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  1. “A Mami Wata’s essence is moonlight and desire melded to one. Nala knows this in her marrow, in her fins. Lasirèn, Yemanja, Oxum, Erzulie, Jine-Faro, Santa Marta. Their bloodline flowed through miles of sandy lagoons and tidal estuaries along Africa’s coast. In her homeland, Nala’s clanswomen are worshipped as goddesses till this day, queen of queens reigning on high in a pantheon of miengu, wanton water deities. They are the descendants of Mojili, a spirit-ruler hailing from a time before man, her name so powerful, so revered, it could not be uttered before small children lest they perish.” Nana Nkweti’s debut short story collection Walking on Cowrie Shells (2022) demonstrates the range of the Cameroonian-American writer’s remarkable fiction. Nkweti’s fiction gleefully crosses genre boundaries, mixing the fantastical and the bizarre with sharply observed character pieces. The stories cover a wide range, but are linked by Nkweti’s playful imagination, her deft characterisation, and her fascination with those who are caught between different cultures. Walking on Cowrie Shells is an engaging collection that marks the debut of a striking talent, a writer unafraid to engage with the speculative and the fantastic in inventive ways. Nkweti’s writing uses the fantastic, the speculative and even metafictional techniques to explore the difficulties, triumphs, contradictions and discrimination faced living across multiple characters, frequently drawing on her Cameroonian and American heritage. ‘The Living Infinite’ is perhaps the most fantastical story in the collection, and tells the moving story of Nala, a Mami Wata – an African water goddess – who renounces her powers so that she can live a mortal life with Byron, the New Orleans-born fisherman she falls in love with. The story is full of sensual magic, drawing on Cameroonian folklore to tell a love story between people in two different cultures, one of whom must give hers up to live with him. Nala finds herself a stranger in New Orleans, but also amongst her family of magical water spirits, who don’t quite understand this strange human man she has fallen for or the very different life she has chosen with him. The collection’s most speculative story is ‘It Just Kills You Inside’, a brutally cynical look at how Western media portrays Africa as a centre of poverty and disease, in which Connor, an embittered journalist, is hired to help cover up a zombie outbreak in Cameroon. The story expertly dissects neo-colonialist attitudes that are embedded into how Western culture perceives and talks about Africa, and feels particularly pertinent after both the Ebola outbreaks and the worldwide COVID pandemic. It is at once very darkly funny, an incredible work of characterisation, and remarkably thought-provoking. Other stories are less explicitly speculative or fantastic, but still engage with speculative or fantastic tropes. ‘Rain Check at MomoCon’ is a wonderful story about fandom. It’s the story of Astrid, a cosplaying teenager who writes comics with Young, her secret crush. Astrid has to navigate her fandom and her writing, which go against the expectations of her African family, who have a very different idea of what her future will look like than she does. It’s at once humorous and touching. Other stories touch on fantastical ideas without ever explicitly tipping over into the fantastic. ‘Night Becomes Us’ engages with the tropes of vampire fiction to tell a story about a woman who has moved to the USA to work in club bathrooms. ‘The Devil Is a Liar’ explores the contested role of religion between a mother and daughter undergoing a family crisis, and while nothing explicitly supernatural ever occurs, the story is built around ideas of faith, spirituality and how one might feel the hand of God in one’s life. Other stories engage more with ideas or tropes from thrillers. ‘It Takes A Village Some Say’ is a tightly constructed tale that switches between the perspectives of an adoptee child trafficked from Africa and her rich adopted parents, in which Zora the daughter manipulates her adopted family’s fortunes in a masterful heist to reclaim her own sense of agency. Like ‘It Just Kills You Inside’, it has many cutting and pertinent things to say about the West’s attitude towards Africa, and delivers them in a darkly humorous package. ‘The Statistician’s Wife’ explores violence between African women and their American spouses through a murder mystery. The remaining stories in the collection cannot be called speculative or fantastical in any way, but are arguably the most powerful and stylistically inventive stories present. ‘Schoolyard Cannibal’ exorcises years of institutionalised racism forced onto African and Black children via the school system, incorporating images from the Warner Brothers cartoon Jungle Jitters, artworks ‘If It Bleeds, It Ledes’ and ‘Africa Is Not a Country’ by Idongesit Daniel, and a photo of a Shaka Zulu Queen Mother in order to make its powerful rhetorical point. And the final story ‘Kinks’, a story structured around the changes in how its protagonist Jennifer arranges her hair based on how she is relating to her African heritage that day, uses its complex structure to critique patronising boyfriends who impose their interpretation of Africanness on their mixed heritage girlfriends. The story is again whipsmart in terms of its characterisation, and amongst its structural games includes a QR code that links to an in-universe blog read by one of the characters in the story. These stories show just how fearless and inventive Nkweti is as a writer. She is utterly unafraid to experiment with form to tell the kind of story she needs to tell. Walking on Cowrie Shells is a remarkable collection, full of inventive and boldly experimental writing. Nkweti is a fascinating writer who creates with admirable passion and intensity, as well as brilliantly drawing character and filling her stories with sharp humour. I look forward to seeing what she does next. The post WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS by Nana Nkweti (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  2. tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com Welcome to Fantastic Top Fives with Wyrd & Wonder! Every Monday throughout Wyrd and Wonder, we’re going to recommend a fantasy read in five words. This week, we’re celebrating shorter reads in fantasy – believe it or not, not every fantasy book out there is an absolute unit. So, let’s take a look at our favourite zines, anthologies, individual short stories, novelettes and/or novellas! Underlined book titles in bold contain links to reviews on this site. Beth Flame and the Flood by Shona Kinsella Magic-wielding emancipators face betrayal Nils A Mirror Mended by Alix E Harrow Wicked Witch finally gets agency Asha The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly Memory-infused pastries; delicious revenge Lucy The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky Parallel-worlds, talking Dinosaurs, Cryptozoology. CHAOS Julia Frozen Rage by Steve McHugh Wearbears, murder mystery, sweary fox! Theo Triggernometry by Stark Holborn Mathematical angles on Fantasy westerns No Other Troy by Mark Lawrence Active horse rewrites the myth . Next week will be the last post in this series! We’ll be thinking of fantasy subgenres, and our favourite titles in them. Since Last Time | Forest Fantasies | Mascots The post Fantastic Top Fives with Wyrd & Wonder – Single-Serve Fantasies appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  3. My wife and I recently had dinner with another married couple—old friends whom we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. We went through the usual greeting rituals and settled into our seats, me directly across from Burke, who seemed particularly ebullient. “What’s up?” I asked, sensing there was something. “What do you think of the audiobooks thing?” he all but burst in reply. It took me aback. “It’s huge,” I said. “And growing fast, by all accounts.” I’m sure all of you realize how true it is. In fact, according to a recent Publishing Perspectives piece by our own Porter Anderson, audiobooks have just completed their seventh straight year of double-digit growth, with worldwide sales of over $3 billion in 2020—on their way to a projected $15 billion by 2027. (The phenomenal performance of the category is likely not news to you, and learning more is only a google search away, so I won’t spend a lot of space on industry news.) Burke’s ebullience, and the fact that he broached the topic right out of the gate, indicated his genuine enthusiasm for the medium. Burke is a doctor who is beginning to shepherd his practice toward his own retirement. His zeal at our dinner was born of my being a fiction writer. But that was paired with the fact that, for decades, he read zero fiction. For years he read nonfiction almost exclusively. Due to his increasing free time, including more car trips to their summer cottage, Burke has discovered Audible. He went on to tell me that he’s read over 50 audiobooks in the last year, and he just can’t get enough. He’s been catching up on the classics, and on bestsellers and notable authors he’d missed out on over the years. It’s evident that he’s having a ball, which makes me glad. But I also found our conversation heartening. Mainly due to the fact that Burke pressed me about when my books would be available on Audible. The question sent the conversation on a tangent, about cost, voice talent, etc. Still, here’s a guy who I thought would never experience my story. Now he’s anxious to do so. That’s quite a reversal. All due to this particular medium. You might have noticed that my response to Burke’s initial query was a bit deflective. He asked how I feel about “the audiobooks thing,” and I wasn’t exactly forthcoming. That’s partly because I’m still figuring it out. How do you feel about it? Shall we explore this publishing phenomenon together? Heard Any Good Books Lately? Well, have you? I have! This particular instance provides the perfect example of how my audiobook journey is proceeding. The good book I’ve heard lately is Darling Girl, by WU’s own Liz Michalski (if you haven’t experienced this book yet, in whatever form, I highly recommend it). I actually started Darling Girl by reading the hardcover. An upcoming road trip had me adding a digital edition to my Kindle, for easy packing. But then it dawned on me that on this trip I would be driving alone. Since I was already so invested in the story, the solution was simple: download the audiobook as well, for the drive. It worked out wonderfully, and I ended up experiencing about half of the story via the audiobook and I loved every minute of it. This has been the pattern for me—downloading the audio version of my current read for extended car trips. Of course, with each experience I get more accustomed to switching back and forth. But it’s more than that. I’m also growing less resistant to the medium. What do I mean by resistant? It goes back to my automatic deflection when my friend asked me about audiobooks. I’ve got to admit to a bit of snobbishness when it comes to “listening” to a book rather than “actually reading.” My attitude is swiftly changing, and the realization has me feeling a little silly. I suppose I used to consider audiobooks as a bit of a cheat—like they weren’t rigorous enough to make them worthy of a “literary experience.” Keep in mind, this was before I actually tried them. But I didn’t think audiobooks could provide immersion or retention as well as reading a printed book. Those of you who’ve been reading my posts here for any length of time (if you have, thank you!) have likely gleaned my pique over the snobbishness that’s often aimed at the SFF genre by the literary world, so my own snobbish about audiobooks is slightly embarrassing to me now. Besides becoming more accustomed and less resistant to the medium, I’ve continued to grow more impressed. I’m beginning to see audiobooks not just as a viable part of my reading life, but one that has it’s own unique set of advantages. Things beyond the fact that sonic storytelling frees one from the requirement of paying attention visually. Advantages which I believe that we, as writers, ought to be aware of as we consider our publishing paths and options. Allow me to attempt to explain some of the additional pluses I’ve discovered. Sound Advantages *Audiobooks can provide relevant accents. Starting small here, but this is a plus I noticed during Darling Girl. The story primarily takes place in London, with a prominent secondary character having been raised in New York, and narrator Elizabeth Knowelden adeptly utilizes accents for the various characters in voicing their dialog. *Audiobooks can provide prosody. Speaking of accents, do you know the term? I didn’t. Prosody refers to the rhythmic and intonational aspect of language. Do you know how some people seem like natural-born storytellers, or are excellent at delivering a joke? Much of that has to do with prosody—using the right tone, inflection, and emphasis at the right time. A good audiobook narrator can provide this enhancement to storytelling. Action scenes can become more gripping, emotional scenes more tender, and so on. *Audiobooks remind me of the magic of being read to. We’ve all had someone read to us, if only when we were children, and it can be a magical thing. I remember my fourth grade teacher, Miss Paul, used to read to the class as a reward for good behavior. She was an excellent narrator. I fondly recall feeling all the feels during her renditions of The Wind in the Willows and Charlotte’s Web, to name a few. We would become so engrossed in whatever story Miss Paul was reading, if we were restless or acting up, she had but to remind us of the story she might withhold to get us to snap to. That’s a fifty-year-old memory, and you know what? Having a skilled narrator read to you is still pretty darn magical. *The voice talent for audiobooks is fantastic and getting better all of the time. Speaking of the magic of being read to by a skilled narrator, there are some extremely talented folks narrating audiobooks these days. I’ve often heard of audiobook fans seeking new titles via their favorite narrators. My goddaughter swears that a big part of her adoration of the character Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series is due to his portrayal by celebrated narrator Davina Porter. *Even famous actors are getting in on the audiobook trend. I’ve heard wonderful things about the ensemble cast of the audiobook of Daisy Jones and the Six, including Sara Arrington, Jennifer Beals, and Benjamin Bratt, among others. Some of today’s finest actors are using their talent to bring great books to life. You can have Claire Danes read you The Handmaid’s Tale, Tim Curry read Lemony Snicket, or Meryl Streep read Heartburn. Oh, and how could I leave out that you can have Andy Serkis read The Lord of the Rings to you? Talk about magic! I’d say that’s a pretty special advantage. The Ongoing Death of Literature I recently saw that a popular fantasy book reviewer was lamenting the corrosive effect on storytelling of BookTok, a popular segment of TikTok. He fretted that the books that skyrocket to popularity there are required to be faster, shorter, pithier, grabbier, and he senses that it’s only growing worse—that high concept and ever increasing pace will seize the publishing world, eventually banishing all other, slower, deeper, and more character-driven fantasy books from the marketplace. I clearly recall, during the explosion of YA fantasy titles a decade ago, that it seemed adult epic fantasy would be relegated to the bookish outskirts. Funny how trends come and go, isn’t it? I’m sure there is plenty of fret out there about audiobooks replacing actual books, too. Remember when e-readers where going to replace bound books? Or when TV would be the death of literature? No doubt it was radio before that. Heck, I’m sure there were those who thought that writing in bound books rather than on scrolls would be the death of the quality reading experience. Anyone who fears for the death