+ characters find their happily-ever-afters. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. Girls of Brackenhill RECOMMENDED: Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti is $1.99 and a Kindle Daily Deal! Elyse reviewed this thriller last year and and gave it a B+ and mentioned there was a twist she didn’t see coming: Girls of Brackenhill is spooky and thrilling and contains all the Gothic elements I love. It’s a fun read for your dark winter nights. Haunted by her sister’s disappearance, a troubled woman becomes consumed by past secrets in this gripping thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Year. When Hannah Maloney’s aunt dies in a car accident, she returns to her family’s castle in the Catskills and the epicenter of a childhood trauma: her sister’s unsolved disappearance. It’s been seventeen years, and though desperate to start a new life with her fiancé, Hannah is compelled to question the events of her last summer at Brackenhill. When a human bone is found near the estate, Hannah is convinced it belongs to her long-lost sister. She launches her own investigation into that magical summer that ended in a nightmare. As strange happenings plague the castle, Hannah uncovers disturbing details about the past and startling realizations about her own repressed childhood memories. Fueled by guilt over her sister’s vanishing, Hannah becomes obsessed with discovering what happened all those years ago, but by the time Hannah realizes some mysteries are best left buried, it’s too late to stop digging. Overwhelmed by what she has exposed, Hannah isn’t sure her new life can survive her old ghosts. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. The Highland Duke The Highland Duke by Amy Jarecki is 99c! This is the first book in the Lords of the Highlands series, and features some forced proximity and the heroine who heals the hero. Readers loved the blend of action and romance, though some found the plot a little unbelievable. She’ll put her life on the line for him . . . When Akira Ayres finds the brawny Scot with a musket ball in his thigh, the healer has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to save his life. Even if it means fleeing with him across the Highlands to tend to his wounds while English redcoats are closing in. Though Akira is as fierce and brave as any of her clansmen, even she’s intimidated by the fearsome, brutally handsome Highlander who refuses to reveal his name. Yet she can never learn his true identity. Geordie knows if Akira ever discovers he’s the Duke of Gordon, both her life and his will be forfeit in a heartbeat. The only way to keep the lass safe is to ensure she’s by his side day and night. But the longer he’s with her, the harder it becomes to think of letting her go. Despite all their differences, despite the danger-he will face death itself to make her his . . . Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. This Rebel Heart This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke is $1.99! This one released in April and was on an edition of Cover Awe. This is a YA historical novel with a hint of fantasy. I also believe this is incredibly violent, so please double check content warnings. A tale set amid the 1956 Hungarian revolution in post-WWII Communist Budapest. In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most–safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget. Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground. Add to Goodreads To-Read List → You can find ordering info for this book here. View the full article
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