Tag Archives: fantasy

Troglodyte #bookreview #readwomen

Standard
Troglodyte #bookreview #readwomen

Troglodyte by Tracy DeBrincat
published by Elixir Press, 2014

Tracy DeBrincat, whom we met in a Meet the Writer feature, writes characters that are people of the earth, the kind who will comment not on ideas, but appreciate bodily processes as something to which one should pay attention. Her stories take readers to a perhaps uncomfortable place we thought we left behind when we became “adults.” I still remember a joke my uncle told me when I was a kid: two woman are hoeing potatoes in the field when one woman pulls a potato from the ground, looks at it, and says, “This looks like my Issac’s taters.” The other woman responds, “That big?” and the first says, “No, that dirty.” Ha ha ha, right? Where did this “low-brow” humor go, and why did we once like it so much? I loved that joke. DeBrincat reminds me why.

Even though Superbaby of the short story “Superbaby Saves Slugville” was “historically, a fantastic crapper,” he held it all in to keep his aunt from visiting her boyfriend while washing the cloth diapers. The family notices Superbaby is backed up, so he’s sent to the doctor. His sister isn’t sure what this trip to the doctor’s means for Superbaby: “‘Does that mean he’ll poop now?’ Trina wonders about this every morning, making great snakes that don’t break, snakes of beautiful stink and rich color.” I’m thoroughly grossed out by the passage, but let’s be realistic: how many children (or, hell, even adults) haven’t been fascinated by the various characteristics that come out of their anuses. DeBrincat calls us out on thoughts we keep hidden to remain “normal,” and makes us acknowledge who we can be from time to time.troglodyte

The collection isn’t only made of “poo stories,” though. Her descriptions are quite lovely, even if the subject matter isn’t beautiful. This was a feature I loved of the collection. In “Gardenland,” Chichi returns home with her ex-husband Vince after she runs into him at a diner. She realizes she wasn’t “cured” of him when they divorced, that he’s still the same asshole she knew then: “Chichi pricked her ears to hear that piece-of-shit’s voice–the meaningless promises that flew like swallows from his red velvet tongue. She’d done time chasing after those birds, holding crumbs in her open hands while they hopped this way and that. When Chichi looked up he was there, all of him and so much of him was so much the same. The impudent slope of his shoulders, the Gothic lettering on his faded black T-shirt, the way he stood legs spread wide, like his nuts were too big to do else-wise.” Vince’s physical presence is animalistic, as if he weren’t meant to wear pants because his testicles are so….there (I’m personally picturing hairy coconuts). But he’s also capable of the sweet words of a man who leads a woman around. DeBrincat’s characters are often full of contradictions that make them pleasing to experience on the page.

Tracy DeBrincat’s collection stirs the pot of personalities and boils up the most unpredictable bunch ever. Whimsical, laugh-out-loud hysterical at times, Troglodyte is a must have for any larger-than-life woman who finds herself making decisions for happiness’ sake when sanity isn’t an option.

I want to thank you Tracy DeBrincat for sending me this reviewer’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

Fat Girl, Terrestrial #readwomen #bookreview @FCtwo

Standard
Fat Girl, Terrestrial #readwomen #bookreview @FCtwo

Fat Girl, Terrestrial by Kellie Wells
published by FC2, September 2012

“As you can imagine, I have never been very successful at being a girl, though, for my mother’s sake, I have tried. I have wambled about on gimlet heels that left divots in hardwood floors, permed my hair into a fungal fuzz, wrestled my hips into girdles, painted onto my face a bright hoax of come-hither allure, following closely the prescription in those fashion magazines that advise women how to be more woman than they already are (or less), but this was all a disguise that fooled no one, least of all my mother; an authority on feminine.”

Going into any FC2 book is about like jumping down the rabbit hole: I know it’s going to be different (see FC2’s motto), and I want to experience different whole-heartedly, and yet I’m not sure how much plot will be a factor versus other forms of storytelling. Wells’s novel begins with quite a bit of emphasis on plot and goes off into many tributaries of stories from there.

Fat Girl

Meet Wallis Grace Armstrong, a giant of a woman. She’s 8 feet, 11 (and-a-half) inches and 490 pounds. We first get to experience Wallis in the present; she’s walking alone at night when a man presses a knife to her throat and threatens her. What she doesn’t know when she blasts him with pepper spray is that he’s asthmatic, so her aggressor, Hazard Planet, dies. Wallis’s police report is viewed skeptically, for who would dare attack such an enormous woman? Fortunately, Wallis sticks up for herself to the police, reminding them that “a violent crime against an individual occurs every eighteen seconds and an assault occurs every twenty-nine seconds….You never know when some…flour enthusiast might set up a mill and start grinding…” Wallis decides to meet Hazard’s family, which includes a mother and his sister, Vivica Planet. Lo and behold, Vivica is a giantess as well, “solid as a diamond.” What will this family think of the woman who accidentally murdered their kin?

Something is a little odd about Vivica’s response to Wallis’s visit: “You believe I’m angry with you for what you’ve done, think perhaps I hate you for killing my brother. You imagined no matter what my brother was like I must have loved him very much, because he is, he was, after all, my brother, and that’s what people do, love their brothers, isn’t that right? Brothers, like fathers and husbands, tycoons, magnates, deities, kings, presidents, despots, dictators, do what they do knowing, in the end, we have no choice but to love them?” Vivica’s comparisons of Hazard to male figures that we can deduce are associated negatively in her mind make readers suspicious of what Vivica’s and Hazard’s relationship was like before his death. It’s not until nearly the end of the book that we learn more.

There are some more moments in the present of the novel, including Wallis visiting a family who claims their future daughter-in-law hanged herself in their barn. Wallis’s specialty is finding small clues in crime scenes that no one else notices because she creates teeny replicas of the scene at home. The problem is that Wallis has always seen her very body as a “crime someone had committed, a Class 1 felony, a crime [she] was determined to solve.” Should she ever find who committed the crime, she would punish him, which would make her “immediately shrink to fit that girly frock, and [her] mother would love [her] and coddle [her] and wish [her] no harm.”

Crime is not new to Wallis as an adult. When she was a girl–very large but young–Wallis tried to get kidnapped so she would feel like she was worthy of someone’s attention. Fortunately for her, she encounters a nice man who has a daughter of his own, though he looks how Wallis perceives criminals who steal little girls. She also helped a bit on the case of a girl missing from her hometown. Wallis and her brother Obie appeared in the newspaper as a result. It’s very early in the book (about five pages in) that we learn that Obie will disappear later, and that the present is about twenty years after that disappearance. Except Wallis can’t help find Obie and is of no help to authorities. She doesn’t know where he is or what happened.