of bound books has only to look at the flourishing specialty book market in the SFF communities. Younger epic fantasy fans and collectors in particular are paying top dollar for artfully bound, illustrated, and signed editions of popular series. Physical books are all the rage, and it seems there’s no end in sight to that very old trend. Seriously, I think they’re a more durable bet than vinyl LPs. Aspiring To Embrace Opportunity I’m currently an aspiring self-publisher. The audiobook trend is one that deserves my attention and consideration. Yes, it can be expensive to produce your books as audiobooks. But I have to consider the potential of gaining readers like Burke, who, in spite of our long friendship, would likely have never purchased or read a bound version of my book, but who’s anxious to give it a try via Audible. I also have to consider hiring a sought-after narrator when I factor in the number of audiobook readers I know who seek new titles via their favorite voice talent. I may not have an audiobook version available on the day I release my debut this coming fall, but that doesn’t mean I’m not pursuing having them in the future. I sense an opportunity here. Besides, since I’ve abandoned my snobbishness, and have experienced the flexibility and additional advantages audiobooks can provide to readers, why wouldn’t I want to offer those things to my own readers? Let me hear you, WU! Are you willing to sound off about “the audiobook thing”? Ever been an audiobook snob, like me? Are you interested in embracing the opportunity? Or have you already had your own audiobook? How’d it go? Please, voice your opinion! About Vaughn RoycroftVaughn Roycroft's (he/him) teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit in the 6th grade, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy. Web | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=rfNuWRlmTjM:HHH-WGOb9Fs:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=rfNuWRlmTjM:HHH-WGOb9Fs:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  4. Please welcome author-in-progress Kristina Stevens to Writer Unboxed today! We were approached by WU contributor Jim Dempsey about Kristina’s journey, which has involved writing a novel that began as a memoir. How did she decide on that change? What did that change entail? And would we be interested in sharing the journey (yes!). More about Kristina from her bio: Kristina lives in Glasgow, Scotland where she works in education. Kristina has an MA in English Literature and has recently completed a six month mentorship programme for under represented writers with Arkbound Foundation. Kristina is interested in outsiders and modern interpretations of gothic themes in fiction. She is currently working on her first novel ‘Outsider Complex’. Kristina is also a carer. You can learn more about Kristina by following her on Twitter @kriss_outsider. How Do You Adapt Real Life Into Fiction? “All this happened, more or less.” This is the opening line to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. The novel is a semi-autobiographical account of the bombing of Dresden by the Allied Forces in 1945. Anyone familiar with Slaughterhouse-Five, however, would struggle to define it as realistic or true to life. The novel contains time travel and alien abduction, not things that you would believe “happened, more or less.” So although we can safely say that Slaughterhouse-Five is not a factual account of the author’s experience of war, it does contain truth, or rather Truth. Slaughterhouse-Five disrupts the traditional structure of the novel, and the often chaotic form of the chapters reflects Billy Pilgrim’s frame of mind, his trauma resulting from the Dresden air raids. The narrative is non-linear and scenes describing the bombing can present as incoherent. This confusion and futility is the ultimate metaphor of war and its horror. Memoir or Fiction? When I started writing, I wasn’t sure if I should write in the form of memoir or fiction, but I settled on memoir. I believed memoir would have the most impact as there nothing more powerful than literal truth. In this world of “fake news” and spin, I felt that to tell my story I had to be painfully honest and adhere doggedly to fact. However, through the process of writing, I have learned that honesty and truth can be conveyed sometimes more effectively and potently through storytelling and metaphor. You might have noticed that I called my writing ‘my story’, but that changed as the story itself became more important than my place or ego within that. Memoir is by its nature an account of an experience or experiences as interpreted by the author. However, the more I wrote, the more I felt myself being pushed out the story. I wasn’t at the centre of it, rather it was developing its own volition. I thought I was writing about specific themes and ideas, but I began to see that the story was asking its own question: Where do I belong? I realised that question was central to everything and had to be explored; it was the essence of what I was trying to say. The day-to-day factually correct record of events and conversations became unimportant, even irrelevant. As I started to write, this concept of ‘Where do I belong’ began to grow more powerful, and I knew that in order to fully explore the story and the question it wanted to ask, the story had to be fiction and not memoir. This change freed the work from the constraints of memory and allowed it to grow and become its true self. By being less literal and chained to documentary detail, I was able to deploy metaphor and symbolism more effectively. By employing more ‘poetic licence,’ I was able to tell the story as it should be told. When Facts Cause Clutter As readers, we approach memoir and fiction differently, and our expectations differ. We see this when we discover that a supposed memoir turns out to be fabricated; we feel duped and cheated. However, we don’t feel the same anger if we discover a novel is based on true events. We might pick up a memoir, for instance, because we believe the author’s life mimics our own in some way, or perhaps we admire them for a certain achievement. It is the real-life lessons we are looking for, and so any details that add to its authenticity are to be valued. We approach reading fiction more like reading a treasure map: Every sentence is a clue or holds potential symbolic significance, and anything that distracts us from following the path to the treasure is a waste of precious time. Likewise, when writing a memoir, providing historical facts can give the writing an air of authenticity, and this level of detail can make the story richer. In fiction, however, these details can act as red herrings or simply clutter. An example of how I had to adapt this in my own writing is when I described my biological father as having brown eyes and myself and two siblings as having blue eyes. In memoir, this is an interesting and unusual fact, and lends a degree of uniqueness to the family, makes them more human in their quirkiness. In fiction, however, we naturally ask: Why is the writer drawing attention to this point above all others? It must be for a reason as yet unknown. And this creates an expectation in the reader. So, in fiction, if I were to mention my father had brown eyes whilst his offspring had blue, the reader might respond by assuming that detail is significant. Perhaps they aren’t his kids after all? Is this the twist, the biological father isn’t actually the biological father? Did the mother have an affair or use a sperm donor? Does the father know this? Is it still a secret? Is there going to be a showdown later on in the story? And so on. If this is then not developed or mentioned again the reader can feel one of two things: They can feel cheated that they were set up for intrigue that didn’t materialize or annoyed over the extraneous and distracting information, i.e clutter. So when adapting my book from memoir to fiction, mention of my father’s brown eyes had to go; they had nothing to do with the story. When the truth actually detracts from the story Sticking religiously to a complete history of documented truths can be detrimental to your story whether you’re writing historical fiction or a memoir. Real life is made up of millions of interlinking stories, but taken out of context and thrust into the vacuum of a single work, even facts can come across as trite, contrived, or extraneous. The trick is to know what threads to cauterize and where to do the cauterizing. An example: When my writing was still memoir, I adhered to the absolute truth and described my family life. We had a relative living with us during the time I wrote about who was mixed race and used a wheelchair. This was a big part of my life at the time, and more so as his frustrations and struggles impacted all of us. But to include issues such as race and disability in a story with no significance to the story being told could be interpreted as tokenistic. My story isn’t about race or disability and so it felt uncomfortable to have these issues introduced but not develop any significance, and so the relative had to be written out of my memoir. In adapting memoir to fiction, and to properly explore the life of one protagonist, others were also written out the story. For example, a female referenced in my memoir had a series of boyfriends, the last of them a drug user. Because of his criminal record, this woman had to be strip-searched at the airport when coming back from India. Despite this, when he left her for another, she was distraught. When I changed my writing to fiction, I realized that the succession of boyfriends and the drugs were irrelevant to the story’s central question, ‘Where do I belong?’ What was important—and what did intersect with my story question—was this woman’s reaction to the break-up. One composite boyfriend character was all that I needed. This then allowed for that relationship to be explored in more depth, revealing more about why the relationship broke down, and leading to insights about its impact on the protagonist and her erroneous beliefs. Returning to Slaughterhouse-Five, if Vonnegut had written a traditional novel with a beginning, a middle and an end that gave an articulate but conventional account of war, would it have had the same impact? Would it have held our attention quite so much or made us question what is actually going on? I don’t think it would. Slaughterhouse-Five is so powerful because it makes us look at Truth from a different perspective. It challenges our preconceptions and beliefs about how we convey emotions and meaning and interpretation. It uses subversion and metaphor and surrealism, but the truth at its heart remains untainted, in fact it shines brighter for it. Does the line between reality and fiction smear in your own work? Whether the scope of this smear is via a character, a situation, in a short story or a work of novel-length fiction, we’d love to hear about it in comments. The floor is yours! http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=FhqlYUOycu8:8oCyq5Y_YeQ:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=FhqlYUOycu8:8oCyq5Y_YeQ:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  5. Welcome to another Throwback Thursday with Wyrd &Wonder! It’s been five years of W&W and one of the ways we’re celebrating is by looking back over the last five years of photo challenges! Each week, we’ll take a look at something different, and our favourite responses (not necessarily just our own). That’s right, we’re back again with a post looking back over our favourite Wyrd & Wonder challenge prompts from the past. This Thursday, we’re covering Map Monday. On a Thursday. But the prompts are always held on a Monday. Because it’s alliterative. This isn’t bugging me at all. ANYWAY Julia I did a couple of pictures for both years, but here’s the one I liked best of each year: Nils I’m cheating a little here as I’ve never posted a map Monday before, but I’ve taken plenty of map pics on my Instagram account, so here’s what I would have posted! Beth Map Monday is always a favourite of mine, as I love poring over maps, particularly fantasy ones! Next Thursday will be our last Throwback Thursday, and we’re having a free for all on our favourite prompts! The post Wyrd & Wonder Throwback Thursday appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  6. Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page. Here’s the question: Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents. So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page. Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good-enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength. Two things make today’s post different. First, it falls on my birthday. It’s good to have another one. Secondly, there’s this . . . It’s a Twofer Today. Today we’re looking at two very different books from the New York Times bestseller lists, one from the trade paperback list and the other from hardcover fiction. And, as it so happens, both feature protagonists from the WU world, one a writer and the other a literary agent. Two openings, two polls. See what you think. How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer? Opening page, chapter 1 Cindy Thomas was working at the dining table she’d bought at a tag sale down the block. It was cherrywood, round, with a hinged leaf and the letters SN etched near the hinge. She traced the initials with her finger, imagining that the person who’d left that mark was also a journalist suffering from writer’s block—and Cindy was as blocked as a writer could be. Her full-time job was as senior crime reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. She’d been covering the violent murders of a killer unknown. And then, at the end of his crime spree, caught by the police, this unrepentant serial monster had asked her to write the story of his life. And that’s what she was doing—trying to do—now. It would be easy for her agent to sell this idea for a true-crime thriller about Evan Burke. He was a savage and highly successful at getting away with his kills. According to him, he was the most prolific killer of the century, and Cindy didn’t doubt him. She had no shortage of quotable and illustrated research. Because Burke wanted Cindy’s book to secure his place in criminal history, he had provided her with notebooks, as well as photos of his victims, alive and dead. He’d given her his maps to his victims’ graves, which, when opened by homicide cops, had turned up bones, clothing, and other evidence of Burke’s crimes. He’d been convicted of six murders, which in his mind was insufficient, but the prosecution was plenty happy. Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll. How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer? The opening page of the prologue: When books are your life—or in my case, your job— you get pretty good at guessing where a story is going. The tropes, the archetypes, the common plot twists all start to organize themselves into a catalogue inside your brain, divided by category and genre. The husband is the killer. The nerd gets a makeover, and without her glasses, she’s smoking hot. The guy gets the girl—or the other girl does. Someone explains a complicated scientific concept, and someone else says, “Um, in English, please?” The details may change from book to book, but there’s nothing truly new under the sun. Take, for example, the small-town love story. The kind where a cynical hotshot from New York or Los Angeles gets shipped off to Smalltown, USA—to, like, run a family-owned Christmas tree farm out of business to make room for a soulless corporation. But while said City Person is in town, things don’t go to plan. Because, of course, the Christmas tree farm—or bakery, or whatever the hero’s been sent to destroy—is owned and operated by someone ridiculously attractive and suitably available for wooing. Back in the city, the lead has a romantic partner. Someone ruthless who encourages him (snip) Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll. I thought it would be fun to contrast the opening strength of a novel that is meant be a thriller to one that is clearly not a thriller. 22 Seconds was the number one hardback fiction bestseller and Book Lovers was the number one trade paperback fiction bestseller for May 22, 2022. Were their opening pages compelling? You can turn the page of 22 Seconds and read more here, and check out more of Book Lovers here. Kindle users can request a sample sent to their devices, and I’ve found this to be a great way to evaluate a narrative that is borderline on the first page and see if it’s worth my coin. My votes: 22 Seconds, NO. Book Lover, YES. 22 Seconds, which received 4.5 stars on Amazon, failed to create any tension in me, and it didn’t raise a story question other than whether or not this person would break her writer’s block, which is not a high-stakes problem, IMO. Leading with the totally irrelevant detail that she was working at a round table signaled more unneeded words ahead. And there was this sentence: She’d been covering the violent murders of a killer unknown. Does that make any sense to you? “Murders” is plural and somehow refers to a single killer. And why would she be covering the murder of a killer? Oh, I understand what the author was trying to say, but where was the copyeditor? Or a content editor? None, apparently, had their hands on this story. On the other hand, Book Lovers, which earned 4.6 stars on Amazon, opens with an enticing voice and a take on cliched fiction tropes that both writers and readers will recognize with a grin. While no story question is raised here, the voice and writing were appealing enough to get me to want to taste more. And a good story question is raised just a paragraph or so later. Had I been the editor, it might have appeared on the first page. You’re invited to a flogging—your own You see here the insights fresh eyes bring to the performance of bestseller first pages, so why not do the same with the opening of your WIP? Submit your prologue/first chapter to my blog, Flogging the Quill, and I’ll give you my thoughts and even a little line editing if I see a need. And the readers of FtQ are good at offering constructive notes, too. Hope to see you there. To submit, email your first chapter or prologue (or both) as an attachment to me, and let me know if it’s okay to use your first page and to post the complete chapter. Wish you could buy this author a cup of joe? Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can! About Ray RhameyRay Rhamey is the author of four novels and one writing craft book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. He's also an editor of book-length fiction and designs book covers and interiors for Indie authors and small presses. His website, crrreative.com, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for writers and publishers. Learn more about Ray's books at rayrhamey.com. Web | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=SUt1_tbJkW8:mFviAO7Ycjo:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=SUt1_tbJkW8:mFviAO7Ycjo:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  7. Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland! That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive). It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes. Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article! This month, we’re straying from DWJ’s path to enter the Wyrd and Wonder glade, where for today’s prompt they’re looking at Fantasy Landscapes. So we’ve decided to use that as this month’s Tough Travelling focus. A big thank you to Beth, Nils, Theo, Scarlett, and Asha for their recommendations… Beth: My choice for today’s photo prompt is G D Penman’s Witch of Empire series. They’ve taken what would be familiar landscapes, and turned them into fantasy landscapes; from a Manhattan built by demons, a London cursed into over-expansion until it’s dribbling over the white cliffs of Dover, a hag-haunted Irish marsh, the darkness of a Hong Kong run by vampires… what I love best about all these landscapes was how vivid and easily imagined they were. Another landscape that always comes to mind when I think of a fantastical fantasy landscape is that of the shard plains from Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive. It’s been a looong time since I’ve read The Way of Kings, but I can still picture those giant shards of land with the canyons in between, filled with fallen soldiers and dangers a plenty. The battles with bridgerunners scurrying to put the bridges in place from shard to shard for the army to cross. It’s really stuck in my mind. I’d like to finish in a forest, as per the theme of this year’s Wyrd and Wonder, so I’ll venture into the Wilds of Jen William’s Sarn. Some kind of poison affects the forests of the world in Williams’ The Winnowing Flame series, so that everything is grown huge. They’re haunted by terrifying spirit-like creatures which will follow you and flay you alive… Definitely not the kind of forest to go exploring for alien shipwrecks and treasure #JustSaying Nils: Ok for this one, I’m not choosing Lord of the Rings!! Although shout-out to Lothlorien and Fangorn for being the best forests ever!! Fight me! This time though I’m choosing the desert landscape as beautifully portrayed in three of my favourite reads: Dune by Frank Herbert, The Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty and The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdulla. Dune is set on the planet of Arrakis, an unforgiving desert landscape with a sparse population. When Paul Atreides’s father is called to Arrakis to act as a steward we learn why so many are desperate to control it – Spice. This is a drug-like substance which can only be mined in the Arrakis desert, and with its abilities to give longer-life, foresight, mental abilities, and essential for space navigation you can see why it is used as a commodity. Yet that’s not my favourite aspect of the world, this lies within the deadly creatures which dwell within the sand, the worms. Dune is certainly a complex novel, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Both The Daevabad trilogy and The Stardust Thief are Middle-Eastern/Arabic inspired fantasies, and reflect much of the desert’s beauty as well as the relentless hardship travelling across its terrain. The first book in Chakraborty’s trilogy, The City of Brass is set in both Cairo and the fabled city of Daevabad, and shows us a lot of the landscape as Nahri and Dara go in search of the city. I loved how both characters use a flying carpet as their means of travel! Travelling through the sand also occurs in The Stardust Thief, as Loulie, Qadir and the others are on a quest for a magical lamp! I love how Abdullah has our characters see mirages, be pursued by ghouls and fall beneath the sand into ancient ruins. It’s just a really fun, chaotic adventure. Theo: Peter Newman’s trilogy beginning with The Deathless has a fantastic forested landscape of “The Wild” full of demonic monstrosities that curse or bind humans to them. The Wild is crisscrossed by crystal highways which the monsters cannot touch so humanity ekes out an existence in settlements huddled alongside these roadways, relying on their feudal overlords for protection. Those overlords, grouped in great houses and living in great floating crystal castles don crystal suits that enable them to soar and swoop and fight back the demonic invaders, But overlords have a dark secret, an immortality of the favoured few which involves appropriating the carefully cultured bodies of a blood relative to live out a whole new lifespan while the body’s original soul is crushed out of existence. Conspiracies abound within and beyond the crystal castles that constantly blur the lines between demon and human. Micah Yongo’s Lost Gods has the trained assassins of the Shedaim, caught up in betrayal and intrigue, but they come back often to the Forest of Silences behind their training home. There the blood trees that they planted as children will track their lives and their successes, and – unless they are of a great and enduring power – whither into dry dust on their deaths. At the centre of the forest sits the great Willow planted by the order’s founder Qoh’leth flourishing still. And then, because I couldn’t pass by without mentioning the greatest forest in Middle Earth (eh Nils!) I refer of course to Doriath in Beleriand, where Thingol the Grey first wooed Melian the Maia, where she cast the spell of the girdle of Melian to keep the Sindar safe from the ravages of Morogoth. Beren stumbled into the forest to begin his fateful courtship of Luthien Tinuviel, but the forest endured until Thingol himself was undone by his own pride and the greed of the dwarven smiths he worked with. (For more details – read the Silmarillion!) Scarlett: I enjoyed the settings in The City of Brass and The Stardust Thief Nils mentioned as well. I am a sucker for immersive settings and the Middle-Eastern/Arabic is such an enchanting one to me. So different from my own world and I love reading glimpses of other cultures or wholly comprehensively imagined worlds. Another one that was similar to those that was just fantastic, was Kiersten White’s The Conqueror’s Saga. Holy Moly did I fall for the gardens in the Wallachian world and Ottoman Empire. Filled with colorful bazaars, harams and hamman baths, ironworks on the buildings and the wonderful forests in the surrounding areas. One that intrigued me was the shifting landscapes in The Iron Crown by L.L. MacRae. This concept was new to me when I read the novel and about the forest scapes could shift and move to new landscapes. It let my imagination go everywhere with it and just felt refreshing overall. It wants you to keep turning those pages, as you never know what will be around the corner next. The Ancestor by Daniele Trussoni takes place in the Italian Alps and is filled with magical realism. As the main character travels in search of her family, she emerges into an alternate part of the forest and landscape that is quaint and bizarre. Not only are the humans that live there different, but the forest has magical elements and feels overwhelmingly important as in old fairytales. A connection to it’s inhabitants make it really special and a bit scary too. Asha: The first book that sprang to mind for me is a bit of a blast from the past: Goab, the Desert of Colours in The Neverending Story. I remember being captivated by the idea of every sand dune being a different colour as a child, and I definitely tried to draw it once or twice! Gold and silver streams of sand flowed between each dune, separating the colours, which sounded like something from an expensive paintbox – cobalt, saffron, vermilion, lapis lazuli… The description is so rich, you can’t help but imagine it. One of the most inventive fantasy landscapes I’ve read about recently is in Joshua Phillip Johnson’s The Forever Sea, which takes place mostly on an enormous sea – made of grass. All the islands described were so unique, but the idea of a miles-deep sea of grasses and plants is just so clever and enthralling. I also want to shout out AJ Lancaster’s Stariel books, where the sentient estate of Stariel is almost a character in its own right – a quiet and proper piece of English countryside with a magical twist. I love how the characters’ connection to the land is such an important part of the story. And of course, if we’re talking fantasy forests, then they don’t come much better than in Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, which perfectly encapsulates the feeling of walking in ancient British woodland (and that animal fear of all the magic that lurks there). It’s another book where the landscape itself is almost a character, and one that will make you think twice when you next see a tree. We would love to hear from follow bloggers! If you would like to join in with our Tough Travelling, please tag us in your posts! The post Tough Travelling: Fantasy Landscapes appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  8. There’s no shortage of writing exercises to choose from. Just google it. Eight Exercises to Strengthen Your Writing. Thirteen Creative Writing Exercises. Twenty-four Exercises to Become a Better Writer. Fifty Fantastic Creative Writing Exercises. There are lists of eleven, fifteen—even one hundred writing exercises! No one can, or should, use all of them. On the contrary, heaping your plate with an abundance of a la carte exercises can be counterproductive, leaving you with conflicting “advice” and competing priorities. So how can you decide which are worth your time? One strategy I’ve found helpful is to consider each exercise in the context of when to employ it. Some exercises may be more useful at one stage of novel-writing than another, depending on their purpose. Here are three that I’ve found especially useful at three different points in the process. They address three crucial aspects of a story: what, who, and how. WHAT: “Aboutness” exercise—at the beginning stage, as the overall story is taking shape. Before I decide how to tell my story—structure, pacing, turning points, and so on—I need to know what it’s about. That’s the purpose of this exercise (with a nod of acknowledgement to Sandra Scofield for introducing me to the key role of “aboutness”). “Aboutness” has to do with the story’s theme, in its most universal and abstract form. It can often be summed up in one word. For example: This is a story about revenge, or redemption, or forgiveness, or homecoming, or liberation. It might need more than one word, but it’s still one idea. Second chances. Letting go of shame. Healing from betrayal. Sometimes there are two themes that feel equally salient, but that’s usually because they represent the before and after of the protagonist’s journey. For example: This is a story about grief and renewal; this is a story about guilt and forgiveness. Since there are only a limited number of themes, at this level of abstraction, a story becomes more interesting if it’s told in an unusual or highly specific way. For example: This is a story about forgiveness … … set in the XX (an interesting era and/or location) … told against the backdrop of XX (an intense political or social context, like a war, revolution, or cultural upheaval) … seen through the perspective of XX (someone with an unusual background, occupation, or approach to life) … framed by the XX (a story-within-a-story, or a famous person who is present in the narrative but is not the protagonist) If you put the two parts of the sentence together, you get—aha! Your elevator pitch! This the story of a woman’s journey from constriction to liberation, set against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community (Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman) This is a story of love and redemption, set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II (The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel) This is the story of a family’s struggle to reconnect after a devastating loss, seen through the alternating perspectives of its oldest and youngest members. This is the story of a woman’s search for wholeness, framed around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. This “Aboutness sentence” can help to keep you focused as you work on that first draft. I like to print out my Aboutness statement and tape it to my desk. WHO: “Getting told off by your protagonist”—at the late-middle stage, as you’re trying to go deeper into your character and discover what you’ve missed. A nod of gratitude to Don Maass for this exercise, which I learned in one of his workshops and have been doing, in various iterations, ever since. At this stage, you’ve got the story down, and it works—that is, it holds together as a narrative that gets your protagonist from Point A to Point B. Yet you’re wondering if there might be other, deeper layers that you’ve yet to uncover. You sense that something remains invisible to you, but you don’t know where to look for it. Thus, the purpose of this exercise is to pull back the veil between you and your main character. Who is this character, and what don’t you know about her—because you’re too close, too intellectually distant, or too quick to settle on who you assume she is? A good way to get to know