Obie is a strange boy, one who we would never find in real life (though life is stranger than fiction, so, really, who knows). Obie sees Wallis as a god. Why wouldn’t she be? Only someone that large who walks the earth with her head that close to heaven could be a god. He prays at the foot of her bed at night and asks her to tell the biography of god. If you don’t think a giant woman and her devoted brother are too odd, that’s fine. Kellie Wells takes it slowly for us. But then we learn that Obie can talk to animals. His voice is also much more adult that it should be, giving him the wisdom of a learned philosopher. For example, “God is less knowledge than buoyancy in the acquiescence to its inevitable absence.” I know many readers complained of Oskar in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close being a young boy with Jonathan Safran Foer’s brain, but Obie goes way beyond Oskar. Foer’s character is overly tuned in–or at least this is how we can perceive him if we want–but Obie is like a religious professor and Dr. Dolittle mixed into one (in fact, the detective looking for the missing children is named Doolittle, though this may suggest he isn’t worthy of his occupation).

The more I read Obie, the more I struggled with his character. I was especially perplexed when trying to think of reasons why Kellie Wells would choose Wallis’s brother as worshiper. Wallis also has a dance instructor (in the present setting) who is attracted to her and how large she is. A romantic relationship might help readers see why Wallis is so close to a character who sees her as deity. It’s not until much, much later that we learn that Wallis and Obie are meant to be foils to Vivica and Hazard.

It is the interest in a god and who god is or isn’t that causes the tributaries in the story. An assignment from when Vivica was a girl is shared, suggesting how Vivica feels about men and worship. The assignment is to write a letter to a historical figure, and Vivica addresses the letter to “King Hatshepsut, Former Dowager Queen, Vivifier of Hearts, Wife of God, Divine Adoratrice of Amun, United with Amun in the presence of Nobles, Matkaare, Truth is the Soul of the Sun God, Esteemed Pharoh.” Hatshepsut becomes a gender bender when she marries her brother (making her the wife of god in her lifetime), who dies, which means she wants to rule (as god), so Hatshepsut dresses like a man. Her stepson, however, ruins her reign by essentially erasing her from history’s memory. If his predecessor is a woman, he will be humiliated. When Hatshepsut’s mummy is found, Vivica raves that a god of the past isn’t allowed to be so small. How can a god be small? Vivica doesn’t appear to want to be ruled by men and admires those who agree with her, but she’s also not listening to any small women, either.

There are many other stories of creation and gods in the book: a modified Adam and Eve, the tale of a baby born out of an ear, how man is created by Allah, the Book of Ezekiel (a homeless prophet), and a pied piper who takes children after destroying rabbits. Kellie Wells’s last spiritual tale explores the crucifixion:

“…and he saw the swelling serry of the people of posterity whose perishing his sacrifice would reverse (far too many, he thought, to fit inside the most generous paradise) would find more and more ways to inflict suffering–they’d have a genius for it–sometimes in the name of vengeance, often in the name of nothing, and he saw that they would learn to do so with staggering efficiency and that there was a vast and endless freshet of the blood of humans and animals waiting to boil across the millennia to come (today was like every other that would follow), and just before the beating of the man’s heart came kindly to a halt, this heart turning its charity at last on him, he realized there was no such thing as love and never had been and that an empty heart would be the heavier for daring to rise again, a plummet in the airy ectoplasm of his risen chest, all the heavier for existing without at least the avocation of animating the flesh, but it was too late now not to die, and so he did.”

You can almost feel Wells asking, “Do gods still walk the earth? In what form? And do we believe those who say they are close to god?–because we never really know what is meant by god. Are we worthy of a god?” These questions are intriguing inquiries into the world of what isn’t readily available for us to accept. Stories are the only way we can make that connection to a spiritual realm — we can’t see or touch or hear or smell it — and Wells use of a woman-god who’s learning what it means to be a god (even to one person) and comparing her to a woman who wants to be a god, is an ingenious vehicle for exploration.

I want to thank you Kellie Wells for sending me this reviewer’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Tide King #BookReview #MagicalRealism #war @MichalskiJen @BlackLawrence

Standard
The Tide King #BookReview #MagicalRealism #war @MichalskiJen @BlackLawrence

On Monday, I posted a Meet the Writer feature with Jen Michalski in which she discussed her new novel. The book, The Summer She Was Under Water, was published yesterday, August 9th! Congrats, Jen! Be sure to sign up for her Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win a copy.


The Tide King by Jen Michalski

published by Black Lawrence Press, 2013

I start with my admissions: I wrote book reviews regularly for Jen Michalski at JMWW and I’ve reviewed her other works, the collection Close Encounters and, more recently, Could You Be With Her Now (two novellas in one book). Jen also hired me to coordinate a book blog tour of her collection, From Here. It’s always nice to help someone get the word on her book out — assuming the review is honest. I’m often attracted to other writers whom I’ve found are meticulous, hard-working, good at her craft, and can teach me something. Jen Michalski is one of those writers, which is why I had no concerns about taking on her first novel for review.

The Tide King begins with the most current date you will encounter, 1976. A man, woman, and girl get into a cab in Poland make the driver uncomfortable: why are these individuals unusual, their eyes and mannerisms not fitting for their bodies? The young man and woman are American, but the girl is Polish, and so he speaks to her in the language, asking if she will be alright.The Tide King Michalski

Fall back to 1942 where we meet Stanley Polensky and Calvin Johnson, soldiers, and two of the main characters. We learn that Polensky’s mother has given him an herb that is said to protect the person who ingests it. He keeps it in his helmet, assuming his mother is just superstitious. After reading detailed battle scenes from World War II (impressive!), you will learn that Polensky uses the herb — but on who, or what? That is all I will tell you.

Go even further back to 1806 when we meet a girl, Ela, and her mother, whom are considered witches in their village of Reszel, Poland, because they make tinctures. They find an herb — burnette saxifrage — that grows in on land that has been struck by lightning. Through experiments with animals, the mother learns that the herb is special, causing the animals to repair even the worst of mutilation. Is this herb an elixir for immortality?

As you read, it becomes easy to discern who the man and little girl in the cab from the prologue are. But, Michalski keeps you guessing as to who the woman is. Several women are good candidates, making this novel part of many genres: mystery, war, romance, fairy tale, and — maybe? — Gothic.

 

Overall, the plot is an amazing feat of Michalski juggling characters, time periods, and languages — and she never drops a ball. The prologue, as I described, puts you at the end of the book, and the end of the book takes you back to the beginning. 1976 was a satisfying stopping point, but I can’t really convince you of that without evidence, which would blow some of the best plot points.

That’s just the thing! I am a verbal reader; I make a lot of sounds like, “Gah!” and “Duuuude!” and “Whhha?” when I get into a book. You see, these characters, especially the secondary, will bring you up and let you down. They were so… human /fickle /unpredictable! I wanted things to turn out like _________, but then the character would do something that really suited him/her, things I didn’t think Michalski would allow to happen, but she did! I tried to expect the characters to be unexpected — a mighty challenge that kept me reading way too late at night (something I haven’t done since my years with the Sweet Valley Twins in the early 90s).