someone better is to sit down and talk with her, meeting her eyes, listening to what she has to tell you—even if there are things you’d rather not hear. Visualize yourself sitting across the table from your protagonist—literally. (In my mind, we’re at my kitchen table.) Ask your protagonist these questions, and write down everything she says, exactly as she says it—again, literally. It only works if you actually write down what you “hear” her saying. Don’t just think it. How do you feel about the way I’ve portrayed you? What am I getting wrong about you? What do you want to do that I’m not letting you do? What do you dread seeing yourself do on the page? What about the other characters? You know them better than I do. Whom am I not getting? What am I missing? What do you want to say to one of the characters in the story that I’m not letting you say? What’s this story really about? What do you think of me, as a writer? I did this with the protagonist in my soon-to-be-launched novel, and it was one of the most incredible exercises I’ve ever done. My protagonist pulled no punches and told me exactly what she thought of me—how I was projecting my own hang-ups onto her, making her too defensive, and suppressing her kinder impulses. She told me that I needed to love her more. She shook me up—but luckily, I listened to her. HOW: Mapping interiority and exteriority—at one of the later stages, as you’re refining the way you’ve told the story. The story is done—but you aren’t sure if you’ve told it in the cleanest, most powerful way. You can’t see it with fresh eyes anymore, and you’re pretty sure that micro-tweaking (as in: deleting adverbs and overused words) isn’t the answer. Here’s something that can help you to assess how you’ve told your story. Print out the manuscript. (Yep, on real paper; trust me on this.) If that feels like too much, start with a couple of scenes that you know are problematic. Get out some colored pens or highlighters. Take it scene by scene. On every page, use a different color to underline or circle these elements, one at a time: Green for sentences or passages of interiority: when the POV character is in her head reacting, reflecting, thinking, wondering, or remembering. It’s the internal material that no one has access to, except her. Blue for observable action: when a character does something external, or there’s an action you could observe (like a car crash). It’s whatever you could see if you were watching a film. Yellow for exposition—when something is narrated, rather than depicted. For example, there might be a description of the setting or a paragraph to indicate the passage of time. This differs from interiority because it isn’t inside someone’s head. It’s more like the voice of the narrator. Pink for dialogue. In my own experience, actually “seeing” the way I write was pretty dramatic. I sort-of-knew that I had a habit of making my protagonist reflect on every single thing that happened, but seeing it on the page, in blue and green, really brought it home. It made me stop to consider whether each bit of interiority was needed—or needed right then—since interiority interrupts the forward movement of the story. In some cases, I consolidated the protagonist’s inner reflections and put them together at the end of the scene, rather than interspersed throughout. In other cases, I pondered whether the passage of interiority was truly necessary—and decided that it wasn’t. Certainly, there are other wonderful exercises—these are just three that I’ve found helpful. Can we compile a notebook, as a community? Is there an exercise you’ve found especially useful? If so, at what point in the process do you use it? Why and when is it useful? About Barbara Linn ProbstBarbara’s (she/her) debut novel QUEEN OF THE OWLS (April 2020) was a medalist in popular fiction from the Independent Publishers Association, first runner-up for the Eric Hoffer Award, and short-listed for the $2500 Grand Prize. Her second novel THE SOUND BETWEEN THE NOTES (April 2021) was the recipient of a Kirkus starred review, where it was lauded as "a tour de force" and selected as one of the Best Indie Books of 2021. It was also awarded the Sarton Gold Medal in Contemporary Fiction, as well as the Silver Medal in Fiction from the Nautilus Book Awards. Barbara has a PhD in Clinical Social Work and has been a therapist, teacher, researcher, and advocate for out-of-the-box kids and their families. When not writing, she’s a serious amateur pianist. Learn more on her website. Web | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=7sVS_mYYoK8:wCbLvetXpns:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=7sVS_mYYoK8:wCbLvetXpns:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  9. Today, we’re thrilled to be able to share with you an excerpt from the upcoming novel from Karen Heuler – The Splendid City. In the state of Liberty, water is rationed at alarming prices, free speech is hardly without a cost, and Texas has just declared itself its own country. In this society, paranoia is well-suited because eyes and ears are all around, and they are judging. Always judging. This terrifying (and yet somehow vaguely familiar) terrain is explored via Eleanor – a young woman eagerly learning about the gifts of her magic through the support of her coven. But being a white witch is not as easy as they portray it in the books, and she’s already been placed under ‘house arrest’ with a letch named Stan, a co-worker who wronged her in the past and now exists in the form of a cat. A talking cat who loves craft beers, picket lines, and duping and ‘shooting’ people. Eleanor has no time for Stan and his shenanigans, because she finds herself helping another coven locate a missing witch who she thinks is mysteriously linked to the shortage of water in Liberty. The Splendid City will be available from 14th June 2022 from Angry Robot, and is available to pre-order HERE CHAPTER 1 Liberty Betsy Bunderoo was used to seeing cats, but not ones who walked upright or spoke. She was standing at the bus stop, reading the notice that said the bus had been cancelled, permanently. Why? she wondered. Why don’t they say? But these were the times – indefinite suspensions, removals, reversals, etc. Things suddenly were, and then just as suddenly, were not. The structure is breaking down, she thought, and no surprise there. She felt a sort of grim satisfaction in it. So much had already changed since the election, why not this, too? Why should anything work when none of it made sense? The president did not want buses to run anywhere near the palace, and that was necessary, she supposed. She understood. But the larger problem was that the world was going crazy. No one could tolerate anyone who didn’t agree with them. “It’s true,” the big black cat said, nodding wisely. Ah! She had been muttering again, a bad habit that was growing on her. The cat was wearing a bowtie and a fanny pack. “I’m finding it very hard to have a reasonable conversation these days. Everyone shouts sound bites and no one shouts facts.” “I wonder if there are any facts left,” she said with a sigh. “I mean, everything is endlessly manipulated.” If she’d had time, she would have wondered why she was having a conversation with a cat, but right then and there she felt it was best to be polite, because he was such a very large cat. And he sounded irritated. “Things would be so much better if there were no internet,” the cat said moodily. “Because it spreads everything too fast. People see crap, believe it, and act on it before there’s a chance to respond. And there’s never just one response. It branches out. Have you heard about those mushrooms whose underground roots spread out for miles in all directions? That’s the internet for you.” “But mushroom roots aren’t right or wrong,” she said, frowning. “I don’t think you’ve got quite the right kind of analogy there.” “Really?” he asked with a nasty, hissing kind of snarl, pulling off his fanny pack and rummaging through it quickly to pull out a gun. “Really?” he asked again. And shot her. She clutched her upper arm. Blood ran through her clothes. The cat put the gun back in his pack and ran off. Eleanor was going to be mad. A happy growl rose in his throat. “How was your day?” Eleanor asked the cat when he walked in the door. She could see that he was miffed. He was always miffed. “I shot someone again,” he said, sighing. He had to agree it was becoming a nasty habit. “I do regret it.” “You always regret it.” It was very hard not pointing out the cat’s failures. She tried to make sure her face was neutral; it wasn’t easy. She had pale skin, medium length brown hair, hazel eyes, and a face that gave away everything. “Well, that just tells you about my character. I’m not actually the kind of person who goes around shooting people.” “And yet you do,” she said. “Let’s consider the circumstances. No doubt they said something to annoy you. What was it?” He frowned and shrugged his shoulders. “She contradicted my theory about the internet being like that huge mushroom root.” “Stan,” Eleanor said firmly. “It’s a bad analogy. Now, do you want to shoot me?” Stan scowled. “I do.” Of course he wanted to shoot her. Shooting people made him feel better, for a while. And it was certainly true that she could benefit from being put in her place every so often. She was bossy. Opinionated. He was the way he was because of her. “Why not talk it out instead? You have the power of speech, so why not talk about things instead? Gloria will blame me if you continue to go around shooting people.” “I never kill them, you know,” he said, his hairs rising. “Try to be the kind of cat who never shoots them in the first place,” she said. “You’re just drawing attention to yourself.” The cat shrugged. “Who’ll believe a cat shooting a woman anyway?” “They’re a nation of believers here,” she said in disgust. “Read a newspaper once in a while.” Of course, his hands twitched at that. But he only allowed himself one shot a day. They were walking down the street when a bell rang out, a familiar sound in the city, though it roved from district to district around the palace. People stopped and turned, waiting to see the messenger approach. The message could be good or bad. Once, a van had stopped a woman and then gave her the car that pulled up behind her. Then there was the time when a bunch of men got out of the van and grabbed a young man – a Latino, by the looks of him – and pulled him inside. An older man ran towards the van, but he was too late. They were gone. The messengers were often on the news and were the most popular part of it, after the reported disasters in the rest of the country, and any attempts to overthrow the republic. Then the weather, updates about the president’s latest triumph, and finally on to the messengers. People loved the giveaways and ignored the disappearances, which were generally explained as reunions. They were also fond of the whipped cream pies that hit people identified as tourists from the north. “They’d better not hit me,” Stan muttered. “I’ve got a gun.” Eleanor snorted. “Everyone here has a gun.” “My gun is better,” he said with satisfaction. Eleanor could see no point in challenging that. Besides, she often carried a can of whipped cream with her in case anyone threw a pie. She might not be able to prevent it, but she was all for revenge. Finally, Stan said, “There have been fewer messengers this week.” “That’s a relief.” “Maybe. I was hoping they’d stop for me and give me a car.” “You can’t drive a car.” “Why not?” She scowled. “You’re a cat.” There were times when she thought that he just couldn’t see himself as he was – but really, when had he ever? “Which could change at any point, you know. All I have to do is hang in, and all you have to do is learn to be nice.” He circled around himself in agitation for a moment. “But that’s the flaw in my plan!” he growled. “We’re here because you were a jerk,” Eleanor snapped. He always did it – he always had to bring things up, and bring things up! “And yet you’re here, too,” he purred. What could she say? He was right. They were each other’s punishment. She couldn’t get rid of him until she redeemed herself with Gloria. She hated to admit it, but she was shackled to the cat. “I’m here to find out what happened to Daria,” she said. Gloria hadn’t given him a mission, and she liked to point that out. “You know that’s not completely true,” he said smoothly. “Gloria wanted to get rid of you before she heard about Daria. You went too far. You always go too far.” She wouldn’t dignify that with an answer. She knew perfectly well that she and the cat were bound together until Gloria decided they’d learned their lessons. Luckily, she was also there to help find a missing witch, and that at least made it seem like Gloria respected her. “I make the decisions,” she said finally. “You’re in charge of nothing.” The cat dropped to the floor in an elegant way and circled around her, pumping his tail up. “But to continue,” he said, “I can say with all modesty that I do deserve a car. A convertible. Deep blue, I think.” “I suspect the van would decide to take you away instead,” she scoffed. “And since no one cares what happens to the disappeared, I wouldn’t care either.” It wasn’t a good look, she thought, saying things like that. But the cat was so annoying! “I bet it’s some kind of parking problem,” the cat said philosophically. “Like getting towed.” “They don’t tow people, they tow the cars.” “In other places, yes. But this makes more sense.” He got a little jaunty, swaggering and swishing his tail. He was like that, completely indifferent to what happened to others. The bell was getting closer. She was determined to see what it was this time, to see up close. She and the cat had been in the city for three weeks now, adjusting and observing. Everyone had explanations for everything, but she wasn’t going to fall for it. She would keep her New York City smarts for as long as she could. There could hardly be a good explanation for people being taken away. A large tan van with side and rear doors rounded the corner. There was a cheerful logo on the body, a smiling chicken with a frying pan. How typical, she thought: pretending animals were delighted to be killed and cooked. The van began to slow down, and some people stood still, watching, their heads swivelling as their anticipation built. Others, mostly Latinx, took corners, vanished into stores or up the stairs. And still the van moved along, ringing its merry bell. In another era, it might be a siren, Eleanor thought, but it didn’t matter. It was never ignored; everyone had their eyes on it. And then they could all see where it was heading – a young man, turning to stand and face it down, his legs spread out firm against the ground, his arms crossed, his head high, his eyes relentlessly watching it approach him, closer and closer. How fierce he was! She could feel the tension rising in the air. Everyone contributed to it, as if they were a massed beating heart. The van’s door opened, two arms reached out, grabbed him, and he was gone. “Ooh, that was good,” Stan said. “Neat and clean.” They heard a second bell, and almost immediately a car with the same logo came rushing down the street. This one had a sunroof, and a woman’s torso stuck out of the roof and shouted, “They found my husband! They found my husband!” and she threw nougats at the crowd, who began to relax and grin. These nougats were particularly popular right now. There were scarcities in a lot of items – milk, cheese, water, toilet paper – but nougats were everywhere and very cheap. Stan loved them, though Eleanor felt that he said this, and ate them, merely to irritate her. Cats didn’t eat candy. All around them, people were bending and picking up nougats, laughing and pointing out locations to other people. Some stuck them in their pockets and looked for more, others unwrapped them, threw the papers in the street, and began to chew blissfully. Some with open mouths, Eleanor noted in disgust. And the litter – these nougats were a disgrace. “Put down that nougat,” she said to the cat. He popped it in his mouth and began to chew. “Leave him alone,” a woman said. “Everyone