Michalski gets readers thinking when she writers her characters before they are immortal. We can see ourselves on the pages, reflected in the choices the characters make regardless of the repercussions. Youth are easy to relate to, as they can ignore mortality:

He was young, and there wasn’t much to think about, in terms of consequences. He was young and didn’t know what lay ahead, which was the beauty of being young — so many risks taken before one has the sense to realize the dangers. He was young and going to fight [in World War II].

But what if you can live forever, as opposed to simply thinking you will because you’re young? Michalski tackles that question when she gives us truisms by which we may live. Or, we can dismiss them in favor of our own search for meaning in life. When you’re lonely finding a partner to fill the loneliness isn’t always the answer:

“I haven’t really met anyone here. But I have friends. I travel. I know that you don’t want to hear this, Heidi, particularly since you struggle with it so much yourself, but people are lonely a lot. Even if there is someone. There’s always a loneliness that people can’t fill, that pets can’t fill. And you have to make peace with it because you come into the world alone and you go out the same way.”

The sentences themselves, even when following male characters who were veterans (often stereotyped as macho), have a tender beauty. A character who lives forever describes what it means to find a woman with whom he fills a kinship:

She had grounded him. He didn’t feel essential to himself, even alive in a normal sense, but he felt tethered to Kate, her gravity keeping his moon rotating, surviving its long trip around the galaxy.

Michalski has a great talent for writing similes, comparisons that seem so fitting. A simple truck is compared to a beast, but it tells about the man who owns the truck, too: “In the vestibule, she saw her father’s truck through the front doors, its monstrous orange chassis shuddering, smoke pouring out of the damaged muffler like some ancient, grouchy dragon.” Imagine the father, who owns the truck: perhaps a broken-down (physically, mentally) man who smokes, who is unpleasant to be around.

The end of the novel, which gets you back to where you started, practically forces you to re-read that 1976 prologue to see what the man, woman, and little girl are like, now that you know who they are. But my fingers tried to trick me; I re-read the prologue and started to turn the next page to the first chapter again….

I want to thank you Jen Michalski for sending me this reviewer’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

Standard
The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

Naz over at Read Diverse Books has challenged everyone to read more diversely. If you have read a book that fits into the category, share it! If you haven’t, go find a book that fits into the category with the goal of reading it. Here we go:

The-DiverseBooks-Tag

Find a Book Starring a Lesbian Character:

I’ve got this one in spades. Books with lesbians come to me easily — or perhaps I seek them out? — but mostly, I look for excellent stories, and I never shy away from those stories if the protagonist is a lesbian. In fact, in some instances, the leading lady being a lesbian is what drew me in!

Checking out the following:

Find a Book with a Muslim Protagonist:

Okay, my reading is not as great in this area. There is one book that I have read probably half a dozen times and taught each semester for several years now: The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. This book surprises my students because Malcolm is a Muslim minister for the Nation of Islam, which is a different branch of Islam than what you would encounter in the Middle East. After Malcolm did his pilgrimage to Mecca, he disavowed the N.O.I. and went Orthodox.

Looking at Goodreads, I would like to check out Ms. Marvel, a new comic book series. I also want to read Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, which I saw in Barnes & Noble.

Find a Book Set in Latin America:

This is another category with which I have more experience. I’ve also seen Junot Diaz twice; the dude has stood two feet away from me (he likes to wander auditoriums when he talks). And my god, does he swear a lot (I love it). The last time I saw him, he asked where the Latino/as in the audience were. Then he asked where his Africans were. Very few people raised their hands, and he said that wasn’t his fault, but the college’s (we were at the University of Notre Dame). Here is my list:

  • Ayiti by Roxane Gay (Haiti)
  • Unaccompanied Minors by Alden Jones (Costa Rica)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic)
  • Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War by Deb Olin Unferth (Nicaragua)
  • Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (Mexico)
  • Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)

I have a number of books I’ve read by Latino/a authors who live in the U.S., such as Lolita Hernandez, Salvador Plascencia, and Desiree Zamorano. I’d like to read The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara (Mexico).

Find a Book About a Person with a Disability:

This is a tough one because I feel awkward reading a book about a person with a disability written by someone without a disability. I’ve noticed that most of the books with people who have disabilities I encounter are on the mental health spectrum as opposed to a physical disability, so I’ll keep my eyes open for more books with people who have disabilities.

  • Half Life by Shelly Jackson (conjoined twins)
  • American Genius by Lynn Tillman (mental illness)
  • Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon (self-harm, anxiety)
  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (deaf)
  • Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulemia by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Annie’s Ghost by Steven Luxenberg (disabled legs and mental illness)
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (mentally disabled)
  • Lily of the Valley: Chateau of Flowers by Margaret Rome (blind)

Find a Science Fiction or Fantasy Book with a POC Protagonist:

I don’t read a ton of sci-fi or fantasy, but when I do, it tends to have POC in it. Perhaps because I find that when an author who is a POC writes sci-fi or fantasy, he or she includes deeper messages of race and gender than a white writer may.

  • Soul Resin by Charles W. Cannon
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Bald New World by Peter Tieryas
  • The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

I have Kindred by Octavia Butler on my list. She wrote so many sci-fi/fantasy novels with POC; she is ultra prolific.

Find a Book Set In or About An African Country:

Find a Book Written by an Indigenous/Native Author:

  • Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
  • Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones
  • It Came From Del Rio by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
  • After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (grew up on Spokane reservation, but has heritage with several tribes)

Okay, so I’ve read a lot of Stephen Graham Jones. Technically, he would fit really well into sci-fi and fantasy starring a POC because he writes lots of mind-bending horror with time warps and craziness. I’ve read essays by Leslie Marmon Silko and Joy Harjo, and I would like to read Louise Erdrich soon. I’d also like to read Ojibwe authors, as I grew up on the Saginaw Chippewa reservation.

Find a Book Set in South Asia:

  • Palestine by Joe Sacco (Israel-ish, depending on your viewpoint regarding what to call this territory)
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)
  • Love in a Dead Language by Lee A. Siegel (India)
  • The Question of Bruno by Aleksander Hemon (Sarajevo)
  • Currency by Zoe Zolbrod (Thailand)
  • The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret (Isreal)
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (India) I incorrectly remembered which book this was! It is mostly set in the United States and focuses on Indian-American families. My mistake 🙂
  • Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas (India, British Guyana)
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (India)
  • Dragonfish by Vu Tran (Vietnam) This book is half set in Vietnam and half in Las Vegas.

Find a Book with a Biracial Protagonist:

  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (Crow/white)
  • The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss (almost every person in the book is biracial)
  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evens (black/white)
  • Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen (black/white)

Find a Book About a Transgender Character or that is about Transgender Issues:

  • Cloud 9 by Carol Churchill
  • Woman’s World by Graham Rawle
  • Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

I also have Janet Mock’s memoir on my to-read list, of course!

The-DiverseBooks-Tag

The History of Great Things

Standard
The History of Great Things

The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane

published by Harper Perennial, April 2016

I want to thank my cousin Wendi for going with me on April 21st to the Elizabeth Crane reading in Kalamazoo, MI, at the Book Bug independent bookstore, where we bought our copies of this book.

The History of Great Things.png

The History of Great Things is the first Crane novel I’ve read. I am familiar with her short story collection You Must Be This Happy to Enter, which I also taught to freshman at an all-women’s college. The students deemed the stories “just silly,” but the silliness is what appealed to me. So many novels are about destruction, sadness, addiction. During her reading, Elizabeth Crane explained that she wondered if it was possible for a writer to create when he/she is not unhappy. Does art, she wondered, require misery? I guess my students would be on the side of “yes.”

this happy

The short story collection I taught at the women’s college. Crane said she never got her Precious Moments figurine back. I think she’s lucky!

I was curious to see how this playful author would turn her special flavor into something novel-length, and when I learned she would be reading in Kalamazoo, only an hour from me and where my favorite cousin Wendi lives, I made the drive. Prince had died that day. That shouldn’t matter, except the employee of the store kept making subtle Prince references instead of properly introducing Elizabeth Crane. She even started her speech with, “We are gathered here today….” Why was she mixing business with her sadness over a pop icon? She also kept saying “Betsy.” I had no idea who Betsy was, but after a few minutes I learned that the store employee was talking about Elizabeth Crane. It turns out that the author’s husband is from Kalamazoo, so she knew several people in the audience, including the woman introducing her, and they’d been hanging out and having fun all day — and drinking based on the wondering non-nonsensical introduction. It made for a lousy reading, but seeing Wendi was worth it, and the brief passages Elizabeth Crane read made me want to buy the book.

The History of Great Things has a confusing premise, but when you start reading it makes total sense. In real life, Elizabeth Crane is fondly known as Betsy. Her mother was Lois, who was an opera singer who died of cancer.

In the book, Lois tells her daughter’s life as she understands it. Betsy tells about Lois’s life as she understands it. It’s an interesting premise that asks, “What do daughters and mothers actually know about each other?”

Since the author’s mother is deceased, she is the puppet master in all of this. She is writing the book, pretending to think like her mother, who is pretending to understand her daughter. Whoa. Explaining it feels like the Matrix, or that scene in Chicago during which Richard Gere uses Renee Zellweger as a puppet to confuse the media. During the reading, Crane was insistent that this is not a memoir. These are characters, not “real” people (even though they are/were real people). Crane wasn’t there for a lot of it, she said (I’m paraphrasing as closely as possible), and at some points in the book she time travels, so yeah, it’s fiction. Crane also points out that while both of her parents are dead and left behind a lot of stuff, she didn’t go through those things, including letters, to write this book because she “didn’t want this book to depict events with any accuracy.”

To give you an idea of how this book starts, here is a sample from Lois’s perspective. Remember, she’s writing what she thinks Betsy’s life is like in 1961:

So you’re a giant bowling ball coming out of me. If bowling balls were square. It hurts like a bitch. Honestly. No one mentioned this detail to me in advance. I may as well be pushing out a full-grown adult. Wearing a tweed pantsuit. Think about that. That’s what they should tell kids in sex ed. Not that sex ed exists now, because it doesn’t. Sex exists. Not ed.

In the next chapter, Betsy writes what she thinks her mother’s life was like in 1936:

Okay. Muscatine, Iowa. June of 1936. You’re born in Muscatine. Edna, your mother, has been a homemaker since your older sister, Marjorie, was born a couple years earlier. Before that she worked at the Heinz factory for a while. Walter, your father, is the editor of the Muscatine Journal. Member of the lodge.

And that’s how the book reads: each woman tells the story of the other…or how she thinks it was, including the other person’s feelings and motives. Here, I can see a clear distinction in the voices. Betsy and Lois are definitely different speakers.

My favorite parts of the book are when Lois and Betsy interrupt each other mid-story. Here is a continuation of the previous quote:

–Which lodge?

–I don’t know, some lodge. A lodge is a lodge.

–Don’t tell him that.

–Mom, Grandpa’s long gone.

–Well, so am I, Betsy, but you’re talking to me.

–Okay, whatever! Let’s say it’s a Moose lodge.

–Let’s say? You don’t think we should try to be accurate?

–Well, it’s not a memoir. It’s just a story.

–But it’s a true story.

–It’s not a true story, though. That’s not what we’re doing. Do you think you know my story?

–Yes. I don’t know. Maybe. More than you think.

–Lemme just keep going.

These little squabbles are both funny and significant. Imagine if you could sit down with your parent and tell them what you think their life was like. Now, imagine that parent is dead, so you have to uphold both ends of the conversation. I’m positive therapists use this tool with patients. Also, Betsy points out to her mother that she wants to skip sex scenes because, ew, why would she want to imagine that? Her mother retorts that she’s already written three sex scenes for Betsy, but the Betsy points out that really she’s just imagining her mothering imagining herself, so all in all, it’s not hard for her to imagine herself having sex. These are very playful moments in the book!

At one point, Betsy tells the story of Lois as a little girl playing with another little girl, Ginny, whose great-grandmother was black. As a result, Lois’s racist father makes Ginny leave. The way Betsy tells the story sounds accurate, but she adds on that Lois is determined to be friends with Ginny when they grow up. Lois interjects:

–Okay, you’re pretty good at this.

–Thanks, Mom.

–I mean, that might be made up, but it could have happened. Maybe it did happen.

–Well, but it’s important that everyone understands this isn’t what actually happened, only what could have happened.

Elizabeth Crane makes sure her characters remind the reader that they’re reading a fake conversation, that it isn’t real and only what might have happened is allowed in the book. I feel this is important because we’ve got some sneaky metafiction here. The book is aware that it’s a book, and I haven’t read any good metafiction lately, not since Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions in which he inserts himself in the final scene.

As the novel progresses, you start to notice similarities between mother and daughter. Lois is a professional opera singer stuck in a time when women are supposed to be wives and mothers. When she finds herself married at 19, and then pregnant, she simultaneously chases the dream of singing in New York City because she’s been accepted by a highly-coveted voice coach. Betsy imagines her mother thinking, “You do want this baby, you’re sure of it, pretty sure, granted the timing is suddenly not great, but it’s too late now.” Betsy flounders when it comes to fitting in as she should, too. Into her 30s she still is not gainfully employed and frequently moves back home. Lois images Betsy thinking, “Does everyone have to want the same thing? Does everyone have to know exactly what they want? Is there a cutoff date for knowing what you want? And if you go beyond it, what then?”