likes nougat and why not enjoy it? We earned it.” “We did not earn nougats,” Eleanor said through clenched teeth and the cat laughed. “I have to put up with a lot!” he said. “This is my reward.” “As if you deserve a reward,” she said. “You’re arrogant and selfish.” The cat licked his paw once. “The problem is, you can’t handle me. That’s why we’re both here. You’ve got a nasty temper.” She narrowed her eyes. “I respond to you; that’s the problem. You set me off.” “Everything sets you off.” “No, it doesn’t.” “Well then, everyone.” “That’s not true.” The cat snickered. “You don’t imagine you’re good with people, do you?” Her face twisted a little and she had a brief fight with herself to get it back in order. “No, I know that,” she said. She straightened her back and stepped forward, followed closely and carefully by the cat. She hurried, but the car and the van had both raced down the street, making a turn onto President’s Avenue, and were heading quickly towards the palace. Trying to chase them on foot was a fool’s errand, she admitted. But tomorrow she was going to meet the local coven; perhaps they had information and could tell her what was going on. Maybe they would even give her some of her powers back. Any small amount of magic would irritate the cat, and that would be a gift. They were only a few blocks away from what served as home, and they walked there together quickly at first. The cat soon dropped back to whack a nougat wrapper floating in the air, then rushed forward to toss it at Eleanor’s feet. Eleanor approached an old house with a small set of wooden steps that led up to a porch and front door. Ivy had crept up to wind its way along the railings and it had spread all over the front of the building, draping it in green. Stan trotted forward to scoot in ahead of her. Eleanor was looking forward to some tea and maybe a piece of cake. Nothing for the cat though, who’d just had candy after all. And he was getting fat. But she believed he liked it. She got the tea kettle and turned on the tap. Nothing happened. She turned it off and on again, even though that was ridiculous. Doing something twice wasn’t magic. She sighed, thinking. “It’s Tuesday, isn’t it?” she asked the cat, who was busy licking his tail. “It is,” the cat answered. “Didn’t we pay to have water on Tuesday? Did you forget to send the payment?” The cat was offended and stroked his paw in annoyance. “You see why it makes no sense to put me in charge of paperwork? I have a philosophical indifference. It is not in my nature to be diligent. I am a free spirit! If there is no water, we will drink champagne!” Typical behavior! That cat never got over his airs. It wouldn’t really matter what kind of creature he was turned into, he’d always be lazy and selfish. She could see him as a boastful snake, a snide bird, a swaggering toad. He’d manage to turn it to his advantage no matter what. It was better to just ignore his moments of grandiosity because he got too much pleasure out of her annoyance. She had to admit she was annoyed too often. She rummaged in her handbag on the table. “Go give this to the water man,” Eleanor said, and handed the cat a twenty-dollar bill. “And get a receipt!” Fat chance of that, she thought, but she couldn’t stop herself from giving him orders she knew he would ignore. At least he’d be out of the house for a while. Some days she just couldn’t stand him. Stan clutched the twenty-dollar bill in his paw for a block then tucked it into the pocket of his bowtie, which Eleanor had made specially for him to shut up his constant complaints. He strolled down the street, listening idly to the shouts not too far away in the distance. He liked to think of himself as an observer of the human condition, having recently been human himself. Having experienced life as both cat and man, he felt he had a unique width of perspective. Why go to work when mice were so abundant? Why wear ugly clothes when sleek black fur was so superior? He took the long way around to the water office, thereby encountering the outskirts of the Tuesday parade. He saw signs that said, Support Our Coal Workers and others that said Solar Power Isn’t Power. He could see some signs with business logos as well. Not merely the ever-present chicken with a frying pan, but also Water Is Beautiful signs, which had the virtue of not meaning much at all. The energy signs were propaganda; he was superior enough in his understanding of the world to know that. This week’s march was therefore about energy, which made everyone feel good since it was a warm, pleasant day. He turned a corner and ran into a line of people forming the end of the parade, or the side of the parade. He hurried up to join them, picking up a discarded sign that read, You Don’t Need Progress When You’ve Got Good Solutions. “What do you think of this sign?” Stan asked a marcher, once he had sidled into the middle of the crowd. It was moving slowly, and protestors waved to each other in delight. His fellow marcher looked at it briefly and then shrugged. “A lot of words to carry. I prefer small signs.” He waved his, which merely said, We’re Right. “I think this covers just about everything, and it’s easy to make.” “I’ve always felt very right as well,” Stan said companionably. The marcher frowned at him and moved away, and Stan quickly wandered back to the edge of the cheering crowd and sauntered off, heading for the water store. There was a grumpy old man leaning over the counter as Stan entered the store. “No cats,” he said without rancor. Stan looked behind him, surprised. “Cats? I don’t see any cats.” “You’re a cat.” “My dear sir, I have a rare skin condition that makes me look like a cat. I am used to constant humiliation, to whispers and stares and the odd can of flung tuna, but I am not a cat.” The water man stared at him for a lengthy piece of time. “Okaaaay,” he said, “as long as you’re about to pay me for a water transaction. Otherwise, get lost.” “You see right through me! I do indeed want to pay for today’s water.” He handed over a piece of paper with an account number and an address. “We appear to have neglected to pay for today, though I believe you’ll see the rest of the week is paid up.” The guy looked rapidly at his monitor, clicked a few keys, and said, “That will be one hundred dollars.” “For one day?” “Reinstatement fee, update fee, penalty for lapse, plus, yes, forty dollars per day charge.” “That’s ridiculous! It’s always been twenty dollars a day!” Stan was about to say more but the fierce look on the guy’s face stopped him. “Rates went up. You want it or not?” “I only have twenty.” That was all Eleanor had given him; he was not about to touch his own money. “Tell you what,” and the old man suddenly got conspiratorial. “You give me the twenty, I’ll give you, what, say, five hours of water?” He glanced at the screen again. “And five hours tomorrow. But from then on it’s unfortunately double.” “Double!” Stan was shocked. “Hard to find clean water these days. Liberals and illegals stealing it, y’know. Plus, lots of hands held out all along the way. But if you want clean water, we guarantee it. There’s a black market for it, of course, I’m not saying there isn’t, but what kind of water do you think you’d get from them? Huh?” The last word contained so much satisfaction that Stan stepped back a bit and then pushed his money across the counter. “Five hours, then,” Stan agreed. “And not a minute less. We just arrived from the East and we’re not used to the water situation here.” He gathered himself stiffly. “Ah, Easterners,” the old man said sharply. “And complaining already, when we all know that the reason for our lack of water is that you’ve been taking it from us for years.” The man held up one of the local thin-print newspapers in proof and tapped it. “It’s all right here. Land grabs and water grabs and court case after court case. It’s good seeing some of you living with the results of your own greed. Maybe then you’ll learn to think of others.” He bent his head and entered some numbers on to his computer keyboard, then nodded and looked up at Stan sternly. “Five hours. No more, no less. And don’t think you can fill up your bathtub with water, either. We have ways of checking that.” This threat worked a surprisingly large amount of time, the water clerk thought smugly, this impossible threat. It gave him a tremendous sense of power because mostly the customers believed him. In his estimation, the world was a sneaky place to begin with, and he liked the moment of surprise he saw in customers’ eyes when he said this; he liked being the authority. “We’ll manage,” Stan said. He wasn’t feeling altogether satisfied with how this transaction had gone. He wasn’t, it was true, good at monetary responsibilities. He was good at posturing and hissing and taking advantage of people. Getting them confused. Getting them annoyed. But he couldn’t confuse or annoy the water person because they needed the water. If only Eleanor had kept a bit more of her powers! Though he knew perfectly well that she deserved not to have them. He knew that better than anyone. Stan hurried back, avoiding the parades for the most part, but came across a string of people dressed in bright clothes with flowing colors. Half of them held signs that said Horses tomorrow at 2 and the others said, Camels tomorrow at 3. One thing he did admire was that there was always something going on, despite the water shortage and the (possible) kidnapping of citizens. Eleanor took a more jaded view of that last one, though he liked the excitement of possibilities more than she did, it was true. He decided to follow one of the women carrying the sign about camels. “Hello,” he said politely when he caught up with her. “Can one ride the camels?” She stopped and looked him up and down. “No,” she said with a sneer, “for the same reason that the camels can’t ride you.” And she started off marching straight down the street. That was interesting. “And why can’t the camels ride me?” he asked after her. “Because there are no camels!” the woman shouted, and ran off. This was exactly the kind of thing Stan loved. He was a student of absurdity and hated to think he might have missed this opportunity. He would walk a block towards the parade in case there were stragglers with interesting signs. Or anti-president agitators. They were rare and always filled with possibilities. He suspected they were hired, more often than not. And he was in luck! It was only another two short blocks before he came upon what he believed was an actual agitator – moody, morose, holding a sign that said, Is this the best we can do? – a sign that might get him into trouble, depending on who was watching. He pulled up short. “My friend,” he said, “as a completely neutral observer, I want to say that this kind of sign might anger some people for its moral ambiguity and lack of patriotism.” The man turned his sign so he could read it. “It’s true,” he agreed. “I understand that it’s not acceptable, and yet I can’t help myself. It must be a disease.” “It’s not safe to have a disease in times like these.” The man shook his head sadly. “Of course,” he agreed. “Of course.” “Put that sign down. Or better yet – give it to me,” the cat said. The man nodded and gave him the sign. Stan propped it next to a garbage can, turned around, and squirted it. That was one of the many things that made being a cat so pleasant. And he gave himself credit for having intervened in that poor man’s life. Perhaps he had saved him from a disastrous encounter. Eleanor needed to realize that he was underutilized. He sashayed a little, preening, because he was just so good at everything he did, then remembered that it was close to dinner time, and Eleanor had promised him a treat. Of course, he could get something for himself… in fact, now that he thought about it, he would get something for himself. There was bound to be a café or small restaurant that had exactly what he was hankering for – fish tacos. Possibly with a spicy mayonnaise and a lovely beer. Eleanor frowned on his drinking beer. “Cats don’t drink beer,” she had said, “so you’re deliberately flaunting the fact that you aren’t, at heart, a cat. And that, if you were more aware, is a dig at how you became a cat, which is a dig at me. I have apologized a million times, so there’s no need to shove my face in it.” She was always annoying, of course. Always thinking she was better than he was. And therefore in charge. In charge of what, exactly? The water bills? He laughed at the water bills! No need to let her ruin his life. He had done his errand, he had saved that stupid man with the sign, and he had shot only one person. And that not seriously. Besides, it was hours ago. It had been the kind of day that required a celebration, he was sure of it. He paid more attention to his surroundings. There were a lot of small shops in this area, though it unfortunately appeared that most of them were closed. But then two blocks more and there was a café with some chairs on the street. It had an open-air counter with a cook behind it and a menu written in chalk. The first item was “Fish tacos” which delighted him. He strolled up and ordered two from a waiter cleaning a small table. “Are the tacos authentic?” he asked, without thinking. “They’re not really authentic tacos,” the waiter assured him. “They’re an American version of tacos, and therefore so much better than the authentic kind.” “Of course,” Stan said magnanimously. “Americans are the only ones who understand Mexican cuisine.” “You’re so right!” the cook said wholeheartedly from behind his counter. “Or any cuisine, when you come down to it. These tacos use pure American ingredients.” “Are the fish local?” Stan asked. “Frozen! Pure American frozen fish!” Stan liked how much attention the cook gave him. He decided he would even pay for his meal, though he had been intent on causing a commotion and escaping in the confusion, as usual. In a sudden fit of remorse, he decided now that he would always pay for his meals. His tacos arrived promptly, beautifully prepared, with soft shells, some shredded cabbage and a salsa of fruit. “Wait,” Stan said. “Is this a pineapple salsa?” “Yes.” The waiter looked alert. “Aren’t mangos in season? Why would you use pineapple? Aren’t pineapples less American?” He forked his tacos into pieces – fish, cabbage, pineapple, cilantro, etc. The waiter whisked it away. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Mango salsa! Of course! What was I thinking?” Stan felt a mood coming over him. He had meant to be understanding; cooperative, nice. What had gone wrong? Was it his fault it had gone wrong? “And don’t forget the ketchup!” he yelled to the retreating back. “This is how a good mood gets shattered,” he muttered to himself piteously. What the waiter finally came out with was actually pretty good, and the ketchup was a full bottle, which Stan used generously. Why were people always so snooty about ketchup? He loved it. He paused and made a note on his phone. He liked to pose provocative questions on his new social media startup, and he was sure ketchup would be a hot topic. The waiter stood nervously nearby, refilling his beer when it reached halfway, over and over. Stan found the beer very good, clearly an American beer no matter what the label said. He paid, feeling kind and generous, and swayed his way down the street. He wondered how angry Eleanor would be if he stopped in a café and had a coffee and a cream tart as well. Surely the water would be back on by the time he got there, and she might not even notice he was late. Besides, he was very fond of cream tarts. Eleanor tried the taps every few minutes and finally there was water. It was amazing how quickly they could turn it off and on, as if it was all computerized so recently. Perhaps it was, she considered. Although computers and bureaucracy didn’t usually go well together, bureaucracies somehow changed the speed at which a computer could do its job. There had to be a reason why this worked so quickly, and of course it all had to do with money. Turn it off fast and you cow people into submission. Turn it on quickly and it depletes resentment. And the constant reminders about the water shortages made everyone uneasy and glad to have water at any cost. Or, almost any cost. Eleanor didn’t believe that the shortages were due to liberal misuse and theft of water rights by the East, as the president claimed. She didn’t believe that whatever was wrong was because of the liberals. Gloria had laughed about that in their last conversation. “Pollution, agricultural runoff, fracking; storing mining residue in failing pools; damming rivers so that the wildlife and the rivers die. You can name a dozen culprits as to why the water’s so bad, and it still won’t explain why anyone has to buy clean water. Where does the clean water come from?” Gloria was the one who had sent Eleanor to Liberty. Part of it was punishment, of course, because of the cat, but most of it was that Gloria wanted eyes everywhere. She wanted to know what was going on with the Liberty witches and why the coven was so small. And, of course, to find where the missing witch had gone. The water had come back on more than an hour ago. Where was the cat? The cat was licking his whiskers clean of cream, taking long luxurious swipes with his paw and then running his tongue along it. He felt very good about himself, which was true most of the time, but especially true at times like this. Eleanor believed in simple foods; he was more of a gourmand, notwithstanding the whole mouse thing. He leaned back against his seat and glanced around with a superior, satisfied eye. He caught a touch of exasperation in a couple’s conversation nearby and changed his seat after pretending the setting sun was in his eyes. He loved to eavesdrop. It was an art, and he was an artist. He also loved to take whatever provocative statements he heard and post them to Whispers, a kind of Twitter thread that paid out for the whisps with the highest engagement. He had been surprised to find that Liberty had nothing like this social network when he arrived, and so he had started it. That was one reason he actually enjoyed being here. It was technically an underdeveloped country. Eleanor might chafe at being here, but he loved it. The tense couple held themselves politely apart, though the woman in particular was trying to appear casual and contained. It was clear that the discussion was well on its way to being an argument. The man leaned forward. “When you picture ‘American,’ what do you see?” he asked. “I mean, what’s the image you have? I’ll tell you what I have – it’s a man in a field, working on his crops, standing tall to see his work. Or on a steel girder, or looking at his architectural plans, or on a commuter train, going home to his family. Or defending his country, in uniform. And none of them are Asian, or Arabic, or even black or Hispanic. They’re white men.” The woman’s smile was slow and chilling. “I think it’s interesting, too, how it’s always men you see when you think of Americans.” “Oh, don’t do that. You know what I mean. When anyone says men, they include women in it.” Stan could hardly keep himself from cheering. He loved this kind of thing. “Really?” The woman’s hand slowly curled itself up. “Do they ever say women and include men? Would you stand for that?” “You’re just deliberately turning it around. I mean only that when you say Africa, you think of blacks. When you say Puerto Rico, you see Puerto Ricans. When you say a country, you see the people who live in that country. And it’s good. Why would you go to India or Africa if it was just like going to the suburbs? No difference? All I’m saying is that the differences matter, they have value, they have weight. And when I see America, I see, yes, a white, middle-class man, the picture of what this country was built for.” “When it was stolen from the Red Man, yes. Not the Red Woman, either, which again is very interesting.” The man groaned in annoyance. “This is an unpleasant part of your personality. You’re too stubborn. You’re refusing to argue the merits of the case, you’re just falling back on feminist crap. Feminist martyr crap.” “You know, they did tons of studies on what causes heart attacks and what to do to prevent them, to treat them. And you know what? They only studied white men. And it turns out the signs aren’t even the same for men and for women. When women went to the ER they were turned away because the symptoms didn’t match the symptoms for a man’s heart attack. They went home with their heart attacks. Because whenever they studied something, they studied it with the male in mind. Whether it’s medicine or, or – geography, apparently.” “Again, I see your point and that’s a case to think about I’m sure, but it’s not typical.” “It is typical. And it’s time we did studies of all diseases but used only women. Let’s see what happens then.” “That’s stupid! That’s just so stupid! How could it possibly be right, a study like that? How could it possibly be right if there are no men in it? Women and men are not the same.” “There! You see! You know that and you’re not particularly enlightened. But medicine didn’t know it. Isn’t that amazing?” “You have to start with the male,” he said. “Of course you do. I mean, how could it possibly be valid if you started with women? Men don’t have that whole menstrual thing, those hormones, they don’t get pregnant, none of that stuff. Of course it wouldn’t work. The baseline has to be male.” “Why?” He spluttered. “You’re doing it again. You’re being stubborn. I don’t know how to say it without getting you mad.” “Penises? Is that what you mean? It can’t be valid if it doesn’t include a penis?” He sighed dramatically. “It really took you that long to get to it? Everyone knows it. The penis is the dynamic force of civilization. There, you wanted me to say it and now I did. If it doesn’t have a penis, it can’t matter. What else? Penises made the world the way it is.” “That’s true,” she said bitterly. “Look around you. Walls. Polluted water. Forced marches.” “Keep your voice down.” They glanced quickly around the café, and their eyes settled, together, on the cat. “What’s that?” she whispered. Stan had excellent hearing; it was ridiculous how people thought he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Maybe they thought he spoke a different language. He grinned and turned it into a yawn and then waved at the couple, whose enmity had been overcome by their uneasiness. “It’s a cat,” the man said. “Or something like a cat.” Should I? Stan wondered and then shrugged. “I am a cat,” he said grandly. That would unsettle them on so many levels. If the cat could talk, they would wonder, could it report their conversation? Their faces went through contortions trying to remember all the things they’d said. “Let’s go,” the woman said. The man took out a credit card. “In cash,” she hissed. “Cash!” They glanced again at Stan. “I don’t have enough,” the man said, but the woman was already going through her pockets. She took out a bill and put it down. “Now,” she said. “Let’s go.” He nodded and they stood up quickly, keeping their eyes straight ahead as they passed Stan. What a good day this has been, Stan thought with satisfaction, as he wrote down a question for his new and thriving Whispers feed: Which is more typical of the human race, a man or a woman? That would get them going! He really should reward himself. “A delicious cream tart. Should I have a second?” He considered, seriously, whether a second cream tart would be against his principles. It would not. * * * A day or so later, Eleanor asked Stan, “Did you get the newspaper?” He had gone out for a leisurely stroll and come back smelling of cappuccino. He tapped his fanny pack in response. “Amazing news today,” he said. “It makes all my hairs stand on end.” He took out the paper, looked at the headline and yes – his fur puffed up. “You do that deliberately,” Eleanor said. “I’m not impressed.” “Can you do it?” “Why would I want to?” She shrugged. “What’s in the paper?” “The most marvelous thing,” he murmured in a hushed voice. He did seem impressed. “Really. Look at this and tell me you’re not thrilled!” She opened it up and right there on the front page, a graphic read: Treasure Hunt! She shrugged and put it down. “There was a treasure hunt last week, too. It was a goldfish. I think the clue read Living Gold, or something. Obvious, when you think about it.” “Read it.” He gave her a sharp look, which wasn’t unusual, but she could tell by the tone of his voice that he’d fallen for it, whatever it was. Get rich quick, no doubt. No doubt. She picked it up and noted the headline: The Legend of the Grandiose Diamond Ring. Grandiose Diamond Ring? Was that supposed to be a brand? More likely just a made-up description to hook the readers. But it actually did look interesting, and little by little she dropped some of her disdain. She smiled. Oh, this would be good! Lawrence Dean Wilcox, 95, owner of Meridian Investments, was born in 1869. He had properties in Texas, New York, the Riviera, and Colorado, along with two yachts and a railroad. His wife of fifty years, Enid, died two years before him and had no children. He was a lover of chess, golf, and riddles. He buried the bulk of his collection of gold and jewelry in the desert sometime before his death, fearing that it would be lost in the stock market, and as he lay dying, he thought out a series of clues and references that were difficult but not impossible for any true treasure hunter. His servants often heard him chuckling and laughing in glee as he worked on them in the study. “He bequeathed us the first clue, which was ‘Not in town.’ Not much of a clue. Not much of a thank you.” The clues were to be revealed one hundred years after his death, a date that came up two weeks ago. Now that the box keeping the clues has been recovered, the grandson of his original lawyer is releasing hints and suggestions, which he said were pointless, but he is bound by law and custom to do as directed. His final note to his staff and lawyers claimed the treasure is worth over a million dollars. “See?” Stan said. “Treasure.” He began to sing gently in his throat, his eyes half closed before opening wide again. “I’m very good at puzzles,” he said. “Are you?” Eleanor was amused despite herself. Once you knew one thing about this cat, you knew everything about this cat – what motivated him, what he thought of himself, what shiny thing would catch his eye. It was a terrible admission, but she didn’t think she’d ever known anyone as well as she knew Stan – unwillingly, unhappily, and without release, at least until she managed to redeem herself with Gloria. And speaking of that, she had a meeting with Dolores, the local head witch, in an hour. It would be best if Stan kept out of it. “You know, you are good at puzzles,” she said finally. “I think you stand a chance.” She managed to keep a straight face. He was so easy! He lived for compliments. A compliment always overcame any suspicion he had, and this did exactly that. He stretched his front legs way out, and dipped his spine a little, trying to ignore the belly that ruined that long cat form. “I do,” he said. “I really do.” Karen Heuler is the author of The Splendid City. Her stories have appeared in over 100 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, from Conjunctions to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to Weird Tales, as well as a number of Best Of anthologies. She has received an O. Henry award, been a finalist for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award, the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction, and a bunch of other ritzy awards. Her stories and books often feature women facing strange circumstances on this world and others. Karen Heuler lives in New York City with a large dog and two alarmed cats. Facebook | Twitter The post THE SPLENDID CITY by Karen Heuler – EXCERPT appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  10. Last month, I wrote about how hard it is to write morally good characters. In the comments, it came up that writing evil characters can be just as hard, though for different reasons. Evil characters can be easy to write because they’re often more clearly aware of their intentions than good ones. But to write believable evil characters, you have to get inside their minds. Anyone who gives advice on writing will tell you that you have to humanize your bad guys for them to be effective — cartoon evil is no more interesting than cartoon good. But writers also need a warning about just how painful it can be to enter an evil mind. A lot of writers try to dodge the question by just giving their villains the standard abusive childhood – as if no bad guy ever came from a happy home. Some avoid ever writing from their villain’s point of view, keeping their evil at a distance. But to really make an evil character effective and memorable, you need to enter their worldview and see life as they see it. Many evil people don’t think of themselves as evil. So one way to get into the minds of some villains is to try to see why they feel that what they are doing is good. They’re hurting people and destroying lives, but it’s for the greater good. They might have to commit murder, but it’s to save even more people. This sense of their own righteousness doesn’t necessarily excuse their actions – it could be massive self-delusion. But it does give you a way to get into the head of someone actively causing pain. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, people who hurt you for their own pleasure are far less dangerous than people who hurt you for your own good. Some evil characters know that what they’re doing is evil, but they didn’t set out to do it. They simply started with some minor, easily excused infraction that just snowballs. An embezzler lifts a few thousand dollars from a work account to cover a debt, then has to falsify tax records when it isn’t paid back in time. And then has to throw blame on a co-worker and perhaps embezzle more to escape, or even kill the auditor who discovered the grift. Again, this is not an excuse – at any point in the sequence, the villain could have bowed out. But following a character through a series of bad decisions, each one building on the last, each one harder to justify, can actually be a good source of tension. Some people are, though, simply evil, and those heads are the hardest to get into. Seeing the world from inside the head of someone who delights in destruction can only be done if you put aside your own humanity. It can be wrenching and exhausting. It doesn’t matter. Do it anyway. Just give yourself to it. There is certainly room in the world for light, gentle, hopeful books. But to write books that show readers a harsher, grittier reality often means you have to stare evil squarely in the face, understand it, even accept it at some level. Many writers don’t have the courage. I often have clients who refuse to see their main characters get hurt, even though their story demands it. Or they’re reluctant to have their main characters affected by their suffering. If their characters don’t suffer, they don’t have to enter into the mind of the one causing them to suffer. Darkness is sometimes part of life. Grief is the flip side of love. If you want to write the full range of human experience, you need devils as well as angels. Tell us about the most evil character you’ve created. How did it affect you to get into their head? How did you manage? Ruth Karl Julian co-authored this article. About Dave KingDave King is the co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, a best-seller among writing books. An independent editor since 1987, he is also a former contributing editor at Writer's Digest. Many of his magazine pieces on the art of writing have been anthologized in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing and in The Writer's Digest Writing Clinic. You can check out several of his articles and get other writing tips on his website. Web | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=LKayj6aexi8:KC4PWwMs68Y:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=LKayj6aexi8:KC4PWwMs68Y:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  11. December Park is my second foray into Ronald Malfi’s novels, and after how immensely