Around the middle of the book, Lois dies (just as she died of cancer in real life). This part is playful because Lois definitely wasn’t there, so there can be no accuracy in what she thinks. She has sections on how she thinks Betsy dealt with her death, everything from buying a house boat and having twins after going through in vitro fertilization, to trying for a career as a preschool teaching and dating but failing to find the right one so Betsy becomes celibate, to getting married and having twins and riding away on a whale. They’re all rather silly. Eventually, Betsy interrupts and says that she’s actually married to a man named Ben (no children). Her mother says, “–You’re with someone? Oh, sweetheart!” Now, isn’t that just cute? You could just imagine anyone’s mother saying that, but this mother is saying it from beyond the grave, as if Elizabeth Crane wanted or needed to hear it.

As the book goes on, Lois expresses that she feels miserable from the stories Betsy’s reminding her of — sad or painful parts of her past — and so things get a bit crazy. Together, they decide to re-do some of life. And here is where we get to the part that made me decide to buy the book: Betsy imagines that she and her mother are sisters on the day that the little African American girl, Ginny, was thrown out of Lois’s house. I’m just going to quote because this scene is fantastic:

…I run back downstairs to find Daddy smoking out in the backyard, and I say Daddy, Ginny is a person just like you, and he says You are asking for big trouble, young lady, and I say I don’t care! I am here from the future! We have an African American president! and he says What the hell is “African American”? And I say It means black, negro, colored! We have a colored president! There are two little colored girls in the White House! I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap for just for thinking such a thing! And I say I don’t care! The future is here! …Ginny really does want to go home now, and you [Lois] are rather unsure about this whole scene, and I yell loud enough for the neighbors three houses down to hear A racist lives here! A racist lives here! ….Daddy tells us we’re both grounded until we graduate from high school; that’s when I say Fuck you, I’m going back to the twenty-first century.

Oh, wow, can you imagine going back in time and righting the wrongs? I loved this moment where Betsy really gives it to her racist old grandpa! And, it pulls the story out of the sticky sadness that real life can be. Fiction is a place where people can do whatever they want, so why not?

Yet, there are some problems with the book. First, the author doesn’t keep her characters consistently named. When Betsy’s telling Lois’s story, instead of referring to herself in first person, she calls herself Betsy, which is confusing. Imagine Betsy writes something like “you’re holding Betsy after she is born” instead of “you’re holding me after I am born”). Instead of calling her parents mom and dad, they are Fred and Lois. Since the book made it so very clear that Betsy is telling the story, using Fred is strange. And sometimes he’s dad, which isn’t consistent. She also calls her grandparents what Lois calls them (Mother and Daddy) instead of grandma and grandpa. Whomever is writing should use the terms they would use to keep everything sorted.

Also, there are some language problems. Lois writes using phrases like “stupid-ass hat” and “cost about infinity more money than you have,” which sounds odd coming from a woman born in the 30s. Yes, she’s telling Betsy’s story, but it’s Lois’s voice. Could the author’s mother spoke that way? Sure, but if she’s going to insist this book isn’t a memoir, then Crane needs to adjust the voices so they are believable within the novel.

When I got to the end of the book, I wasn’t sure why we were stopping. What exactly was the arc of this book? In the very end, after the acknowledgements, the author explains why she wrote this book, but doesn’t give any new reasons beyond what’s already stated in the novel. She also includes a bunch of pictures and newspaper clippings from her and her parents’ lives, though they are small, grainy layered black-and-white images without labels, so I wasn’t sure what to take from them. And why add them to a book that purports to NOT be fiction?

Finally, the quality of the book itself could be better. I’m used to reading small press books, which are often designed with integrity, but this Harper Perennial book was cheaply made. I felt like I was trying to read print cooked lasagna noodles, and the pages hadn’t been completely been cut in the process, so I was constantly picking bits of paper fuzz from the bottom edge.

Despite my criticisms, I would recommend everyone read this book because it is uniquely told. If you are a writer, The History of Great Things could give you some ideas on how to play with style and point of view. The novel is a speedy read. You might find yourself thinking “just one more” like I did many times because of the digestible length of chapters.

elizabeth-crane

Elizabeth Crane

Meet the Writer: Missy Wilkinson

Standard
Meet the Writer: Missy Wilkinson

I want to thank Missy for answering my questions! You can learn more about her at her website and over at xoJane, among other places. Missy is a journalist and novelist whose first novel, Destroying Angel, was recently published by Prizm, an imprint of Torquere Press. 
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

When I was four years old, our cocker spaniel had puppies. I was smitten with one I’d named Dearie, but my mom said we couldn’t keep her. So I wrote a moving, construction-paper saga of a girl and her puppy. I could barely pen my name at the time, and my illustration of a heart being ripped in half just looked like two blobs.

My mom didn’t let me keep Dearie. I guess I’m still trying to write a book that rewards me with a puppy’s unconditional love, or the literary equivalent.

Do you think there is a certain “achievement” a person must “unlock” before she can call herself a writer?

If you write every day (or most days), you’re a writer. It’s like with babies. They’re these little pudgy helpless caterpillars, but they see people walking and know they’re supposed to do that, too. And they struggle and fall down and get up until one day, they’re running, dancing or dribbling a soccer ball. They just keep going at it.

What’s it like to switch gears between journalism and fiction?

It’s pretty great to have the two outlets. I write fiction at my desk during downtime at the newspaper. So, when I open up my novel manuscript, it feels like I’m doing something kind of indulgent. That makes it less jarring to jump into the cold pool of a fictional world — although given the choice, I’d still prefer to dick around on the Internet. My journalism has improved my writing, too. I’m way more terse, clear and forceful. And years of writing on deadline has given me the ability to turn my writing brain off and on at a moment’s notice.

51rjMvjm7GL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Did you do any research for your novels?

It depends on the novel. For the first two books, Hearts in Alien Hands and Spore Girl, of the Destroying Angel series (both unpublished as of now), I draw heavily from my life experiences and the city I live in, New Orleans. The third one is partially set in 19th-century New Orleans during a yellow fever epidemic. So, I spent a lot of time in library archives reading newspapers from that era (which are really crazy…everyone’s dying, there are all these mass graves and roaming dogs feasting on corpses and it’s so post-apocalyptic, but you know everything turns out OK because here were are). I do research if the story demands it, which is a pretentious way to say I do research if it’s a question I can’t answer myself, such as, “What would you find in an 1853 pharmacy?”

People are debating whether YA novels are for everyone or for young adults (about 13-18 years). Ruth Graham of Slate said adults should be ashamed for reading it. Elisabeth Donnelly over at Flavorwire says Graham is wrong. What are your two cents?

Wow, it’s crazy that this is even a debate. Why would anyone be ashamed of reading young adult literature? It’s what we all start with, where we all fall in love with story, how we become lifelong readers. This reminds me of the time I went to see Stephen King speak. He was touring for 11/22/63. I lined up, along with hundreds of other people, to hear him talk in a church on St. Charles Avenue. His craggy humor surprised me, but not as much as the effect he had on his audience. They asked him about these fictional characters with so much concern and love, they might have been asking about their own family members. When King revealed he was working on a sequel to The Shining, the audience sucked in its breath and then released an audible ooohhh. It was like watching a kid hold a wrapped Christmas present. The master storyteller transformed his audience into children. That’s what every great story does.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing (either in journalism or your fiction)?

I have a hard time sticking to one genre. I am in the querying phase (aka hell) of a young adult/new adult series that leaps between fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction and noir. Some agents and editors have said I need to define my genre, but some say it’s OK to be a shapeshifter. It might be easier to sell and market the series if I had a clearer niche.

Tides

Standard
Tides

Tides
by Betsy Cornwell
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2013
304 pages

*Reviewed by guest reader Jennifer Vosters

No one is happy in the inbetween,” said Gemm. “Not even selkies.”

So begins the first chapter of Betsy Cornwell’s debut novel,Tides, a new young-adult fantasy set in modern New England. For a story steeped in folklore and romance, this beginning sets the tone for a simple message that unifies its protagonists and relates to young audiences. No one – mystical or human – can remain in limbo for long, caught between dreams and reality, truths and lies, duties and desires. You must make a choice. And in order to make that choice, you must know who you are and honor who you choose to be.

I have to admit: I came into Tides as a bit of a skeptic. It’s really an awful thing to do, but I couldn’t help it. I’m a science fiction and fantasy fan, to be sure, but I’m also a science fiction and fantasy snob; I knew I’d be hard to please, and I was.

Be that as it may: I came out of Tides as a bit of a fan. A cautious fan, a fan with some reservations, but a bit of a fan nonetheless.

First, the story: High school senior Noah Gallagher and his younger sister Lo are spending the summer at their grandmother’s cottage on the Isles of Shoals off the New England coast. It doesn’t turn out quite the way they expect, however; the discovery of their grandmother’s lover, a mysterious woman named Maebh, is the least of the surprises that await them. For here fairytales are fact, and Noah’s chance encounter with a strange swimmer leads him into the world of selkies – seal people who can shed their skins and become human – and a relationship with a young woman, Mara, who straddles the “inbetween” of land and sea. As Noah, Mara, and Lo come to understand each other, they learn more about themselves, what they believe in, and what is worth fighting for.

Cornwell is a beautiful prose writer, infusing an uncomplicated plot with lyrical narrative that brings to life a vivid landscape where it is easy to believe in legends. Her multiple narrators tell a story of family, love, and belief that readers will find familiar but with a 21st-century spin. With a delightful balance of courage and casualness, Cornwell tackles contemporary issues that thus far have rarely been touched in this genre. She sidesteps the typical sci-fi/fantasy trap where leading ladies must be born leaders, witty banterers, and confident superwomen –not to mention dead sexy – from page one in order to “keep up” with their male counterparts. Her women are humans (or selkies) first, neither rejecting their gender nor being defined by it; they have real struggles, insecurities, desires, faults, and improvements. In my opinion, the greatest service current authors can give their double-X readers is to portray their female characters as people – not goddesses, not damsels – and in that regard, Cornwell has delivered.

Cornwell is breaking relatively new ground by incorporating a lesbian couple as major supporting characters in a fantasy novel for young adults. While the LGBTQ community is more represented in all genres now than in previous decades, it still is unfortunately uncommon to see same-sex couples play prominent roles in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. But Cornwell does so organically, gracefully, and without exploiting the characters or defining them solely by their orientation. She focuses not on the “novelty” of attraction between two females but on the depth of love between two people. In the true essence of her story – of love transcending boundaries – Cornwell stresses the insignificance of convention next to the power of connection, all without drawing undue attention to the unconventionality of the situation. Nicely done.

As a writer and a thinker, Cornwell is firmly established. As a storyteller, she has some room for growth. From the first few pages, the plotline was familiar to the point of being predictable, following the standard YA fantasy romance pattern almost to a T: Teen #1 begins life in new location, Teen #1 meets Teen #2 in unorthodox way, Teen #2 reveals true yet impossible identity, Teen #1 believes and must prove loyalty to Teen #2’s kind; love and adventures ensue (see Twilightfor further examples). Though featuring selkies (rather than vampires or, I don’t know, merpeople) was unique, Cornwell forfeited the creative opportunity to bring us something totally new from the mythological realm. Additionally, the characters’ lack of individuality dulled any real attachment I might have felt for them. Despite fascinating and well-rounded backstories, their voices remained veiled by the intricacy and poeticism of the text; in an effort to let her own voice shine through, Cornwell sacrificed the potential connection between reader and character. For a story with multiple narrators, it would have more effective to have clearer, more distinct voices. In writing a story Cornwell proves herself to be very capable, but she lacks a solid foundation in strong, real, individualized characters.

Nevertheless, the undercurrents of Tides made reading it worthwhile. It’s enormously satisfying to see fantasy authors doing their job: communicating important messages in a creative and engaging way. I’d recommend it to younger teens, folklore fans looking for a quick read, and bookies interested in how socially aware fantasy is being brought into the twenty-first century.

*Jennifer Vosters is a Milwaukee native and member of the Saint Mary’s College Class of 2016, graduating with an English major and minors in Theatre and Italian. She was cast in the 2016 Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, performing in Periclesand The Tempest as part of the Young Company. She is currently reading The Rover by Aphra Behn, An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski, and Ulysses – at least parts of it (whew!) – by her beloved James Joyce.

The Time Garden

Standard
The Time Garden

Title: The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book

Author and Illustrator: Ji-Hye Song (in English she goes by Daria Song)

Translated from Korean by: Min Jung-Jo

Published By: Watson-Guptill in 2014

the time garden

I’ve always loved to color. There, I said it. Crayons are my favorite tool by far, and markers my least. I’ve always found coloring with crayons in a coloring book comforting because the objective – finish coloring in the picture without making a mess of it – is achievable within 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how meticulous you are and what you leave uncolored. This is a time in the U.S. when people frequently cannot meet goals: we struggle to pay for school, so we cannot attend; we seek full-time jobs, but they don’t seem to exist; we want to lose weight, but the food industry is pretty twisted. Therefore, completing any goal feels like a miracle, and to me, that’s what coloring can do.

Adult coloring books, however, are far different from the kid versions. The images are tiny, complicated, and finishing one picture may take hours, days, or never be finished at all. This past Christmas, my husband surprised me by gifting me with this adult coloring book. At first, I couldn’t use it because there were no colored pencils in the stores. Since the grown-up coloring trend started, stores can’t seem to keep on their shelves the only tool that makes sense for such tiny details. I was skeptical, but once I got my colored pencils I gave it a go.

Like the pragmatist I am, I started on page one, planned on coloring the whole thing, then moving to the next page. I didn’t completely finish:

IMG_20160203_140111810

I got close! The wallpaper pattern nearly killed me.