thrilling this was, he’s on his way to becoming one of my favourite horror authors. Filled with eerie atmospheric prose, heartfelt characters and a gripping mystery, this book is a coming-of-age tale that demands your attention. During 1993 in the sleepy suburbs of Harting Farm five friends anticipate the end of school and a long summer of carefree shenanigans and capers in the park and mysterious surrounding woods. However, when children begin disappearing, and one young girl is found brutally murdered, fears of a serial killer, terrifyingly named The Piper, grips all the residents in fear for their children’s safety. As parent’s become stricter and police begin to enforce restrictions, our five band of friends decide to make a pact to uncover who The Piper is and put an end to their horrific deeds. Yet what begins as a simple pledge, an adventure of sorts, soon turns into a deadly task. Can they find The Piper before one of them becomes their next victim? “When I wrote, I entered a fantasy world. That old typewriter was the machine that took me there and brought me safely back. I didn’t know if I could get there from someone’s spare word processor. Moreover, I thought that once you stopped writing words and started processing them, those wonderful fantasy worlds became harder and harder to visit.” Our main protagonist is Angelo Mazzone, a fifteen year old Italian American boy, who gives us his first person account of the fateful summer he and his friends spent searching for The Piper. Angelo doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream crowd, his passions are music and writing, not sports, and his home is filled with grief and longing after the death of his brother Charlie. Angelo loses himself in his imagination, creating stories on a rickety typewriter, spinning tales of horror. At school his new English teacher recognises his talent and encourages him, but to a fifteen year old boy, thoughts of future careers are not of high priority. His father is often aloof, lost in thoughts, and due to his police work, and now the task of catching a killer, he’s rarely at home. It is clear he cares for his son, but after losing one, he doesn’t know how to show affection for the one who still lives. Unlike most teenagers, Angelo never showed bitterness towards his father, he’s a kind and gentle soul, a boy who can see beyond himself. In his grandparents’ care most of the time, Angelo doesn’t grow up without love, and certainly not without friendship. As we meet Peter, Michael, Scott and some time later Adrian, we soon discover Angelo never had to face life alone. Together they bike ride across the twilight streets of Hartings Farm, watch horror movies at the Juniper, secretly enjoy a smoke or two, listen to Nirvana and Springsteen, and share jokes and quip at each other. Over the course of the novel these five young boys form an unbreakable bond. Malfi is fantastic at building characters, making each of them distinct and memorable. I loved the way Michael was the comedian of the group, Angelo the more sensible one, Peter the guardian, Scott cautious and Adrian held dark secrets. As the threat of bullies rears its ugly head, and the danger surrounding The Piper mounts up, these kids stand together, never leaving each other’s side. Their friendship was everything and I truly adored them. “We were four black souls carving our way up the cliff road on the outskirts of town. The city faded to smeary lights and dark pits of shadow. It was the world as we knew it, and we were shuttling right out of orbit.” I have also come to really love Malfi’s prose, which I always find easy to fall into. His dialogue flows naturally, full of jibes and insults as teenagers do. Yet it is his descriptions I love the most, they build up to become gloomily atmospheric, bringing the setting of Harting Farms, December Park and the surrounding forest to life. At the beginning of the novel these places reflect a carefree and joyous neighbourhood for the five boys to spend their summer together, but as the disappearances grip the streets, Malfi raises a sense of foreboding, every dark alley or secluded area a threat, a potential abduction or even murder site. Instead of outright horror and gore, Malfi creates tension, a sense of eeriness and claustrophobia. He plays on sensory fears and makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, right until the very end. Once again, Malfi hit me with an unexpected emotional ending. I hadn’t realised how much I would miss this little band of friends and their quips until I had closed the book. December Park may be a horror novel but it is one which centres on friendship, growing up and discovering who you truly are. “I become you and you become me and us become us and we become we.” The post DECEMBER PARK by Ronald Malfi (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  12. tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com Welcome to Fantastic Top Fives with Wyrd & Wonder! Every Monday throughout Wyrd and Wonder, we’re going to recommend a fantasy read in five words. Every year, W&W have featured a different mascot; dragon, phoenix, pegasus, raven, and this year’s is wolf. This week, we’re basing our recommendations on books that either have one of these creatures on the cover or feature in the story as a character or part of the worldbuilding! Underlined book titles in bold contain links to reviews on this site. Julia Phoenix Rising by JA Andrews Defeat or a new hope? Nils The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne Blood Warriors Gods Resurrection Battles Scarlett Knight of the Silver Circle Unlikely-Heroes, Villains, decoys, despair, beasts Beth The Green Rider by Kristen Britain Sounds amazing need to read! Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Raven King brings magic to Britain Next week we’ll be recommending reads featuring the past Wyrd and Wonder mascots! Since Last Time | Forest Fantasies The post Fantastic Top Fives with Wyrd & Wonder – Mascots appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  13. This contest submissions season covers deadlines from June 1, 2022 through August 31, 2022. Summer is a slower time for any literary journal or contest associated with a university, but there are still opportunities between beach waves and new drafts. Thanks to Literistic, Poets & Writers, Submittable Discover, and New Pages for many of these contests. Much like editors are looking for reasons to reject work, I want to focus on opportunities worth my time. Thus, my list of writing contests below includes reasons to submit to that particular writing contest. May you find a promising opportunity among this list and spend less time searching for where to send your exceptional work. Since my last roundup, I’ve published a story in Palooka and been invited to give a free workshop about submissions at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I’m also considering creating a submissions tracking alternative to spreadsheets or Duotrope and looking for submitters to chat with. June 2022 Salamander Magazine – 2022 Fiction Prize – $15 fee Deadline: June 1, 2022 “First Prize: $1,000 and Publication; Second Prize: $500 and Publication; All entries will be considered for publication. All entries will be considered anonymously. Send no more than one story per entry. Each story must not exceed 30 double-spaced pages in 12 point font. … Contest reading fee includes a one-year subscription.” Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Flag-bearer—open to international submissions Oh, wordy!—generous word count limit Read on—entry fee includes one-year subscription Rebirth—accepts published work Share the wealth—multiple prizes American Short Fiction – Halifax Ranch Prize – $20 fee Deadline: June 1, 2022 “The winner will receive a $2,500 prize and publication in an upcoming issue of American Short Fiction. In addition, the winner will receive a week-long all-expenses-paid writing retreat (optional—dates TBD) at the Tasajillo Residency, which neighbors the Halifax Ranch just outside of Austin in Kyle, Texas. … Please submit your $20 entry fee and your work through Submittable. International submissions in English are eligible. … All submitters will receive a complimentary copy of the prize issue. All entries must be single, self-contained works of fiction, between 2,000-6,500 words. Please DO NOT include any identifying information on the manuscript itself. … Winners will be announced in September.” Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Flag-bearer—open to international submissions Oh, wordy!—generous word count limit Prestige—#17 in Pushcart ranking Wanderluster—prize includes lodging or travel Bath Flash Fiction Award – £9 fee Deadline: June 5, 2022 “300 word limit. £1000 prize for the winner, £300 second and £100 third. Two commendations £30 each. 50 longlisted entrants offered publication in our end of year print and digital anthology. Those accepting receive a free copy.” Reasons to submit: Eligibility restriction—less competition Flag-bearer—open to international submissions Share the wealth—multiple prizes Willow Springs Books – Spokane Prize for Short Fiction – $28 fee Deadline: June 24, 2022 “The winner receives $2,000 plus publication. … Open To: All United States authors, regardless of publication history. … Submit A book-length manuscript. Manuscripts should be no less than 98 pages (with no maximum page count) and include at least 3 short stories. Manuscripts should be organized with page numbers and a table of contents. Stories may have been previously published in journals, anthologies, or limited edition volumes. However, selected story collections (stories previously published in books) will not be considered. Please do not send novels.” Reasons to submit: Eligibility restriction—less competition Friendly to emerging writers Friendly to short story writers exclusively Oh, wordy!—generous word count limit Prestige—#98 in Pushcart ranking Rebirth—accepts published work University of Pittsburgh Press – Drue Heinz Literature Prize – $0 fee Deadline: June 30, 2022 “The award is open to writers who have published a novel or a book-length collection of fiction with a reputable book publisher, or a minimum of three short stories or novellas in magazines or journals of national distribution. Digital-only publication and self-publication do not count toward this requirement. The award is open to writers in English, whether or not they are citizens of the United States. … Eligible submissions include an unpublished manuscript of short stories; two or more novellas (a novella may comprise a maximum of 130 double-spaced typed pages); or a combination of one or more novellas and short stories. Novellas are only accepted as part of a larger collection. Manuscripts may be no fewer than 150 and no more than 300 pages. Prior publication of your manuscript as a whole in any format (including electronic) makes it ineligible. Stories or novellas presviously published in magazines or journals or in book form as part of an anthology are eligible.” Reasons to submit: Eligibility restriction—less competition Flag-bearer—open to international submissions Friendly to novelists Oh, wordy!—generous word count limit Rebirth—accepts published work July 2022 Ruminate – The Waking Flash Prose Prize – Fiction – $8 fee Deadline: July 1, 2022 “The Waking is an online literary magazine and part of the Ruminate creative community that houses high-quality literary writing about what it’s like to be human. This art can be beautiful, it can be strange, we just ask that it feels true. … Publication of the Winner, Runner-Up, and Select Finalists: Online AND in Ruminate’s annual print prize anthology” Submit up to two stories of 1,000 words each. “$500 cash prize and publication on The Waking will be awarded to the winner … All entries will also be considered for publication in The Waking.” Entry scholarships available. Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Prestige—#81 in Pushcart ranking The Saturday Evening Post – Great American Fiction Contest – $10 fee Deadline: July 1, 2022 “In its two centuries of existence, The Saturday Evening Post has published short fiction by a who’s who of great American authors … This contest is a tribute to the Post’s legacy of featuring the most renowned American fiction writers … The winning story will be published in the January/February 2023 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive $1,000. Five runners-up will each receive $200 and will also have their stories featured online.” Submit 1,500 – 5,000 words. Reasons to submit: Friendly to emerging writers No hunting for winners—can read past winners online Share the wealth—multiple prizes The Southampton Review – Stony Brook Undergraduate Short Fiction Prize – $0 fee Deadline: July 14, 2022 “Only undergraduates enrolled full time in United States and Canadian universities and colleges for the academic year 2021-2022 are eligible. … Submissions of no more than 7,500 words. … Submission assumes the right of Stony Brook to publish the winning story on its Web site. … The author of the winning story will receive $1,000 and a scholarship to the 2023 Southampton Writers Conference Additionally, the winning story will automatically be considered for publication in TSR: The Southampton Review.” Reasons to submit: Eligibility restriction—less competition Friendly to emerging writers Oh, wordy!—generous word count limit Prestige—#42 in Pushcart ranking Wanderluster—prize includes lodging or travel Bellevue Literary Review – Goldenberg Prize for Fiction – $20 fee Deadline: July 15, 2020 “The annual BLR Prizes award outstanding writing related to themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. … First prize is $1,000 (in each genre) and publication in the Spring 2023 issue of BLR. Honorable mention winners will receive $250 and publication in the Spring 2023 issue of BLR. … The Bellevue Literary Review seeks character-driven fiction with original voices and strong settings. We do not publish genre fiction (romance, sci-fi, horror). Our word max is 5,000, though most of our published stories tend to be in the range of 2,000-4,000 words. We have only occasionally published flash fiction. While we are always interested in creative explorations in style, we do lean toward classic short stories.” Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Prestige—#27 in Pushcart ranking Share the wealth—multiple prizes Nimrod International Journal – Francine Ringold Award for New Writers – $12 fee Deadline: July 15, 2022 “The Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers honor the work of writers at the beginning of their careers.” $500 prize and publication in the spring issue of Nimrod. “Honorable Mentions will also be published and paid at our standard publication rates. … Winners will have the chance to work with the Nimrod board of editors to refine and edit their manuscripts before publication. Open onlFriendly to emergingy to writers whose work has not appeared or is not scheduled to appear in more than 2 publications…” Submit up to 5,000 words. Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Eligibility restriction—less competition Flag-bearer—open to international submissions Prestige—#117 in Pushcart ranking 2022 F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest – $0-$15 fee Deadline: July 30, 2022 “Residents of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, are eligible. … no restrictions on subject matter.” Submit up to 4,000 words. “First prize is $500 and an invitation to speak briefly about the story at the 26th annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival in October 2022. … Two runner-up prizes of $100 each. … The winning entries will be available online.” Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Friendly to emerging writers Regional restriction—less competition Share the wealth—multiple prizes Crazyhorse – Crazyshorts! Short-Short Fiction Contest – $15 fee Deadline: July 31, 2022 Annual contest expected to repeat this July. $1,000 and publication for first place. “Submit 1-3 stories of up to 500 words each. … All entries will be considered for publication. Before you submit, please remove your name and any other identifying information from your manuscript. Simultaneous submissions are okay, as long as you contact us should the work be accepted elsewhere. The $15 entry fee includes a one-year subscription to Crazyhorse.” Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Prestige—#44 in Pushcart ranking Read on—entry fee includes one-year subscription August 2022 PEN America – Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction – $40 fee Deadline: August 1, 2022 “The PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction is a career-founding prize, which promotes fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. Established by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000, it is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. … Entries are judged blindly … The author of the winning manuscript is awarded a prize of $25,000 and a publishing contract with Algonquin Books, as well as an additional publishing advance. The winning author can expect to work closely with an editor from Algonquin prior to publication, and will receive promotional support from PEN America and Algonquin.” Submit an unpublished novel of at least 80,000 words in length. Reasons to submit: Friendly to unagented writers Friendly to novelists Prestige Share the wealth—multiple prizes Blue Earth Review – Summer Writing Contest – $5 fee Deadline: August 15, 2022 “Though we consider magazine-length writing, generally, we publish in a small, square, focused format, so we gravitate towards shorter works in which every word matters. That said, we want to see what you love, whatever the length. Send us that so we can love it, too. … Submit up to two flash fiction pieces of no more than 750 words each. … Winner will receive $500 plus publication in an upcoming issue of Blue Earth Review. We may offer publication to additional finalists.” Reasons to submit: Friendly to emerging writers Share the wealth—multiple prizes Third Wednesday – George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction Contest – $6 fee Deadline: August 15, 2022 Full disclosure: Third Wednesday was my first publication (as a result of submitting to this contest). “Three Winning Stories will be awarded $100 each! The editors of Third Wednesday are pleased to honor the memory of George Dila, friend of Third Wednesday and the editor who originally brought fiction to 3W. … From May 1st to August 15th, 2022 we will accept entries of previously unpublished fiction under 1000 words in length (including title). Three winning stories will receive cash prizes of $100 each and a print copy of the contest issue. … Do not include any identifying information within files or file names. Our judge will read all submissions blindly.” Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Friendly to emerging writers Share the wealth—multiple prizes The Masters Review – Short Story Award for New Writers – $20 fee Deadline: August 28, 2022 “DETAILS: Working with six agencies, our winner and honorable mentions earn agency review as well as publication. The winning story earns $3000. Second and third place runners up receive $300 and $200, respectively. Check out our Summer Award information and previous Summer and Winter winners, including Joe Bond, who earned representation from Sarah Fuentes of Fletcher & Company as a result of this contest.” Under 6,000 words by an emerging writer anywhere in the world. Judged blind. Reasons to submit: Blind submissions are fine submissions! Eligibility restriction—less competition Flag-bearer—open to international submissions Friendly to emerging writers No hunting for winners—can read past winners online Oh, wordy!—generous word count limit Share the wealth—multiple prizes Have I missed a great writing contest? Please leave a comment and let me know where you found it. Happy submitting! Wish you could buy this author a cup of joe? Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can! About Arthur KlepchukovArthur Klepchukov was born between Black Seas, Virginian Beaches, and San Franciscan waves. He adores trains, swing sets, and music that tears him outta time. Read Art’s words in Glimmer Train, The Best American Mystery Stories 2019, The Common, Necessary Fiction, and more at ArsenalOfWords.com Web | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=15inp1j1iYk:9b93jLpi_74:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=15inp1j1iYk:9b93jLpi_74:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  14. We’re thrilled to bring you a Take Five interview with New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling novelist Sarah McCoy (Marilla of Green Gables; The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter) about her latest novel, out this past week: MUSTIQUE ISLAND. “It’s the early 1970s, and it’s perfectly acceptable to name-drop visiting royalty, whether rock (Mick Jagger) or Windsor (Princess Margaret)… sun-drenched and frequently frothy, McCoy’s underlying tale of women-in-crisis who claw their way back to strength carries sobering messages about the importance of family loyalty and resiliency.” — Booklist One bookseller called Mustique Island a “literary rainbow.” Curious to learn more? Let’s talk with Sarah. Q: What’s the premise of your new book? SM: The book opens in January 1972 when a Texan divorcee Willy May Michael docks her boat on Mustique Island, an exclusive enclave in the Caribbean. Guests and residents included royals like Princess Margaret and celebrities from across the globe like Mick and Bianca Jagger, Vogue fashion models, actors, famous architects, even gangsters on the run. Really anyone with money, glamor, and a touch of scandal. Into this luxurious setting arrive three outsiders, Willy May and her grown daughters Hilly and Joanne. Publicly, it appears that they’ve come for an island escape but privately, they’re each seeking a personal breakthrough. During the height of 1970s glitz when image, lineage, and fame reigned supreme, each of them is desperate to be seen, heard, and fully known as a person, a woman, and ultimately, a unique herstory in the world. Throughout the writing of this family saga, I found myself asking: What does it mean to be of significance, beyond all the qualifiers society attempts to make our definition: pedigree, title, celebrity, money. In the end, is that what leaves a mark on history? Or is something more human. When Willy May’s daughters arrive, they discover that beneath its veneer of luxury, Mustique has a dark side. As they navigate the beauty and the chaos together, their mother-daughter relationship shifts and forever changes. Q: What sparked your story interest in 1970s Mustique Island? SM: This book was catalyzed by three of my obsessions: ✪ British royals ✪ Islands ✪ Complex family dynamics—siblings in particular As I shared previously, the spark of inspiration came through a PBS documentary on Princess Margaret. The docufilm showed a scene of Margaret’s wedding and mentioned that one of the Queen’s Ladies-in-waiting (Anne Tennant) and her noble husband (Colin Tennant) gave the newlyweds property on their privately-owned island, Mustique. I had never heard of it. I’m Puerto Rican and during the writing of my first novel, I did a lot of research on Caribbean culture—the original Taino and Arawak people who then were colonized by the Spanish and French and the British. Each colonizing nation claimed ownership over an island here or there, often right next to each other. Creating a truly unique socio-economic environment. That being a part of my lineage, I thought I was familiar with all the islands. But no, I’d never heard of this Mustique. So, I did what any historical novelist does, I searched for every document related, scoured the internet for books and ordered many from England. One source was particularly intriguing: Colin Tennant’s autobiography. In it, there was a snippet about a Texas beauty queen who received a fortune in a divorce settlement from her British ex-husband but had no place to land herself having been ex-communicated from ranking society. And suddenly, I saw her, I heard her Texas twang, I knew this woman’s desperate desire to belong somewhere. Colin went on to explain that he sold her a plot, she built a gorgeous house on it, and her grown adult daughters came over. The story had seeded. A woman named Willy May, her daughters Hilly and Joanne, an island called Mustique, royals, colonial privilege, celebrity excess… it was all there waiting for me. “Historical fiction lovers will luxuriate in a trip to Mustique Island, Sarah McCoy’s latest novel about a 1970s enclave, and a mother and her daughters who find their new beginnings there. McCoy’s created a big-hearted, enchanting gem.” — Laura Dave, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me Q: From that, you wrote the novel. Were there any unique challenges? SM: Actually, from that, I had the puzzle pieces of the novel, but no guiding image of what the final picture. So that was a unique challenge. Usually, when writing historical fiction, you have some kind of factual outline to follow. But all the accounts (memoirs and autobiographies to TV footage and photographs) told conflicting stories. Not even the timelines were the same! The harder I tried to write this in the conventional way, the more the narrative fought me. Finally, in the third draft, I had my come-to-Jesus with the story. I realized that the island’s glitz and sparkle had me starstruck and fooled, too. This book wasn’t about all that. That’s the costume. It took me four years and four complete start-to-finish rewrites to dig out the heart of this story. The family and people—that’s Mustique Island. Opening its exclusive, secretive shores was only half the challenge; opening its heart to readers was the real goal. Q: To your point about historical novels traditionally following a documented outline. This book weaves fact and fiction. So, was it inspired by fact or fiction or both? SM: I’m drawn to marginalized voices, particularly women who don’t fit traditional social molds. My protagonist Willy May Michael is loosely inspired by a woman named Billy Ray who, on paper, appeared to be the ideal. An American beauty queen, wife to a British brewery baron, mother of glamorous daughters, rich and living in circles of the world’s elite class… quite nearly a fairy tale. And yet, there were all these shadowy parts. For every laurel in her story, there was a catch. Her beauty queen title was from a small, rural town in Texas. For decades, she was married to a British brewery baron, but then divorced him, lawyered up, won a large civil settlement from his family, and subsequently fled England. So scandalous, which made me so curious! Why did she leave the noble circle she was already established within? Where were her Texan kin—her daughters? So many questions with nothing on record. Answering those in fiction became my goal for this novel. Q: What’s one of the messages you hope readers take away? SM: That perfection does not exist. It’s an illusion. Every relationship on earth is deeply complicated. Love doesn’t require our perfection. For some reason, we have a hard time accepting that hard truth. That’s part of the beauty of this novel, Mustique Island. No matter how luxurious or mundane, royal or common, outlandish or conventional the world without is, our inner worlds are much the same. Being alive means that we will grapple with fear, insecurity, yearning, hope, bittersweet joy, etc. Because at all our cores is the longing to be fully known, fully loved, and fully accepted. So much of existence is a journey to grow something new while remaining rooted to the old. That, too, is a paradoxical state. That’s what makes humanity uniquely multifaceted and beautiful… and perfectly imperfect. A generous bookseller called Mustique Island a literary rainbow. I love that description. Rainbows usually appear after summer storms. In the aftermath of the pandemic, I think we’ve earned a literary rainbow read. I hope readers come for the island escapade and leave with a heart treasure of what it means to be worthy of love and family and all the riches that can’t be bought. You can learn more about Mustique Island on Sarah’s website, and by following her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! About Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, and join our thriving Facebook community. Twitter | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=gTSANRcq44A:2oHsXY0TIHg:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=gTSANRcq44A:2oHsXY0TIHg:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  15. I signed my book deal with Red Hen Press over two years ago, before COVID times if you can even remember those days! It comes out on June 7th and I’m in the freak-out-and-get-ready phase right now. The process of working with this indie press has been very positive and I’d be happy to chat about it sometime. (Do I recommend Red Hen Press for other authors? Yes!) But the funny thing is that, while having this good experience with a small press, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the gatekeepers involved in getting a thing out there into the world. I’m using the term “gatekeepers” loosely because in some cases these gatekeepers are more in my head than in real life. But there are quite a few folks involved in the process of getting my book out the door. There is my agent, there is my publisher, there’s a publicity person, a media person, and the list goes on. I’m honored to work with these people, but it’s a lot of voices (on top of the voices in my head). There’s another element of the process around anticipating reviews from the big reviewers like Kirkus Reviews or Publisher’s Weekly. What if they love it? What if they hate it? (So far the news is good, but…) There are just a lot of steps and a lot of rules between finishing the book and sharing the book with the world. All this to say that it takes a lot of mental space for me to manage this process and I continually re-assess whether I’m going through each step because I believe in it, or because others want me to do it. I think I’m going down a road that I believe in, but some days it feels… complicated. I have a tendency to want to please people and I have to keep that people-pleaser voice in check. And that’s why I’m particularly giddy about how many avenues we creative people have at our disposal to get stuff out there on our own terms without any gatekeepers stopping us or assessing us. We can self-publish stories and essays and books, we can pump out YouTube videos, we can make a podcast, or TikTok our way to fame, or blog about all the bloggy things we’ve ever dreamed of blogging about. There are many difficult aspects about what we’re facing right now as I sit here in the middle of 2022, worrying about the many things to worry about. But one amazing aspect about right now is how many ways we can share our cool creations with an audience. ANYWAY, this little video is just me savoring this opportunity we have to get our creative stuff out in the world on our own schedule and on our own terms, even if we also embrace (and even celebrate) some traditional methods at the same time. How do y’all think about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing? Big press vs. small press? New platforms vs. old platforms? Where do you see yourself most happy along this landscape? About Yuvi ZalkowYuvi Zalkow's first novel was reluctantly published in 2012 by MP Publishing. His forthcoming novel (I Only Cry with Emoticons) will be published by Red Hen Press in June of 2022. His stories and essays have been published in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, Carve Magazine, The Daily Dot, Rosebud, The Poop Report, and others. He occasionally makes YouTube videos and apps for iPhones. Check out his website if you actually want to find out more. Web | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=MhaUKcDV_-U:KFZK_IPm10c:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=MhaUKcDV_-U:KFZK_IPm10c:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
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