I really struggled with how many lines there were on the clock. I’ve had this rule about not having the same color touch in different parts of a coloring project, but with The Time Garden it was an impossible standard. I felt like a failure when the colors touched, and I felt worse that I didn’t finish the tedious fleur de lis on the wallpaper.

Instead of giving up, I chose one thing to color on all the pages: the little girl’s skin. I had my one color and I filled in her skin on every page, happy that I hadn’t promised myself I would color in all the crazy details:

IMG_20160203_142327932

It was speedy to flip through and color the girl’s tiny body among all the details.

When I finished with the girl’s skin, I started to wonder if I was being lazy. The point of coloring is not to hurry, right? Well, I was never getting that sense of accomplishment I wanted, so yes, I was speeding! I then decided to add some color and have some fun with it:

IMG_20160203_140153526

I had some awareness of what color a thing might be, like the brown wood of the chair, but played in other places, like making the cuckoo clock totally orange.

Part of what reinvigorated me was reading Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus in which she talks about the connection between moving our hands and how our brains work. She starts her students with crayon, and they are required to leave zero white background (which means they have to color very hard). I played around with coloring hard and soft, but I still avoided most of the detailed stuff:

IMG_20160203_140221625

Do you like my mini typewriter? It’s a pencil sharpener I bought in 1996 to include in a school project. The assignment was to decide what we wanted to be when we grew up (a writer), research information (didn’t really have internet…) and create a diorama of our work space (desk + typewriter, of course).

I’ve colored in other bits and pieces here and there, but ever since I moved The Time Garden and my colored pencils off the kitchen table, I haven’t really revisited it. I can’t stand all the little tiny lines and details, which now makes me wonder if adult coloring books are increasing stress for those who sought a way to calm down and relax! I would not buy another one.

IMG_20160203_151148057.jpg

Lucky for me, I also own crayons and a coloring book. Task complete!

What do you think about adult coloring books? Have you tried them?

Favorite Novels of 2015

Standard

Novels: that fantastic art form that builds a world, sucks you in, and keeps you there for hundreds of pages as you get to know characters, settings, and live a huge narrative arc with many mini stories going on around it. Unlike short stories, you don’t have to use multiple re-entry points because you become part of the story (if it’s told well enough). In 2015 I read fewer novels that what is typical for me, but there were five that really stood out!


How to Knock a Bravebird from Her Perchd bryant simmons

by D. Bryant Simmons (read our interview here)

How to Knock a Bravebird from Her Perch is set mostly in the 1970s and is about Belinda (“Pecan”), a girl with a daddy who raised her right and loved her so, but when a Ricky comes into her town, things get messy. Pecan’s daddy doesn’t really seem to like Ricky, but he can’t say too much about it, as he has a heart attack and dies within the first few pages. Ricky and Pecan get married and move to Chicago where Ricky trains as a boxer and Pecan starts having babies. Girl after girl is born, and Ricky really wants a boy. He appears to hold this against Pecan, but that’s not surprising; Ricky has a temper on him and fists trained to hit. For several years, Ricky’s Aunt Clara lives with the family, and she is often able to keep Ricky from knocking the crap out of Pecan by threatening him with a cast iron skillet. But one night, when Pecan goes dancing with her girlfriends after Aunt Clara tells her she has to, Pecan meets an honorable man.

Overall, How to Knock a Bravebird from Her Perch is novel that is able to capture many characters and render them in a realistic tone that makes it pleasurable to read in addition to the challenging topics readers will face.

Read the full review here!


Our OrbitOur Orbit

by Anesa Miller

Our Orbit, self-published in 2014 by Anesa Miller, is a novel about a family of fundamentalist Christians that gets broken up when the mother dies in a car accident and the father is taken to prison. The novel is set shortly after the Oklahoma City Bombing (circa 1994 or 1995). Although one son is already married at 20, the three younger children–Josh at 18, Rachelle at 13, and Miriam at 8–must discover new lives in the aftermath.

Our Orbit is a compelling story altogether. Without telling any spoilers, I will say that many characters have events in their pasts that could cripple them in the present, so I was constantly looking for the second shoe to drop on all these unsuspecting people. Looking for the moments when information bombs could drop was a lot of fun, though Miller doesn’t let the plot become contrived; some bombs are more like small splats, and others aren’t bombs at all. Definitely a recommended read.

Read the full review here!


GagGag

by Melissa Unger

Gag starts out with a simple idea: Peter, a native of Brooklyn, stopped eating 15 years ago. How does he fit into a society that often schedules its activities around eating? His solution is to head to Paris, the food capitol of the world. On the plane ride over, he meets Dallas, a large red-headed Texan man who will challenge Peter’s very notions of what is truth, what is reality—even when Peter doesn’t, or even can’t, believe what he’s hearing.

Gag is a story about trust and secrets, but it’s delivered in a way that seems more about the absurd and metaphor. There are a number of comma splices throughout the book, but if you overlook those, you will enjoy this curious story. So much of what’s great about this book would spoil the story if I discussed it further, so check it for yourself.

Read the full review here!


saintsSaints in the Shadows

by Alana Cash (read our interview here)

Alana Cash’s self-published novel Saints in the Shadows (2014) follows Maud, a 24-year-old woman living in New York City. Maud is from New Orleans, but left when life didn’t make sense after the death of her father. Once Maud feels confident in her job as a waitress at a ludicrously expensive restaurant, she gets her own apartment, which is where she meets her eccentric neighbor from Hungary, Lina,  who works as a psychic using the pseudonym Madam Budska. Lina decides that Maud shows talent for reading people, and that’s all being a psychic is: just listening and looking. When Lina goes away for a week for “the big reveal,” she convinces Maud to meet with her clients in her absence.

I highly recommend Saints in the Shadows for it’s smooth organization, memorable characters, and its ability to make me a believer/non-believer. I really enjoyed this read!

Read the full review here!


santas little helperSanta’s Little Helper

by H.D. Gordon (read our interview here)

Santa’s Little Helper, a Christmas-themed horror novel by H.D. Gordon, is about the size of most Stephen King tales. At close to 400 pages, Gordon writes the stories of four children, all age five: Manny, Mikey, Emily, and Benny. Benny’s story is shared with his four-year-old brother, Tuck, so, really, there are five children total. Each child’s home receives a mysterious white box with no return address. Inside is an elf—quite possibly an Elf on the Shelf doll, though Gordon doesn’t outright say this—and a book describing how the elf is “Santa’s Little Helper,” a companion to watch children for Santa come Christmastime. But Satan’s—sorry, Santa’s—Little Helper isn’t what he seems. This elf is out to murder, and readers learn that this elf is an evil demon that sometimes appears in different forms, and has in the past…

Santa’s Little Help is a fun, scary book that I would recommend to fans of horror by authors like Stephen King because the pacing is a bit slower than modern consumers want (think about how most American horror movies don’t even reach 90 minutes), but it’s a scary-good time!

Read the full review here!


In 2016, the first novel I’ll be reviewing, and one I’m very excited for, is Lindsay Starck‘s debut, Noah’s Wife (Penguin, Jan. 2016). Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

When young minister Noah and his dutiful wife arrive at their new post in the hills, they find a gray and wet little town where it’s been raining for as long as anyone can remember. Noah’s wife is determined to help her husband revive this soggy congregation, but soon finds her efforts thwarted by her eccentric new neighbors, among them an idiom-wielding Italian hardware store owner, a towering town matriarch, and a lovelorn zookeeper determined to stand by his charges. Overwhelmed, Noah’s wife fails to realize that Noah, too, is battling his own internal crisis.
 
Soon, the river waters rise, flooding the streets of the town and driving scores of wild animals out of the once-renowned zoo. As the water swallows up the houses, the telephone poles, and the single highway out of town, Noah, his wife, and the townspeople must confront not only the savage forces of nature but also the fragile ties that bind them to one another.

noahswife

 

Meet the Writer: Barb Taub

Standard
Meet the Writer: Barb Taub

Barb TaubI’m very excited to have Barb Taub, a writer and blogger, stop by Grab the Lapels today for a “Meet the Writer” feature. I’ve been following Barb’s blog all summer, reading how “Life Begins When the Kids Leave Home and the Dog Dies,” the top ten reasons to not have kids from a serial kid producer, and Barb’s summer work/vacation in Europe that involves a lot of chaos–death in Paris, and torturing foreign drivers, for example.

What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?

I’m a plotter wannabe. Before I start any new project, I draw up character sheets, take the characters on practice outings, and make an outline. Then I start writing and all of that just floats off into the ether, never to surface again. Yup. I’m a total pantser. Once I’ve got most of a first draft, I like to work with one or perhaps two trusted critique partners, exchanging chapters and revising as I go. Then (and only because I’m incredibly lucky enough to have a publisher with extremely gifted editors) I send it off to Hartwood Publishing, and work with their editorial staff to do the final revise and polish. I might send shorter works and novellas to a round of beta readers before submitting to the publisher. When it comes to revising, the only way I can strike the superfluous passages (the bane of pantsers) is to very soothingly assure the deleted bits that I’m going to put them in a wonderful, safe little file (called Dead Kittens) so I can use them in my next book, but I still love them very, very much. Then I kill the little darlings and never look back.

If you could change places for a day with any one of your characters, who would it be, and why? 

You couldn’t pay me to be one of my characters. I make their lives a living hell, and if I was one of my poor abused characters…one of them might be me. The revenge potential is staggering. But if I could visit with one character, it would be dont_touch3_600x960Lette’s mom from Don’t Touch. (Lette has a little problem where anything her fingers touch is turned into something else. Every day it’s a different thing, from bunnies to bubbles to bombs, and everything in between.) I like to think Lette’s mom would invite me to her house for dinner—she makes a mean pot roast—and we’d commiserate with each other about our lack of grandchildren. In the face of the completely impossible, her mom is just so normal and practical. When Lette complains that she can’t ever touch a lover because her touch will turn them into something different each day, Mom replies,

“First of all, you can touch anything you want. I read that there are more nerve endings in the lips than in the fingertips.” She pursed her own lips. “And actually, more in the clitoris than either of them.”

Why did you start a blog? 

This one is easy. The absolutely amazing miracle-working editor/mentor Mary Rosenblum, the literary midwife at New Writers Interface, told me I had to get rid of the said-tags in my first book, and I had to start a blog. (I bitched, as I recall, about both. Then I bitched about her being right about both…)

In what ways has academia shaped your writing? 

My parents sent us to a Catholic grammar school where the nuns had a fixation with diagramming sentences. In fifth grade, Sister Mary Latin took over and we dissected every possible speech part. For punishment of any student infraction from Original Sin to breathing on days ending in “Y”, she assigned Latin verb conjugation. Sadly, the only Latin I remember is canis meus id comedit (the dog ate it). I probably couldn’t diagram a sentence if the fate of the universe hung in the balance.  But the framework of how language is put together has stayed with me. During my first year at the University of Chicago, I met a passionate young professor named Frank Kinahan. He was teaching some required first year course I was assigned to, but he managed to work in a few lectures on his specialty, the Anglo Irish Literary Renaissance. I was absolutely hooked, and took every class he offered over the next few years. Sadly, he died tragically young, or I’m sure he would have inspired a generation of writers with his appreciation for the poetry and history of Irish mythology. Certainly he inspired me to become a writer.Tales_from_Null_City-Barb_Taub-1563x2500

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why? 

Calculus, my first year at university. It was taught by a Mr. Ng, who coupled a lack of vowels in his name with a lack, as far as I could tell, of any knowledge of English in any form. I only passed—barely—by calling my mother to give her the gist of each assigned homework problem. She would explain it to my engineer father, who would explain the answer. She would then translate from engineer-speak to English-lit major, and we’d be on to the next problem. Nobody involved in this process—with the possible exception of Mr. Ng, who remained incomprehensible—could speak of it again without shuddering. Finally, I met a math professor who assured me, “There’s no such thing as calculus in the real world.” Words for English majors to live by.

In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing? 

I was supposed to be a writer, ended up a journalist, and did have a humor column that ran in local and some national newspapers back in the nineties. But a little difficulty (food, shelter, and college degrees for four offspring) steered me over to the Dark Side and a career in Human Resources. A lucky foreign acquisition of our company accompanied by an astonishingly generous golden handshake set me free just as Child #4 was finishing high school. In fabulous coincidence, my husband was offered a position at a university in England, friends rented us one tower of their medieval castle, and all of a sudden, I was a writer. I just had to write something.

What are your current writing projects? 

I’ve got a new book, Round Trip Fare, coming out in early 2016, plus print reissues of the earlier books in the series. I’m now working on the fifth (and final) Null City story, an urban fantasy where I’ll get my last shot at torturing all my favorite characters. Can’t wait!

barb_taub_null_city_500x800-1Are there aspects of your writing that readers might find challenging to them?

I suppose that would depend on the reader. The heat level isn’t at the erotic-romance sizzle, but each story has a strong romantic thread, plus I try to balance humor and snark. Maya Angelou said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So I try to think of myself as one of my readers, and write the book I want to read. But at the end of the day, I think Chuck Wendig put it best on his terribleminds blog:

What matters is, knowing that your time on this Hurtling Space Sphere is limited, you should make an effort to live your life — and your art — the way you damn well want to. Do you really want someone to chisel the words MADE MEDIOCRE ART SHE DIDN’T MUCH LIKE BECAUSE SHE THOUGHT THAT’S WHAT SOMEONE ELSE WANTED HER TO DO on your gravestone?”